Supporters Work To Reclaim Legacy Of Penn State Coach Joe Paterno A campaign is underway to repair former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno's legacy after a child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky tarnished his image.

Supporters Work To Reclaim Legacy Of Penn State Coach Joe Paterno

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


The Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal rocked Penn State University more than three years ago, but the fallout continues. There are a series of ongoing lawsuits, and as NPR's Jeff Brady reports, there's also a campaign to restore the legacy of former head football coach Joe Paterno.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: In a very short period, Joe Paterno fell from legendary football coach to some accused of protecting a child molester. He was fired and then died two months later.

JAY PATERNO: People get a lot of guts to say certain things when someone's dead and can't defend themselves. That was certainly the case here.

BRADY: That's Joe Paterno's son, Jay. He's on a mission to correct what he views as a flawed public record of his father's legacy, and Paterno knows he's in for a long fight.

PATERNO: When my grandkids Google - or whatever the search engine will be in 30 years - their great grandfather's name, this story is going to pop up.

BRADY: They'll read that in fall of 2011, Paterno's former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested on molestation charges. A University-sponsored investigation found that Penn State leaders, including Joe Paterno, failed to protect children from Sandusky and then tried to cover the whole thing up.

PATERNO: The Board of Trustees did so much damage with that report that it's going to take an awful long time to unwind it.

BRADY: Paterno argues his dad fulfilled a legal obligation to forward abuse reports to superiors at Penn State. But since Sandusky was affiliated with the football program Joe Paterno built, the image of the coach and his team suffered. Stiff sanctions from the National Collegiate Athletic Association focused even more attention on Penn State football.


BRADY: Outside of the administration building on Penn State's main campus, many of the students were in high school when the scandal broke three years back, but they still refer to Joe Paterno by his nickname, JoePa.

DANA REISS: People downtown in their apartments have, like, the JoePa cutouts and, like, everyone, like, loves Joe Paterno.

BRADY: That's sophomore Dana Reiss. Nearby, freshman Jackson Hill says it's frustrating that some people don't have the facts of the scandal straight. He says they confuse Jerry Sandusky with Joe Paterno.

JACKSON HILL: I live in Maryland, and even people just one state away - they're like, oh, how do you still support Joe Paterno after what he did to those kids? And I - like, I feel like I have to explain over and over and over again that it wasn't Joe Paterno. It was Jerry Sandusky.

BRADY: On the other side of campus near Penn State's football stadium, there used to be a bronze statue of Joe Paterno. It was removed in the wake of the scandal. Now Paterno supporters want it back.

TOM KLINE: I think that the supporters of Paterno are essentially trying to rewrite in the past.

BRADY: Attorney Tom Kline represented one of Jerry Sandusky's victims. He says there is no disputing that Joe Paterno was an extraordinary coach who created a model football program. At the same time, Kline says Paterno was human and had faults. Kline says beyond legally reporting suspected child abuse to his superiors, Paterno had a moral obligation to make sure Sandusky was stopped.

KLINE: I think the University would be better served if those who come to the protection and aid of Joe Paterno would do so in a more balanced way and realize that what Joe Paterno has is a mixed legacy.

BRADY: But a mixed legacy is not what Paterno supporters want. They point out he won more games than any other college football coach and graduated a high percentage of his players. They credit Paterno for Penn State's transformation from a sleepy agricultural college to a respected university. 1991 Penn State graduate Rob Tribeck says many alumni see themselves in Joe Paterno, a man from a blue-collar family who went on to succeed. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The audio of this story says that Joe Paterno won more games than any other college football coach. He actually won more than any other major college football coach.]

ROB TRIBECK: Me and many people like me had an opportunity to go to Penn State whereas we didn't have opportunities to go to the Ivy League schools or at high-level private institutions.

BRADY: Tribeck's campaign to restore Paterno's legacy includes running for a seat on Penn State's Board of Trustees. He also belongs to a group of like-minded people called Penn Staters For Responsible Stewardship. And Tribeck hopes one day the rest of the world will again revere Joe Paterno. Jeff Brady, NPR News.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.