My Letter to Sue Paterno
Today, at 3:00PM, Sue Paterno will be on the Katie show discussing the Paterno Report’s findings and will give her take on the Sandusky scandal, the media’s handling of it, and on Joe Paterno himself.
I am a fan of the Katie show and an even bigger fan and supporter of the Paterno family. If I had known the day that Sue Paterno’s interview was being taped, I would have gone out of my way to arrange babysitting coverage so I could attend in person. I would have loved to sit in the audience and listen to Mrs. Paterno. I would have raised my hand when Katie asked for questions and comments. I wish I could have been there.
Since the taping wasn’t announced publicly, I missed it and will have to watch this afternoon with the rest of the world. But, had I been there, this is what I would have said to Mrs. Sue Paterno.
Hi, Mrs. Paterno.
First, let me say how sorry I am for your loss. I don’t think nearly enough people acknowledge Joe’s passing and how much you and your family must miss him. I’m so sorry.
My name is Stacey and I’m a Penn Stater. I graduated in ’97 and had the pleasure of meeting your husband twice in person during my four years at Penn State. He was a wonderful man and a gifted leader.
Like so many who knew the truth of who Joe Paterno was, I have spent the last year defending him both in individual conversations and on my blog. I’ve been frustrated over how the media reported the Sandusky scandal and disgusted with how quickly the public, the Board of Trustees, and the NCAA took the Freeh Report as gospel and used it to slander Joe.
Even some of my fellow Penn Staters were convinced that Joe was involved in some kind of conspiracy or cover-up, despite knowing how he lived his life, led his team, and encouraged everyone he met to do the right thing. It shocked me to see how even those who knew better, began to believe the lies.
I had one tear-filled conversation with my brother, who is also a Penn Stater, when the news first broke in November of 2011. Neither of us knew all of the facts yet, so we both were reeling. “Could this be true?” we asked each other. “How could this be true?” We were struggling to make sense of it all when none of it made any sense.
In that conversation, my brother and I expressed to each other how much of our own personal identities were tied to our vision of Joe Paterno and what it meant if this man, whom we knew, respected, and admired, was involved in something as sinister as a cover-up of child sex abuse. We know now that Paterno was NOT involved in any such cover-up or conspiracy, but that conversation sticks in my mind as one example of how many of us were rocked to the core by the news. We did not know then what we know now. None of us blindly defended Joe Paterno then. We believed what we were told on the news and we were crushed by what we thought was Paterno’s fall from grace.
As time passed and we realized that the news was full of more fiction than fact, we regained our faith that Joe Paterno was, in fact, the man we believed him to be. Our confusion turned to anger as we found ourselves defending him to people who knew nothing about the facts of his life and only believed what they were fed by the media.
In a conversation with a good friend and a fellow Penn State fan, he said to me, “The thing is, Stacey, you didn’t KNOW him. You knew OF him. Now that he’s gone, no one will ever really know the truth of what happened.”
My response to him then and to everyone else with similar feelings and doubts is this:
We DID KNOW him. We still do KNOW him. We knew him when we were students and we cringed when he, Joe Paterno, made public his own players’ wrong-doings. We threw our heads back and cursed him for either sitting out, or kicking star players off the team because we knew it would make it harder to win football games. We couldn’t believe that this old guy, this old-fashioned traditionalist didn’t know enough about modern college football to coach like everyone else. If the school would allow it, and the NCAA would allow it, why couldn’t our football coach just shut up and allow his players to behave that way and still play?
Back then, we were young and cared more about having a winning football team than we cared about what kinds of lessons we should be learning from Paterno’s style of coaching.
Now, however, we see those as examples of exactly who Joe Paterno was. In our moments of greatest frustration with the man, he was teaching us. We weren’t his football players. He didn’t even know our names. But he was teaching us.
When I did have the opportunity to meet him during the summer of 1995, I remember our conversation. He asked me what my major was, and I told him it was Education. “Secondary Education with a concentration in English and Communication,” I told him proudly.
“There aren’t enough great teachers in the world,” he responded. “Education majors are some of my favorite people. You don’t know how important you are to kids. I hope you continue to have the same passion for teaching after you graduate that you have now.”
It was a short conversation of only a few minutes, and we both continued in our separate directions. In hindsight, I wish I had asked him to sign something for me, but it didn’t even cross my mind. What did cross my mind was that I just had a conversation with Joe Paterno and he never once mentioned football to me. He asked about ME and spoke of the importance of education and good teachers. Wow.
You see, Mrs. Paterno, we still know Joe. We know who he was and what he stood for and we know that, had he known what was happening with Jerry Sandusky, we know he wouldn’t have hesitated to report it, follow-up on it, and make sure that those kids were safe from that monster. He wouldn’t have cared about bad publicity for Penn State. He would have done the right thing. He might have even been criticized for doing it, but he would have done it anyway.
THAT is what we know.
Thank you so much, Mrs. Paterno, for using your own family’s resources to do what no one else has done. To try to learn the truth of what happened.
Thank you for finding Jim Clemente to shed light on the horrific reality of child sex abuse criminals and raising awareness of how they operate so we can learn and keep things like this from happening again.
Thank you for doing exactly what you said in your letter to the football players: “Don’t give up. Don’t be afraid. Do the right thing. And make sure your actions serve the greater good.”
And thank you, Mrs. Paterno, for sharing your husband with all of us for all of those years.