Jay Paterno knew Jerry Sandusky all his life.
As a kid, Paterno played in the same pool as Sandusky on Penn State’s bowl trips.
Paterno thought nothing about it years ago when his daughter went to the birthday party for one of Sandusky’s grandchildren at the former defensive coach’s house. His daughter was on a youth soccer team that one of Sandusky’s children coached, and Sandusky would go to the games.
“Obviously, I didn’t think there was anything to worry about,” Paterno said.
Jay Paterno defended Joe Paterno on Thursday, saying neither he nor his father knew Sandusky was a pedophile and that his father was not part of a cover-up to allegations against Sandusky from a decade ago, the accusation by former FBI director Louis Freeh that the Paternos just began fighting. The Paterno family’s rebuttal was released Sunday, blasting Freeh’s report as a “profound failure” that mischaracterized the former coach based on assumptions not supported by evidence.
“We wanted the truth to come out,” Jay Paterno said of his family’s rebuttal.
“It’s a big leap from a guy that maybe could have done a little bit more — which by his own admission he wishes he had done more — to saying that he was involved willfully in a cover-up, had callous disregard for children and was worried about bad publicity and protected the football program over the welfare of children.
“That’s a huge leap, and there’s no evidence to support it.”
Paterno refuted Freeh’s notion that the former head coach had all the power. The “truth of the matter was, if it was 4th-and-1 at Beaver Stadium, yeah,” the son said.
But Jay Paterno said his father had no legal authority and couldn’t arrest or charge anyone.
Paterno, 43, is sure his father knew nothing about the May 1998 incident in which Sandusky admitted to police that he showered with a young boy. Police investigated, but the case was never prosecuted.
“He told me he didn’t know,” Jay Paterno said. “He’s not a guy who ever lied to me. I believe he didn’t know.”
Paterno pointed to the rebuttal’s analysis by Gov. Dick Thornburgh’s, who said it would have been illegal for investigators to tell Joe Paterno about the investigation in 1998 because a law made child abuse reports confidential.
Jay Paterno said an email conversation that Freeh’s investigators turned up, between then-Athletic Director Tim Curley and then-administrator Gary Schultz, is unclear about a reference to a coach. Curley wrote to Schultz for an update, saying “Coach is anxious to know where it stands,” and the Paternos said the coach could have been Joe Paterno or Sandusky.
Jay Paterno said his father did not cover up the 2001 incident, which was reported to him by then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary. Paterno said if his father wanted to conceal that report, he would not have reported it to Curley, who reported it to Schultz and The Second Mile, the charity Sandusky started.
“Obviously, for the idea of a conspiracy in a cover up, you don’t tell anybody outside your university, and they did. They went to The Second Mile,” Paterno said. “This conspiracy of silence doesn’t stand up to facts.”
Paterno said state police interviewed the coaching staff sometime between March 2011, when the media reported Sandusky was being investigated by the grand jury, and before the grand jury’s presentment was made public in November 2011.
Going into the interview, Paterno said he remembered his father encouraged the coaching staff to be truthful. He remembered him saying, “ ‘All I will tell you guys, if you knew something, say something. If you didn’t know something, be honest. Just tell the truth,’ ” Paterno said. “And he left the room.”
Paterno never ended up testifying to the grand jury, as his father did.
His father was not interviewed by Freeh’s team, either. It’s unclear why — Freeh’s report this summer said Joe Paterno was interested in an interview but died before that happened. In Freeh’s response to the Paterno rebuttal, Freeh said Paterno chose not to speak with them.
Jay Paterno met with Freeh’s investigators in early December 2011 in which was a more than 90-minute interview. The interview was not recorded, and Freeh’s team did not allow him to record it.
Paterno said the majority of the questions dealt with the “power structure” at Penn State: “A lot of it was about Joe and (then-Penn State president) Graham (Spanier), and Joe and Tim, and Tim and Graham.”
Paterno still has his eye on football, whether it’s watching it from one of the boxes at Beaver Stadium, on TV, or getting back into coaching.
But the break from coaching has made him a better father to his five children, he said. The two oldest understand the events that have happened, he said.
Their teachers at school have been supportive, too.
“What my kids went through this past year was not easy on them,” he said. “It was probably a blessing in disguise that I wasn’t coaching this year that I could kind of help them through it.”
Paterno said he’s been working on a book about his father.
And, he has started working as the executive director of his friend’s start-up, nonprofit organization that is focused on fighting malaria in Africa. But Paterno declined to go into specifics.
He might consider going into politics if the right situation presents itself.
“If it was a feeling that I could do something good for other people then yes, that’s something I would think about,” he said.