Joe Paterno’s widow said the she and her late husband knew nothing of the rampant sexual abuse that was taking place right under their noses at Penn State University.
Speaking at a program celebrating Child Abuse Awareness Month, Sue Paterno said she and Joe Paterno were ignorant about sexual predators like Jerry Sandusky and didn’t know the former Penn State assistant coach was abusing young boys.
“We have been unaware of how a predator behaves,” Joe Paterno’s widow said. “In many cases, we unknowingly helped him ‘groom’ his victims while we thought we were helping a child achieve self-esteem and find a better life.”
Sue Paterno said it was only after Sandusky was arrested in November 2011 that she learned the depths of the abuse.
Those statements don’t seem to mesh with independent accounts of the Penn State scandal. A report compiled afterward by former FBI director Louis Freeh found that Joe Paterno was instrumental in sweeping aside the allegations against Jerry Sandusky for fear of harm to the Penn State football program. Joe Paterno, who died in January 2012 at age 85, reportedly allowed Sandusky to remain in contact with young boys even after initial abuse allegations surfaced.
Last year the NCAA imposed a number of sanctions on Penn State, including a four-year bowl ban.
A separate report compiled at the behest of the Paterno family painted them in a more forgiving light. Sue Paterno sent a letter to Penn State players in February promising that the new report would present “a persuasive critique of the Freeh report as a total disservice to victims of Sandusky and the cause of preventing child sex offenses.”
“When the Freeh report was released last July, I was as shocked as anyone by the findings and by Mr. Freeh’s extraordinary attack on Joe’s character and integrity. I did not recognize the man Mr. Freeh described,” Joe Paterno’s widow wrote. “I am here to tell you as definitively and forcefully as I know how that Mr. Freeh could not have been more wrong in his assessment of Joe.”
In her latest comments, Sue Paterno said the scandal continues to have a devastating effect on the family.
“The last 17 months have been filled with disbelief, horror, the pain of loss, sleepless nights, praying for the victims and for peace of mind for those who unwittingly were too naive to recognize the signs of abuse,” she said.
Some have criticized the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance for choosing Sue Paterno as a speaker given the family’s connection to the high-profile sexual abuse case. The group’s director, Angela Liddle, defended the selection of Joe Paterno’s widow and said the family are “good folks.”