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Washington Post: Following 2002 Incident, Paterno Didn't Want to 'Jeopardize ... University Procedure'

by on January 14, 2012 5:15 PM

Joe Paterno told The Washington Post he did not follow up on Mike McQueary's 2002 report of alleged sexual abuse beyond an initial call because the former head coach was worried doing so would violate university procedure.

“I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was,” Paterno was quoted as saying.

“So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”

In a wide-ranging interview with The Post's Sally Jenkins, Paterno gave his first public remarks since the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal engulfed Penn State in November.

In the interview, Paterno insisted the 2002 incident in the Lasch football building showers was his first hint the former defensive coordinator may be a sexual predator.

According to the Post, Paterno conducted the interview with Jenkins over two days, first from a wheelchair Thursday at his kitchen table surrounded by family and then bedside at home. Later in the day, Paterno was admitted for observation because of complications from the chemotherapy he's undergone since being diagnosed with lung cancer. Paterno's family told the Post that Paterno was improving as of Saturday morning.

Other items of note from the interview, as reported by the Washington Post:

  • Paterno also gave his account of Nov. 9, the night he was fired after 61 years at Penn State. He was dressed in pajamas, getting ready to go to bed when an assistant athletic director arrived at his home and handed him a slip of paper with a phone number and John Surma's name. Surma, the vice chair of the Board of Trustees, told Paterno over the phone it was in the best interests of the university that he be fired. With his wife, Sue, next to him, Paterno hung up and repeated the words to his wife. Furious, she picked up the phone and re-dialed the number. "After 61 years he deserved better,” Sue said, according to the Post. “He deserved better.”

  • After arranging a meeting between Tim Curley, Gary Schultz and McQueary, Paterno said he was hesitant to make follow-up calls on the matter because he didn't want it to seem like he was trying to "exert any influence for or against Sandusky." "I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was,” Paterno said. “So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”
  • Paterno denied he had any knowledge of a 1998 police report from a mother that Sandusky showered with her son and inappropriately touched him. No charges were ever filed in connection with the incident. "You know it wasn’t like it was something everybody in the building knew about,” Paterno said. “Nobody knew about it.”
  • Paterno told Sandusky he would not be the head coach at Penn State because the assistant coach  devoted so much of his time to his charity, The Second Mile, that it would interfere with fundraising efforts and other duties a head coach at the major college football level was expected to perform. Paterno advised Sandusky to consider retirement because of a generous retirement package for 30-year employees offered by the state, according to the Post.
  • Paterno said he did not know how allegations against Sandusky didn’t surface until this year. “I don’t know the answer to that,” Paterno said. “It’s hard.” 
  • One oft-asked question by observers of the scandal and the media is what Paterno's reaction would have been if it had been one his five children allegedly abused. “It’s sickening,” he said. “Violence is not the way to handle it. But for me, I’d get a bunch of guys and say let’s go punch somebody in the nose.” Sue Paterno told the Post she wouldn't stop there: “If someone touched my child, there wouldn’t be a trial, I would have killed them."

Prosecutors allege Sandusky, who was charged with more than 50 counts of sexual abuse, found and groomed his victims through The Second Mile. Sandusky has maintained his innocence.

In his interview with the Post, Paterno did not judge Sandusky, Curley or Schultz. “I think we got to wait and see what happens,” Paterno told the Post. “The courts are taking care of it, the legal system is taking care of it.”

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Nate Mink covers Penn State football and news for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @MinkNate.
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