Editorial by John Ziegler

A Scenario Where Joe Paterno is Still Joe Paterno


(Editors note: This was written before the mysterious emergence of "victim #2." While it is possible that, should he ever credibly tell his story, this could blow up the following scenario, the initial facts surrounding his emergence both before and after the criminal trial actually tend to further support my theory. I will be writing about this more extensively later.)

One of the most baffling mysteries (there are many) of the Jerry Sandusky scandal is how Joe Paterno, according to the "conventional wisdom" of the story, suddenly became a completely different person for the last decade of his career than he seemed to be for the first five.

Paterno's many detractors have brilliantly (though probably mostly by accident) turned what should be the burden of proof upside down in this case. Instead of there being an extremely heavy task in proving how and why a guy with an exemplary record of character suddenly became horrible person, somehow the burden was shifted on to Paterno to prove that the worst possible interpretation of the evidence wasn't actually true.

This became particularly absurd when Paterno died and the only two people who could have theoretically exonerated him were silenced by pending criminal litigation. Despite all of this, amazingly and contrary to public perception, the actual evidence against Paterno is remarkably thin, even if he had been the head coach at Miami and not at Penn State (and therefore not worthy of much benefit of the doubt).

I strongly object to the notion that the burden is truly on Paterno's defenders to prove his innocence (especially since proving a negative is nearly impossible) and maintain that his many critics have so far failed to meet their burden. However, I do agree that it would be extremely helpful to come up with a narrative which fits the known evidence and which allows Paterno to maintain at least a semblance of his reputation.

Here is a very plausible scenario where Joe Paterno is still Joe Paterno.

As far as we know the evidence indicates that the first time Paterno could have possibly known anything about allegations of sexual misconduct against Jerry Sandusky was in mid 1998. One of the most important "red herrings" of this case (and one of several coincidences which have made defending Paterno more difficult than it should have been) is that earlier that year Paterno had told Sandusky that he would never be the head coach at Penn State.

This was not only incredibly ironic (since Paterno cited Sandusky's devotion to the Second Mile charity as the prime reason), but because it directly led to Sandusky's retirement, it is still being incorrectly being cited as evidence that Paterno knew he was dealing with a pedophile early on and forced him out of the program. The reality is that the Freeh Report itself makes it clear that this process began before the initial criminal investigation of Sandusky even started.

Soon after the wheels for Sandusky's retirement were first put in motion, when the actual investigation did begin, it appears that Paterno was indeed informed at some level. We know this because Athletic Director Tim Curley, in an email titled "Paterno" (it is importnat to point out that Freeh misled on this point in his press conference as this subject line appears to have been added to the email chain after the email in question) which appears to deal with the investigation of Sandusky, says he has "touched base with the coach."

Paterno's detractors have leaped to the assumption that this reference proves that the coach knew about the 1998 investigation and therefore lied in his grand jury testimony. However, this is not necessarily true.

First of all, "touching base" can obviously mean literally as little as, "hey Joe, we may have an issue with Jerry, I'll let you know if there is anything else important to report." If this was extent of the conversation, then there is absolutely nothing inconsistent with Paterno's testimony.

Paterno testified when asked about 1998 that he vaguely remembered hearing a "rumor" about Sandusky. If Curley really only "touched base with the coach" then, for that to turn into a "rumor" 13 years later in the mind of a man now in his 80s makes perfect sense.

The entire key to Freeh's case against Paterno is that there is a second email from 1998 which Freeh says "is believed" to reference a conversation with Paterno. That email is titled "Jerry" and in it Curley writes that "coach is anxious" for an update on the investigation. If "coach" does indeed refer to Paterno then it appears to be devastating to any strong defense of him, largely because of the word "anxious." While it certainly could be Paterno, Freeh's presumption here is not without significant problems.

First, the subject is "Jerry" and the first reference to anyone is "coach" (not "the coach" as in the previous email in question refers to Paterno). At the time, Sandusky was certainly still a coach in good standing and he knew already that he was being investigated. Had he asked Curley (whom he had known for quite a long time) for an update, he certainly would have been far more likely to be "anxious" about it than Paterno would have been. Why can't "coach" here mean Sandusky and not Paterno?

I have debated this seemingly rather fine, but actually extremely important, point with a reporter (who is convinced Paterno is "guilty") for several days via email and telephone. He claims that this interpretation is absurd because in the response emails (it took a few emails for Curley to get a satisfactory answer) Gary Schultz references "Jerry" and provides some information which Sandusky would likely already know.

I admit that this could seem a little awkward to someone looking for proof that "coach" isn't Sandusky. However, my rebuttal was simply that Schultz was providing an update ON Sandusky not TO Sandusky. He was writing to Curley who would presumably tell Sandusky what he found out. Regardless, this seems to be an incredibly weak argument for such a remarkably significant point. For if "coach" here means Sandusky and not Paterno, Freeh's case against "the coach" is suddenly hanging by a thread.

Part of why my theory here is preposterous to people like reporters is that they are working under the presumption that Paterno, being the God that he was, just had to know/rule all. In their minds, Curley (who was very close to Paterno) knowing something is the same as Paterno knowing it. However, there are once again problems with this popular presumption.

What if Curley was not allowed to tell Paterno the details of a criminal investigation of someone reporting directly to him? While I have not been able to yet find the appropriate section in the Penn State policy handbook (it is rather difficult to navigate), it does make clear that the "privacy of the accused" will be "protected," and I have spoken to several people at state run schools who say such a restriction would be standard operating procedure.

Regardless of that (which at this point I concede is mostly speculation), the issue of Paterno's power has been greatly misused by his critics.

Whenever it suits their purposes and fits into their contrived narrative, Paterno is a God who runs everything at Penn State (yet somehow he wasn't able to get his WR coach Mike McQueary to temper his testimony even a little bit at the most critical point in the "cover up"). Not only is this a simplistic view with ethic overtones (it seems clear that Italian mafia stereotypes are in play here), but it also overlooks an important element of real power.

Sometimes having power means NOT having to handle messes that you don't want to deal with because you have other people who can do it for you (especially when you have already been coaching for five decades). People forget that, at this point, the Sandusky situation was not yet a big deal and in Paterno's mind he was soon going to be retiring anyway. Letting Curley handle the dirty work made total sense.

This leads me to another plausible explanation for the 2nd, critical, 1998 email.
Perhaps Curley is indeed referring to Paterno when he says "coach" but he is fibbing or name dropping. In other words, he wants to get an answer (to a question to which he may not really have been entitled to one) so he is strongly implying he is asking on behalf of Paterno. Since he and Paterno were known to be tight, no one would have even questioned it. Living in Los Angeles, I can tell you people do this kind of thing with celebrities all the time.

During my long debate with that reporter (who was remarkably patient and, in comparison to most, well informed) he became incredulous that I would think that Curley could be writing something about Paterno that was not true (as if someone capable of allegedly covering up child molestation couldn't also tell a "white lie" like this). I responded by pointing out that by using this same logic that President Obama HAD to be born in Kenya (which he was not) because his literary agent publicly wrote that he was born there in a book proposal twenty years ago.

There is no rational explanation for how someone so close to Obama could write something so incorrect about a seemingly basic fact, but it did indeed occur. Sometimes strange things just happen.

Considering the incredible importance of that email (the entire case against Paterno changes radically without it), it seems utterly absurd to discount all of these benign explanations, especially before Curley has even ever been asked about them.

This is without question the most stunningly outrageous element of both the removal of Paterno's statue and the nonsensical NCAA sanctions. The notion that both were done before Curley spoke is the most glaring violation of basic due process in my memory. Most amazingly, thanks to the horrendous media coverage, no one even seems to realize that Curley (whom it must be noted publicly praised Paterno's "honor and integrity" after he himself had already been charged in this situation) could still blow apart the entire case against Paterno in literally five minutes.

So, contrary to the conclusions of the Freeh Report, at least until Curley speaks, it is very consistent with the current evidence that Paterno was barely told about the 98 investigation. In fact, Freeh admits in his report that he could find no sign that Paterno was ever even informed of its conclusions, which seems like pretty powerful evidence that he wasn't deeply in the loop.

If this is indeed the truth, then it becomes very possible for the defense of Joe Paterno to see the daylight of redemption. This is because it means that he didn't lie in his grand jury testimony, and it is also then far easier to understand the way he handled 2001.

That year, Mike McQueary came to Paterno with a story in which he apparently saw something "sexual" going on in a Penn State shower between Sandusky and a ten year old boy. Now it must be noted (it never is in the media) that McQueary would later misreport the year and the month in which this took place, told a doctor friend the next day that he saw no sex, and no one has ever come forward claiming to be the victim in that episode. These facts are critically important in understanding an alternative narrative that has never even been considered in the media.

Paterno then calls his superior and apparently arranges for McQueary to meet with Curley and Schultz, who was in charge of the campus police.

Now, it should be pointed out that, had Paterno, the "Mafia Don" wanted to cover this up, there would have been no reason for him not to just say to McQueary, who was desperate for a full time job, "thanks, this stays between us, right?" and that would have been the end of it.

But instead, Paterno, with no reason to protect an ex coach (and no history of fearing "bad publicity") whom he never really liked, decides to get at least two members of the administration involved.

Unfortunately, those in charge ultimately made the critical mistake of not reporting Sandusky to outside authorities. But why and how that decision was made is far more ambiguous than the media would have you believe.

In their narrative there was a change in the plan and that this decision to keep the actions against Sandusky's essentially "in house" came from Paterno. The basis for this assumption is one email, again from Curley, in which he writes "after speaking with Joe, I have decided..." To Freeh/media this means that the "Mafia Don" has spoken and now his evil wishes have to be carried out.

But not only does Curley never even imply what the actual nature of his conversation with Paterno was, he also does something rather odd if he is indeed carrying out orders. He begins each of the next four thoughts/sentences with the word "I." Not "we," but "I."

At the very least this opens up all sorts of scenarios where Paterno was not driving a decision which, for the record, he had no business making either legally or, considering his esteemed position in the community, morally (having Paterno be directly responsible for turning in Sandusky would have been extremely prejudicial to any subsequent investigation/trial).

There of course is also the possibility that Curley went "rogue" here and, since he clearly knew about 98, he had an incentive to keep this thing from going public. It is conceivable that he was simply casually, and with plausible deniability (I said it was my decision!) used Paterno's name to strengthen an argument he had to win. An explanation like this, while not probable, would get Paterno's defense nearly home free.

But even if Paterno was informed about, or even influenced, the decision not to report Sandusky to outside authorities, there is still a scenario consistent with the known evidence where Paterno is not a pedophile protector.

Even forgetting Paterno's generational problems with fully comprehending pedophilia, there is a real chance he honestly didn't think they had enough evidence to go further with this. Here is where I wish to posit a theory that has never been put forward, at least not in the media.

Maybe the reason Paterno and others didn't act like they heard about a rape is that they weren't told about a rape, and the reason they weren't told that a rape occurred was because nothing close to a rape actually happened on the night in question.

Consider for a moment the evidence in the McQueary episode. The only witness does nothing to stop what he saw and the boy makes no effort to come to him for help. That witness somehow forgets the month/year in which the event happens. He tells a doctor friend the next day he saw no sex. He participates in at least one Sandusky sponsored event after this incident. And, despite the chance to bring justice against his rapist and make millions of dollars in a civil suit, incredibly, no one has ever come forward to say they were the victim.

I believe that all of this happened because what Mike McQueary really saw wasn't the rape of a young boy, but rather a "grooming" session gone wrong. Think about it, Sandusky was really good at not getting caught. Why would he risk trying to have sex with a boy in a place where lots of other people had access?

The reason no victim has ever come forward is that there was no rape that day (the media won't tell you this, but for the record his jury acquitted Sandusky of that charge), and I am quite sure Sandusky was smart enough never to see that kid near Penn State ever again. Somewhere there is a man in his early 20s who may have even blocked having taken a shower with Sandusky out of his memory, or just thinks it wasn't very significant (or, based on more recent revelations, was just waiting for a pay day without having to actually be questioned about his account).

Speaking of memory, this would explain how McQueary somehow forgot the month/year this happened (would you ever forget the year you saw something like that?!). It would also be consistent with what he told the doctor and, apparently, Paterno (though, to be fair, not his father). It is also consistent with how he ever could have gone along with Sandusky not being arrested and being associated with him publicly afterwards. Finally, and most importantly, it is consistent with how the situation was ultimately handled.

About the only thing that scenario it is NOT inherently consistent with is McQueary's graphic testimony ten years later. So what happened? I have a theory.

I believe that McQueary saw something very inappropriate but ambiguous. After seeing it he obviously viewed Sandusky in a different light and had to be far more curious/cynical about who Sandusky really was. Maybe it was years later when, realizing that Sandusky wasn't just a weirdo with boundary issues, he realized, probably to his understandable horror, that the slapping sounds he heard were probably signs of the unthinkable. What if over time he started filling in the blanks of what he really witnessed in the worst possible way?

McQueary may not have even done this consciously. The mind does amazing tricks and we tend to remember things differently than how they really happened. Our memories are easily influenced by events which have occurred long after the original event (thus the phrase "seeing things in a different light").

So years later and armed with a lot more perspective on Sandusky, McQueary may have convinced himself that what he saw in 2001 (or, according to his faulty memory, 2002) was more dramatic than what he actually witnessed. Then, when authorities contacted him, apparently after seeing a note about the episode on an internet message board, McQueary, now understandably convinced that there must be other evidence against Sandusky, saw his chance to right a wrong (make up for the cowardice he showed in the shower?) and maybe even to be a hero.

Here I see McQueary as almost a Jack Ruby figure. Ruby who famously shot Lee Harvey Oswald thinking that he would be a hero for having killed the president's assassin, actually inadvertently spawned a generation of conspiracy theories and single handedly prevented any chance of communal closure.

Similarly, McQueary may have thought he was doing a great deed by making sure Sandusky was finally put away (people don't realize that the prosecution at this time still had very weak evidence and desperately needed McQueary to hit a dramatic home run). Instead, he has created an enormous amount of damage as a result of the massive misperceptions his evolving story allowed, with the help of the media, to fester.

But if my theory is right, it almost totally justifies the lack of action by Penn State officials. In that scenario all they have is one witness with vague testimony, and no victim, to use against a local legend who ran the biggest children's charity in the state. Without the benefit of the amazing powers of 20/20 hindsight which the media so enjoys, going forward with such a weak case was a recipe for disaster.

It must be noted at this point that just the fact that McQueary gave prosecutors everything they wanted and more is actually incredibly strong evidence that the Freeh/media theory is remarkably flawed.

After all, how in the world was "Mafia Don" Paterno a significant part of a cover up and yet somehow not able to get his wide receivers coach to adjust his testimony even just slightly to allow for some more wiggle room?? And how is it in the Penn State "culture" where Paterno (according to Freeh) was allegedly so feared by even the janitors, McQueary doesn't come to the coach to at least "touch base" before he testifies?

This leads to the fascinating issue of Paterno's testimony to the grand jury. Paterno briefly described what McQueary told him almost ten years earlier as being "sexual" in nature. Typical of so many key words in this entire case, it is one of the most vague in the English language. However, it is a word which Paterno's critics have used to hang him.

Their thinking goes: Paterno admitted he was told something "sexual" happened in 2001 and Penn State allowed Sandusky to avoid another criminal investigation and still have access to their facilities. Clearly, he failed morally if not also legally.

My first reaction to this line of attack goes back to the "cover up" narrative. If Paterno was willing to lie about the 98 investigation, why did he tell the truth about 2001 in a way that could easily make him look so bad? Why didn't he leave it at "horseplay" or even claim he couldn't remember? (Keep in mind McQueary openly admitted that the story he told Paterno was supposedly greatly sanitized, so the coach had very wide latitude here.)

My answer to these questions provide the most ironic and chilling twist in this entire human drama. I believe that, much like McQueary, Paterno, knowing that there was a grand jury investigation, came to believe that Sandusky was probably a child molester and was frustrated that they could never satisfactorily prove it (and, yes, perhaps even remorseful that they could have done more to try).

In that context, Paterno didn't want to lie, but he also didn't want to do anything which could harm the case against Sandusky. If Joe Paterno, the living legend, diminished what the primary witness in the case, an employee of his, was saying, it could be devastating to the prosecution (for those who will say that Paterno couldn't have known the exact nature of McQueary's testimony; he wasn’t stupid, he was well aware of the nature of the allegations the grand jury was investigating).

While there are several other plausible interpretations of the word "sexual" than the one the media prefers, I believe Paterno chose a word that was probably stronger than what McQueary told him, but vague enough to not be a lie. In using the word "sexual" Paterno was essentially taking one for the "team." I doubt he could have possibly contemplated the catastrophic consequences which would occur to his real team, his school and his legacy when he did so, but the jaw dropping irony of his case may be that Paterno allowed himself, perhaps unwittingly, to be labeled a pedophile protector because he wanted to make sure he wasn't responsible for Sandusky escaping justice one more time.

In that way, you could actually argue that Joe Paterno's decision here, the one which literally brought down his life's work, is the only real act of heroism in this entire mess. For he is the only person I can see who, at any point, put their own self interest behind that of the common good (members of the media please make sure your heads don't explode after reading that last paragraph).

I have already written extensively about all that happened next and how the media created a false narrative to serve their own purposes. Obviously no one knows exactly what has transpired here and, unless Tim Curley speaks honestly, we never will. My goal here was to create a plausible narrative where the Joe Paterno we thought we knew really was that guy. I believe I have done that in a way which is more realistic than the current conventional wisdom. You can decide for yourself which version makes more sense in the world you live in.

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