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An Open Letter to Sally Jenkins

by on July 14, 2016 5:00 AM

In the early days of the Duke Lacrosse story, columnist Ruth Sheehan from the Raleigh News & Observer wrote a column calling for the Duke lacrosse players to come forward because they knew. On Tuesday you wrote a similar column about Penn State headlined “It’s time for other Penn State coaches to speak up about Jerry Sandusky.”

Well I coached at Penn State and this open letter is an answer to your call. Yes you write for the Goliath Washington Post and I write for I know this is but a stone in a slingshot, but it’s a rock of truth and our aim is true.

This is written because Penn State’s administration once again chose to issue a statement defending nothing and offending no one. It’s written because I cannot abide seeing you question the truth and the integrity of people I know.

You state “enough of the legal sophistry coming out of Happy Valley.” This will be devoid of that.

You called us to come forward. Had you done your homework you’d know we have come forward to fully cooperate with multiple investigations. Coaches have been questioned by police, by the Freeh investigation, deposed in civil cases. We’ve made statements in the media.

But just because they don’t agree with a first-glance narrative catapulted by today’s media dynamics, in your mind that makes our words less legitimate.

But still you allege a huge cover-up.

Look I get it. I saw the movie Spotlight. Some media outlets sued to get the sealed filings in the Penn State case like they did in Boston. But the filings in Boston revealed letters, memos and written evidence.

Here are the facts of this case.

The Penn State filings yielded only portions of depositions, not documents, and some questionable claims. And sadly, every questionable claim casts doubt on legitimate ones.

Of the assistant coaches you accuse, the unsealed documents and information leaked to the Post found no written evidence of knowledge; no memos, e-mails, text messages or letters.

Coaches turned over cell phones, e-mail accounts, computers and iPads and what did they find to reveal some vast conspiracy spanning decades? Nothing.

I’m also writing because I can’t allow anyone to question the integrity of Coach Joe Sarra, a man who always stood for right over wrong and truth over deceit. To you, a claim made with money on the table after Joe Sarra was dead must prove he remained silent for years. This is also to defend the integrity of Jim Tarman, another man who cannot defend himself because his mind’s health has silenced his voice.

Your column got important facts wrong, and is an affront to thousands of men and women that made Penn State what it was for decades. It calls into question every man who ever coached here.

Come forward? Three of the men named in the documents did speak out yesterday, but you discounted their statements.

You mention that the unsealed testimony was taken under oath, including Mike McQueary’s 2014 deposition alleging knowledge by Tom Bradley and Greg Schiano. Yet this conflicts with his June 2012 testimony in court, also under oath, when he stated he didn’t discuss this with people he worked with. So which did you choose to believe?

Here are some more facts in response to your assertions:

Kevin O’Dea didn’t know he’d been named and wasn’t questioned to defend himself. When the 1988 incident O’Dea allegedly witnessed ran into the fact that he didn’t arrive at Penn State until 1991, you wrote “the date is in dispute.”

O’Dea issued a statement calling the allegation a “complete fabrication.” But somehow his words are less true to you.

You stated that the “settlement process was protracted and included several layers of vetting.”

Guess again.

The people vetting the claims didn’t even Google the name Kevin O’Dea to realize that the 1988 claim could not have been true.

The process never included asking O’Dea or Schiano for their response.

At Penn State’s football camps in 1976, campers showered in the dorms in individual stalls and did not shower with coaches and Penn State players, as one claimant alleged.

They didn’t put any of the claimants under oath for the settlements.

Only six claimants testified in the insurance case; overall 26 of the 32 were never deposed.

Here is another fact: I am not alone in my opinion of soft vetting.

The Pennsylvania Manufacturers Insurance Company hired an outside firm to evaluate the claims. Attorney Eric Anderson stated, "It appears as though Penn State made little effort, if any, to verify the credibility of the claims of the individuals.”

So much for the several layers of vetting.

But let’s address the heart of your call to come forward. Your column insinuates some long blue wall of silence at Penn State to hide the truth.

Did you read all the unsealed documents? If you had you’d realize that the real story is how Penn State failed to vet these claims properly and overpaid to make them all go away. But that story doesn’t move product and that story wasn’t fed to the writers who jumped on this.

Yes the story was fed to your writers by someone with an agenda because they somehow reported things that were NOT in the unsealed documents.

You’re a smart writer. In the deadest week of sports all year, you likely saw the initial story was the most read on the Post’s site, so why not get in on the action?  

This is not an easy letter to write. You remember you did Joe Paterno’s last interview -- your newspaper rolled it back out yesterday.

On your visit we sat next to each other in my parents’ home across from my father the night he ate what would be his last dinner in his own house. You also recall the next morning that he finished his interview on his bed, his body weak and nearing death, his voice just a husk of what it once was.

A week and a half later he would fall silent forever. Coach Joe Sarra and Jim Tarman have fallen silent. The words of Tom Bradley, Greg Schiano and Kevin O’Dea mean little to you. There are scores of players, coaches, professors, administrators, medical and equipment staff. They too came forward and cooperated.

While Joe Paterno has fallen silent, and the university administration chooses silence, we will speak up because your insinuations cannot stand. They are factually inaccurate, doing a disservice to honest people of integrity and legitimate victims of abuse.

Unfortunately your continued obsession with pointing fingers has made the public no wiser in being able to spot highly-skilled nice-guy offenders in their own communities.  

I know this will be attacked for being insensitive to certain groups; some will argue this letter is self-serving.

But it serves as a defense of the truth for our university, our football program and victims of abuse. It defends men who have fallen silent in death and people whose voices you have simply chosen to discount because you either don’t know the facts or you deny their legitimacy because they haven’t been victimized. Please stop citing the discredited Freeh Report because its “findings” run counter to the prosecutors’ conclusions about the people who coached here.

We have been scrutinized and vilified and yet we are still standing asking where is the proof and where is the truth?

At the end of the Duke Lacrosse case that same Raleigh columnist apologized, displaying the integrity to admit she got it wrong. For that I admire her.

For years I admired you too. Maybe someday I will again.

You wanted someone to come forward and something devoid of legal sophistry? Well you got it.


State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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