Dienhart: 'I thought I knew ya, JoePa'

Joe Paterno died back in January. Today, his legacy perished. That makes me sad. And it should make you sad, too. Less than a year ago, Paterno was an American icon. He was one brick away from finishing a castle of coaching greatness as he zeroed in on the all-time win record for Division I coaching.

Oh, the beloved JoePa got career win No. 409 vs. Illinois in October. But it cost him his good name.

Soon after, it all came crashing down for the bespectacled Paterno, an elfish father figure who had become a larger-than-life figure. News of the Jerry Sandusky investigation hit State College with hurricane force in late October, changing a coach, college, community and nation forever in what is the worst scandal in the history of college sport.

[BTN.com: National response to the Freeh Report findings]

Paterno’s career has been shattered into a million pieces with the harsh, sober words of the Freeh Report that was released today.

[GoPSUSports.com: Download and read the entire Freeh Report]

That record for all-time wins? It doesn’t seem so important now, does it?


Because Paterno didn’t do the right thing when it came to protecting children against an evil man. He along with three other school figures opted to cover up what they knew about the monster that was Sandusky.

For Paterno, protecting the Penn State brand, protecting his football program, protecting his good name were more important than protecting children.

That’s sad.

That’s pathetic.

But, that’s the truth.

You heard the words today. They were ugly.

Penn State's Joe Paterno

US Presswire

“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State,” said Louis Freeh, the former director of the FBI who was hired by university trustees to conduct what was an eight-month investigation. “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”

Those cold and hard revelations in the Freeh report were horrific. They also sadly are the punctuation point on Paterno’s legacy that is now tarnished beyond reproach. All of those good things he did over four-plus decades as head coach of the Nittany Lions?


The generous donations to the school.

The wins.

The charitable work.

Gone, gone, gone.

It all has been swallowed up by Paterno’s confounding inaction in what only can be classified as a selfish act of self-preservation. How did Paterno sleep at night over the past 10-plus years knowing what he knew?


I thought I knew ya, JoePa. I guess not.

I’m guilty of worshiping at the altar of Paterno like so many millions of others.

We all put people on pedestals they don’t deserve. We forget that we all are frail humans filled with faults. Still, we all want heroes to worship, people we can believe in. JoePa was one of those people for me. He stood for what was good. He ran a model program. But, most of all, he did the right thing.

Or so I thought.

Paterno was 5-foot-6 and couldn’t have weighed over 170 pounds, but he was bigger than life, an almost mythic figure of Paul Bunyan proportions who had strolled the sidelines of Beaver Stadium since 1966. He was the one who put this school located in a bucolic hamlet in the middle of the state on the map. And he did it by winning football games. Lots of football games. As the wins and accolades piled up, so did Paterno’s power.

Remember, about a decade ago, Paterno’s superiors arrived at his doorstep to deliver him his walking papers. Paterno flexed his muscles and shooed them away.

Can you imagine any other coach getting away with that? Of course not. But no other coach in the nation had as much power as Paterno. And that was the root of the problem.

JoePa was king.

And he knew he could do what he wanted.

Had Paterno wanted to make something happen in his city, his campus, his state, he could have picked up the phone and used his power to change it.

But instead of using his considerable power to stop Sandusky, he used it to help orchestrate a cover up.

Part of America’s innocence died today with the finality of this sobering report. Myriad lawsuits will follow. Maybe even an NCAA investigation. And a stain of shame that so many educated and powerful men brought to a proud university won’t go away for a long time—if ever.

I guess I knew what was coming today in the report. But I didn’t want to believe it. Well, I had to believe it with every turn of the page of the Freeh report. There was no denying the facts in this exhaustive and impressive investigation. Freeh’s words brought ringing truth to what myself and so many others didn’t want to believe.

So, it turns out we didn’t really know Paterno at all. And that’s scary for me. If Paterno wasn’t who I thought he was, then who else in my life isn’t what I think they are? I guess that’s what scares me. Who can I believe in? What can I believe in?

Today was a horrible day for college football.

It was a horrible day for Penn State.

It was a horrible day for Joe Paterno’s legacy.

But let’s all say a prayer for Sandusky’s victims. They are the ones who have lost the most.

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, all of his work is at btn.com/tomdienhart, and you can subscribe to it all via his RSS feed. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below.

And if you want to leave a comment on this post, use the box below. All comments need to be approved by a moderator.


Your Opinion?
Show Comments (22 Comments)
Leon Spencer on 7/12/2012 @ 7:49pm EDT Said:

Gene A. Marsh, who served on the NCAA Division I infractions committee says charges of which Sandusky was convicted, although horrific, likely do not fall under the purview of the NCAA, which typically reserves its attention for allegations of academic fraud or efforts to gain an unfair competitive advantage.


Jon Katz on 7/12/2012 @ 7:53pm EDT Said:

great article

Matt Madison on 7/12/2012 @ 7:54pm EDT Said:

Say it ain’t so Joe… the heinous crimes perpetrated in this case pale those of the SMU football program that suffered the death penalty in the 1980’s. Anything less than PSU going without varsity football for the next 3-5 years would add insult to egregious injury, and only further the gross institutional negligence at Penn State.

Vince Barresi on 7/12/2012 @ 8:23pm EDT Said:

I am a MSU graduate from the 1970’s. I am abhored by the Freeh report as all must be.

Our prayers and support must go first to those affected by Sandusky’s horrific acts and to their family’s. May they find a modicum of comfort now that the truth has been exposed. We should laud the “gut’s” of the victims for coming forth. They have experienced hell.

Their need for our compassion trumps all. I can’t even begin to understand that pain.

At the same time I can not also even begin to comprehend what this has done to the Paterno family. How do you take a life time of their memories and love and see their husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather torn apart. Pray for them also as they are also Sandusky victims.

Jonathan on 7/12/2012 @ 8:29pm EDT Said:

I know that either the Big Ten, BTN or Penn State is behind the decision to not cover this story wall-to-wall.

So what little coverage BTN gives to this story is appreciated, as the crimes and cover-up seem to be the most-heinous in NCAA history. Anyone thinking different is naive to the fact the entire administration at Penn State was allegedly involved in over a decade of lies.

D. Senesac on 7/12/2012 @ 8:32pm EDT Said:

Thank you, BTN, for finally speaking up about this report. I lost some faith in your network when I continued to check the TV coverage and website for some indication you even knew this was going on today. Surely, someone would write something about a BIG institution with
an iconic coach that now has such a stain associated with it. You restored my faith finally tonight, but I have to say I was reticent to continue my support of you as I wrongly assumed you might be evading this topic; much like Commissioner Delany is. Shame on him, but thanks for publishing this article on such a hugely disappointing day for BIG fans like me.

Ron McIntosh on 7/12/2012 @ 9:18pm EDT Said:

Revealing Sandusky would have hurt the program in the short run. By not coming clean, they covered up a horrible set of crimes which enable the university to keep recruiting top players. Shut the program down.

Phil on 7/12/2012 @ 11:46pm EDT Said:

PSU should be expelled from the Big Ten immediately.

I grew up in a Big Ten home before PSU joined the conference, and I became a PSU and JoePa fan when I lived in Pennsylvania. I was elated when PSU joined the Big Ten.

The betrayal of those of us who admired and respected the university, its football program and Paterno himself, is nothing compared with how they betrayed those poor young boys.

PSU deserves nothing but pariah status in the Big Ten — regardless of whether or not the NCAA sits on its hands, regardless of further criminal and civil suits by and for Sandusky’s direct victims. The Big Ten can only be tainted by continued association with Penn State.

Michael L Vascik on 7/13/2012 @ 11:15am EDT Said:

Paterno is being used as a scapegoat, he reported it to his superiors, fired sandusky, and the board covered it up. Paterno was big on “Let the law handle it” whay happened there? I dont put alot of faith in freeh. Im a buckeye but respect Penn State athletics and Joe Paterno. I also respect Penn State academics, but as far as there board is concerned, they should be tried for negligent homicide.

Dustin on 7/13/2012 @ 11:22am EDT Said:

You are an idiot if you need a hero to worship and can’t tell what someone is like if you spend much time with them.

Hawkeye on 7/13/2012 @ 12:40pm EDT Said:

Vasic,you are a blind fool or illiterate and can’t read. He is no “scapegoat”, he was a liar with no regard for the children. It is sad when the truth can be laid before you and you still can’t believe it.

Eric on 7/13/2012 @ 2:31pm EDT Said:

Go back and watch Joes last win, the one that got him the all important record. Now with a straight face tell yourself that the university, the officials were honest. The big ten and the powers that be got him his win, then the story broke the following Monday. Why will no one look into that?

Linda on 7/13/2012 @ 4:01pm EDT Said:

I have read much of the Freeh Report, and while I am not prepared to defend anyone involved in this mess, I also feel that there is a lot missing from the report. There were definitely some “findings” that were pretty big leaps given the facts presented.

Maybe we should all remember the words of Christ, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” God bless Sandusky’s victims, and may the many innocent people affiliated with Penn State not be counted among them.

aroznowski on 7/13/2012 @ 5:31pm EDT Said:

All of the dummies that are pushing for Penn State to shut down its football program and receive the “death penalty” need to quit beating a dead horse and shut up. The current president, athletic director, football coaches, and football players should not punished for something that they had no part of. I am a proud Big Ten fan. When the Big Ten added Nebraska a year ago, the conference gained so many things. Among those things were two six-team divisions and a conference championship game for football. If Penn State’s football program were to be suspended or dropped, all of those gains would be lost. That is not fair to anybody in the conference.

S G on 7/13/2012 @ 11:18pm EDT Said:

For 13 of its 19 years in the big ten, penn state committed the worst institutional act in sports history. Think about this…. is this the type of institution that should continue to exist in this conference? Has this program lived up to the values & expectations since entering the conference two decades ago?

    Leon Spencer on 7/14/2012 @ 12:41pm EDT Said:

    SG, 13 of the 19 years? There is no 13 of the 19 years rule. Let’s try not to let emotion turn into a lynch mob. Penn State is a university – not 4 or 5 men. The Penn State football program DID NOT MOLEST KIDS. The community and State of Pennsylvania bestowed too much trust, power, and influence in Paterno to the point of threatening the Board of Trustee with riots and other when Paterno’s job was on the line.

    These emotional rants and calling for a “Death Penalty” or Big 10 expulsion are not only based on misinformed information about NCAA jurisdiction, they are no better than the mobs on the other side that threaten the PSU Board of Trustees into not firing Paterno decades ago or not eliminating Paterno’s benefits package after he was fired.

    I am a Big 10 alum. The Big 10 Conference is this nation’s oldest and most stable conference for a reason. And I do NOT see the Big 10 giving into mob pressure to act on something that is criminal matter and a matter of the “heart” i.e. that community needs to think about hero worship.

Leon on 7/14/2012 @ 2:29am EDT Said:

Some of these comments are just down right irrational. You guys need to calm right down and think about what you are posting before you post.

1. Penn St is NOT going anywhere. Penn St is a university – not the man or persons that did the crime.

2. Penn St has made numerous personnel changes as well as policy changes as a consequence of what happened. You need to understand those changes – administration, president, board, coaching, reporting – before you call for anyone let alone Delany or Emmert to dictate anything further to Penn St. They already gave recommendations they are following and have fired folks and are compensating victims. Others would be hard pressed to recommend anything else outside of 200+ recommendations from Freeh.

3. Outside of Joe Paterno being the former head coach of the football program THERE IS NO ASSOCIATION WITH THE FOOTBALL PROGRAM that warrants NCAA or Big 10 intervention. That may be difficult for you to sallow given the severity of the crime. But this is a criminal matter not involving student-athletes or the supervision thereof or recruiting or sportsmanship. These are what the NCAA governs – not university administration. Yes, Joe Paterno was given unprecedented power. But Joe Paterno is not a student-athlete nor engage in a recruiting nor mistreatment of student-athletes. These are what the NCAA covers. The NCAA does not run or dictate university administrations or accreditation. And they certainly cannot take away scholarships, ban a program, or sanction a program just because their administration varies between universities. That is a mess the NCAA was not designed to handle. That is a AAU, state, and federal regulations issue.

4. The Big 10 Conference has made statements on this earlier and most recently again with the NCAA. If you missed them, please search the Internet. But don’t try to bully the conference or network into making rash statements or frenzy. There are ongoing criminal investigations as well as federal probes. Allow those to complete as well as Penn St to act as a result of it’s own independent investigation before you call for further action from the NCAA or Big 10.

Michael L Vascik on 7/14/2012 @ 11:09am EDT Said:

Hawkeye, if it were 40 years ago when this happened, yes I would take it as the truth. Things changed, for the worse. More and more people are into themselves and tend to overdue things. Publicity being one of them. Why are they on Kirk Ferentz so badly when he is one of the best football coaches out there? There is so much pressure to win that you cant. Yes I am a fool, and almost blind, but only illiterate when “Why” is not answered. In 12 different languages I might add. The lower echelon of the FBI should have made the report, I can trust them. Their superiors dont, just look at 911.

aroznowski on 7/15/2012 @ 12:48am EDT Said:

For all of those people that think that the Big Ten Conference should get rid of Penn State, it should also be noted that the conference would not start sponsoring men’s hockey in just over one calendar year if that were the case. Do we as Big Ten fans want that? No, we do not.

Bob Stanley on 7/15/2012 @ 1:40pm EDT Said:

I agree with the comments about punishing the men who acted improperly and not the university as a whole, it’s fan base, it’s students and alumni, the current football players, the new coaching staff, and all the other PSU sports, both intramural and intercollegiate, that the football program supports. What possible benefit is there to punishing the innocent other than to make a group of outsiders feel morally superior. If an English professor did what Sandusky did, no one would be calling to have the English department shut down because that would only hurt the students who had nothing to do with what happened. Joe is dead and his legacy tarnished forever. Spanier, Curley, and Schultz will soon be heading to jail to join Sandusky. The university (i.e., the tax payers of PA) will be paying out millions in settlements and fines – which will never be enough to undo what Sandusky did to the victims. Why also punish the innocent.

Leon Spencer on 7/15/2012 @ 3:39pm EDT Said:

The “Penn State Special Report” show re-airs tonight (7/15/12) on BTN TV and BTN2Go at 8 p.m. ET. …..

You guys should listen to the comments by Pat Forde. They are inline with Gene Marsh and many others on NCAA jurisdiction and potential Penn State penalties. Folks that have been throwing around the “Death Penalty”, “Lack of Institutional Control”, and other sanctions need to understand what the those terms mean and what the NCAA does. …..

Understandably there is anger. But acting in a feeding frenzy and lynch mob to get at Penn St is no better than the threats of riots and other intimidation that kept the Penn St Administration from initially trying to part ways with Paterno a decade ago and most recently last year.

aroznowski on 7/16/2012 @ 7:32pm EDT Said:

I am going to make this clear. Penn State should not be given the death penalty. The death penalty wouldn’t punish Jerry Sandusky. It wouldn’t punish Tim Curley. It wouldn’t punish Gary Schultz. It wouldn’t punish Graham Spanier. It would punish Bill O’Brien and the current football coaching staff that had nothing to do with this mess. It would punish the current football players that had nothing to do with this mess. Why should those players have to give up the world-class education that they have at Penn State? Why should those players, many of whom have probably made plans and arrangements for this upcoming academic year, be forced to have to go somewhere else at the very last minute? It would punish Penn State president Rodney Erickson and Penn State acting athletic director David Joyner, who had nothing to do with this mess. It would punish all of Penn State’s student-athletes that rely on the revenue that the football program generates to pay for their education and had nothing to do with this mess. It would punish the people that maintain Penn State’s athletic facilities that rely on the revenue that the football program generates to do their jobs and had nothing to do with this mess. It would punish the Penn State fans, alumni, donors, and students that had nothing to do with this mess. It would punish the local businesses in State College that had nothing to do with this mess. It would punish Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and the Big Ten Conference, who had nothing to do with this mess. When the conference added Nebraska a year ago, two six-team football divisions and a football championship game were created. All of that would be lost if Penn State shut down its football program. The schools that I mentioned also do not deserve to lose the great rivalries that they have with Penn State. To me, Penn State has been in the conference for so long that the Nittany Lions are as much Big Ten as all of the conference’s other members expect for Nebraska, who willl likely get to that status within the next decade or two. I love having Penn State in the Big Ten Conference. If the conference were to lose Penn State, it wouldn’t be able to sponsor men’s hockey starting in the fall of 2013 as planned. There is no way that I would accept the damages that a death penalty or departure would bring to my beloved conference regardless of whether children were abused by an evil monster or not.