Wrong time to defend Joe Pa legacy

Wrong time to defend Joe Pa legacy

Published Apr. 11, 2013 1:00 a.m. ET

Something called Child Abuse Prevention Month is a time to think about children, not a time to work a PR campaign to clear your family name. But in the Paterno family, desperate to separate the legacy of Joe Paterno from the brutality of convicted child-rapist Jerry Sandusky, that common decency is lost.

It’s time now for the Paterno family to go away quietly for a while. Key word: Quietly. But Joe Paterno’s widow, Sue, and his son, Jay, spoke Wednesday at a breakfast sponsored by the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance, which was celebrating Child Abuse Prevention Month in Pennsylvania.

News came because Sue talked about her late husband’s — and her — previous ignorance in regard to matters of sexual predators. That was meant to explain why Joe Paterno didn’t use his full and considerable powers to stop Sandusky the second he heard about allegations. It was meant to exonerate Paterno, to defend him and show that he really wasn’t that bad of a guy. Only an out-of-touch one.

That’s not good enough. But let’s get back to that in a minute. The big news is really that Sue and Jay Paterno were talking at that breakfast at all.


It was the wrong time and the wrong place. I understand that the Paterno family must be going through incredible grief. Paterno was a legend for decades, and that all crashed before he died. Any family member would want to clean up the name of the patriarch they looked up to.

Just not now. Not at Child Abuse Prevention Month. We all know the monstrosity that Sandusky was convicted of, and I’m not doubting that the Paterno family feels bad for the victims, or for any victims of sexual predators.

But the Paterno name is connected to this mess, and if the report done by former FBI director Louis Freeh was unfair, or the NCAA was, or the media, well, a breakfast for Child Abuse Prevention month is not the time to fight that fight.

This is about the real victims, not the self-perceived ones.

Angela Liddle, executive director of the group that held the breakfast, told the Associated Press that members did question the choice of the Paterno family as speakers. She said the Paternos were “good folks.’’

Maybe so, but they needed to think this one through. They should have had the sense to know that this wasn’t their moment. And if someone is handling public relations for the Paterno family, that person REALLY should have known.

This is a time to think of children. Not of the Paterno name.

But frankly, even what the Paternos said was disturbing. I suppose it would have been almost no matter what they said.

“We have been unaware of how a predator behaves,’’ Sue Paterno said. “In many cases, we unknowingly helped him `groom’ his victims while we thought we were helping a child achieve self-esteem and find a better life.’’

She’s referring to Sandusky’s Second Mile Charity and his habit of bringing the boys to the Penn State football offices.

No. Ignorance does not clear Joe Paterno.

In fact, it opens up all sorts of other issues. For one, he was in a position of grooming and leading young men, a high-up persona in our education system. There is no way anyone in his position should have been so out of touch.

Ignorance is not an excuse, but a condemnation. It sounds as if Paterno should have been out of that job as Penn State’s football coach years and years earlier.

The Paterno family has been trying so hard to clear Joe Paterno. Like I said, it’s an understandable family trait. But they don’t seem to get that most people don’t want to hear from them anymore. At least not for a while.

They just seem to be tone deaf in their desperation. But on Wednesday they took it to an entirely different level.

“The last 17 months (since Sandusky’s arrest),’’ Sue Paterno said, “have been filled with disbelief, horror, the pain of loss, sleepless nights, praying for the victims and for peace of mind for those who unwittingly were too naïve to recognize the signs of abuse.’’

If the Paterno family is learning something about sexual abuse, then good for them. We don’t need to hear it. There are a lot of kids hurting out there, and the frightening prospects of so many more.

That’s whose pain this moment is about.