Joe Paterno finally decided to speak about the charges against Jerry Sandusky. His comments come months after he should have spoken, but at least he said something. In a recent interview, Paterno stated that he did not know how to handle the situation:
“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 told the Washington Post in an interview published Saturday. “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.”
He later stated:
“You know, he didn’t want to get specific,” Paterno said about McQueary. “And to be frank with you I don’t know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it,” he told the Washington Post.
“I called my superiors and I said, ‘hey, we got a problem I think. Would you guys look into it? Because I didn’t know, you know … I had never had to deal with something like that. And I didn’t feel adequate,” Paterno said.
I am not sure what to make of Paterno’s comments. He comes across as genuinely sympathetic, yet he clearly absolves himself of responsibility by saying he just did not know what to do.
I am particularly unsure of how to take his “I never heard of, of, rape and a man” comment. Paterno is an older man, and it is likely that people of his generation never talked about sexual violence against boys. However, this did not happen thirty years ago. The alleged shower rape happened just ten years ago, and that was just a year after the Catholic Church cases broke in Boston and across the country. So I find it hard to believe he never heard of a man raping a boy by 2002.
Paterno’s comments do make one thing clear: he, like everyone else involved, did not want to deal with the problem himself. This is very close to the bystander effect, and it is precisely what enables abusers. We see time and time again that many people with the power to stop abuse do not stop it because they assume someone else will.
What is shocking is that in his interview Paterno does not ever seem to think calling the police is an option. He only looks to his superiors, and I think that shows the effect of bureaucracy and money. Paterno’s thoughts seem to be on protecting the school’s reputation, not protecting the alleged victim.
That said, at least Paterno finally admitted why he behaved as he did.