I just finished the book, “Paterno” by Joe Posnanski. I was fortunate enough to have the back cover photograph. My Friend Joe Hermitt had the front. Between the two of us we probably photographed JoePa more than anyone.
I read over half the book on a bench in Sunset Park, not more than 100 yards from the Paterno home. Why? I am not sure why. I wanted a quiet place to read and reflect on this man that I knew all these years. This seemed like the right place. I spent many cold hours in front of his house in November. I always wondered what I wasn’t seeing. What was going on in that house and how was Joe handling all of this? Now, this book has given me insight into those unanswered questions.
No matter which camp you reside in, this book will not change your mind or sway you in any direction. I am a photographer and this is the only Paterno book I have ever read. I am not a writer or a book reviewer. I am a man that spent 25 seasons (somewhere north of 200+ games) covering Penn State football from as close as you could get. I also saw Joe at many functions away from the field. My job is to show the viewer what I see. Basically, I am a paid observer. I never had much to say from this front row of history. However, as I get older I have discovered the guy behind the camera has a lot on his mind.
If you are looking for the Holy Grail answer as to why Joe did what he did or didn’t do, you will not find it here. The Book did one thing for me, and that was all I was looking for. It filled in some of the blanks. We all know the core story: Brooklyn, Brown, Engle, George, Sue, Coach, Bear, champions, players, education, age. This was the hit music we heard over and over and it became lore. The book feels like the Album to those greatest hits. The songs you didn’t hear when you were only listening to the hits. Now, we want to hear the album and see what the rest of the story is. I liked the album. Details I didn’t know, insight into the last days of Joe’s life, stories I never knew. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry.
Everyone will tell you Joe was a complex man. He was, no doubt. He had faults and they don’t sugar coat it in the book. I saw some of these first hand. The book does not draw conclusions, it allows you to think for yourself. Make up your own mind and hopefully find peace with what you find. I did.
I have told my close friends what I am telling you now. In all the years I covered Penn State football with all the people I knew, players, coaches, reporters, photographers, workers, fans, students, and everyone else you can think of after doing this for 25 years, I was as stunned as anyone when the Sandusky story broke. I didn’t hear a rumor, a whisper, a sentence, or a single word about Jerry Sandusky. Nothing. I was very close to the program and gained the trust that you only get from being there that long. I heard nothing.
The following is MY opinion on Joe Paterno’s role in this whole mess. The book reveals a lot of what I thought was going on. I honestly don’t believe he understood or comprehended what he was told. His generation could not comprehend these horrific acts. The generation gap is too big for us to understand what he thought. His kids made him read the newspapers so he would understand what was happening. They insisted he know what was being said about him. He did with great reluctance. He had to ask his kids embarrassing questions about some of the sexual descriptions. Things you never want your kids to ask you.
After reading the Sandusky report and asking his kids about public opinion of him, and they were totally honest, he said: “How could they think that? They really think that if I knew someone was hurting kids, I wouldn’t stop it? Do they know me? Do they know know what my life was about?” Exactly. That is exactly how I feel. He never liked Sandusky, that was known, for a very long time, by people anywhere near the program. He would never protect anyone who did that to kids. He would walk to the police station and report it, in person, if he had any idea what was going on. That’s what I think. Read what you want, believe what you want. Many times, in this book, Joe speaks to you about this. If this man was acting all his life doing everything he could the right way, turning boys into great men, and working to improve everything around him. Why would he protect someone hurting children? He wouldn’t. It’s that simple. To protect the program, his image? Nope, if you believe that then everything you knew about Joe Paterno was an act. If that was an act we witnessed one hell of a performance. Nope, we saw the real deal and people were so quick to sell him short. I won’t.
Joe said, let the truth speak for itself. He is the only person to say he wished he had done more. How selfless is that? He passed on everything he knew, because he knew it was out of his realm of knowledge. He thought he did the right thing. He thought he took care of it. In hindsight, he wished he had done more. Yes, we all wish that now. I don’t believe he had any clue to the depth of this horrific man. Sandusky fooled EVERYBODY.
The family says Joe died with peace in his heart. I believe he knew the truth will come out in time. Time the haters didn’t give him. Time the Board didn’t give him. Now, all we have is time. I think we owe it to him to give this time to play out. Time will tell us what we need to know, then we can decide for ourselves what makes sense. I know Joe rests in peace on that quiet hillside in Lemont. He lived a great life and we were lucky to have him for so long.
So, how do I feel about Joe Paterno?
I miss him.