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My Letter to Sue Paterno

February 11, 2013

Paternos Joe and SueLast week, Sue Paterno’s letter to Penn State’s football lettermen was circulated a few days prior to the release of the Paterno Report.

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.

Paterno statue Ron Stace

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.

"They ask me what I'd like written about me when I'm gone. I hope they write that I made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach."

“They ask me what I’d like written about me when I’m gone. I hope they write that I made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach.”

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.


Stacey Maisch

Paterno statue


Related Posts:

This is the House that Joe Built

Paterno’s Last Gift to Penn State

The Paterno Family’s Response to the Freeh Report

The First Key Points of the Paterno Report

9 Comments leave one →
  1. permalink
    February 11, 2013 11:48 AM

    Beautiful letter and I’m not a Penn State fan but I do respect Joe Paterno

  2. E. Hammond permalink
    February 12, 2013 10:43 AM

    Nicely said Stacey. Aside from being a very nice letter to Sue, you also make two very strong points that I took away from this: 1) You didn’t need to spend countless hours with the man to KNOW the man. 2) Joe was the ANTI-football culture.

    You reminded me that the BoT attempted to rid the program of Joe many years ago when the football team was barely producing a 500record. Many of us saw examples of Joe’s strict discipline and focus on academics, that was hindering our football team’s chances of success on the field. Joe’s belief that excellent students could produce excellent football seemed outdated and no longer had a place in the modern college grid iron. The Grand Experiment became the Bland Experiment. You made me realize and remember that it was US who wanted Penn State to be more like the other, more “successful”, football programs who were winning. We succumb to the scrupulous culture of sports that is so indiscriminately prevalent in our society. Fortunately for us, we had Joe. He was the epitomy of the anti-football culture who stood fast to his belief…Success [could and would be attained] with Honor; even if it was unfavorable in the eyes of the modern day football. To know Joe’s mantra was to know the man.

    Thank you for highlighting this in your kind letter of solace.

    • February 13, 2013 8:38 AM

      Thanks, Liz. I just wish more people would open their minds to see that, too.

  3. February 14, 2013 12:15 PM

    Love this. I wish I could have had this as backup in the conversations I’ve had with people over the past year. No, I didn’t KNOW Joe. But I KNOW JOE. 🙂

  4. April 11, 2013 2:59 PM

    Stacey, I just came across your letter to Sue (having just joined the Penn State AA NJ Chapter on facebook). It’s a beautiful letter and I’m wondering if you would mind if I share it with the Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship facebook group?

    • April 11, 2013 3:10 PM

      Hi Amy,
      I don’t mind at all. I think I posted it there when I first wrote it, but feel free to reshare!

  5. Lee permalink
    September 6, 2020 12:19 AM

    WOW! THANK YOU so much for taking your time and sharing not only your heart but the truth despite the opposition! Bravo and well done!

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