Washington Post writer Sally Jenkins speaks to ComRadio

Audio/Story posted January 14, 2012 in Sports, CommRadio by ComRadio PR

Earlier this week, Washington Post writer Sally Jenkins sat down with Joe Paterno for the former Penn State coach's first interview since the Sandusky scandal. Her interview was released on the Washington Post website just after 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, January 14.

Prior to her article going live, Jenkins was live on ComRadio with Patrick Woo and Willie Jungels to talk about her interview with Joe Paterno.

The interview may be heard in full below:


Full Interview Transcript:

How did you come about the interview and your initial reaction to being told you would be conducting it?


Well I was invited to do it by a representative for Coach Paterno who works in Washington DC who contacted me. And I was told because I had written one of the few sensible columns about the Jerry Sandusky Grand Jury and all the events that then followed in those several tumultuous days. They felt that I taken a more measured tone in a column that I had written and that I had thought things through more rationally then some people. So they at least wanted to discuss offering me the opportunity. We had a lot of talks about what the circumstances would be because Coach Paterno is going through chemotherapy and lung cancer so there was quite a bit of negotiating and I had to talk to my editors about what the terms would be and so on and so forth and that took a few days to hash out. And then I got a call that said they felt that they wanted to go ahead and do it, that he felt he wanted to go ahead and do it.


I guess the question that everybody is dying to know up here is how he is doing? How did he look to you?


He looks like he is in chemotherapy. He actually looked better than I expected. The first day was Thursday that I saw him and I did not spend very long with him. We divided it into two interviews because he is weak. Chemotherapy puts you in a mental fog among other things in addition to making you feel very sick it actually makes you very tired and foggy and not entirely lucid so we had to be aware of those things. Those were some of the things we actually had to discuss before he would agree to let me interview him. He looks better than you would expect. But he is very weak, he’s got a broken pelvis. The chemotherapy has taken away some of his old handsomeness I guess you would say and he gets tired very easily. His voice is very weak, lung cancer will do that to you.


Is this the same Joe Paterno that you have covered before? Has it taken a toll on his spirits? What is his emotional state?


His spirit is good and his emotional state is good. He was not bitter. He wanted people to know he’s not bitter. He wants people to know he loves this university. He helped build it from the time he first arrived in 1950. He hates to see people tear it down. His loyalty to the university is intact surprisingly, at least to me. He’s saddened obviously. The word he kept using was sad. He’s very sad about the Jerry Sandusky grand jury; about the allegations; about some of the things that he’s heard from the grand jury presentment and so on and so forth and from the preliminary hearings and all of that stuff. So from that standpoint his spirits are not good. But from the standpoint of an 85-year-old guy with lung cancer who just got fired, he’s pretty good.


From what you know what is his relationship with Jerry Sandusky like?


He described it as professional. He said not social. He couldn’t remember the last time that they really had any interaction.


Joe Paterno stated, “I wish I had done more”. Did he shed any light on what he meant by that?


He just reiterated it. Follow up, should have asked more questions in the next several months and years. He didn’t get real specific about that. People need to go to the Washington Post to really get my elaboration on that. But basically I think he regrets that he didn’t fully grasp the entire nature of what Mike Mcqueary was telling him and that he feels he could have done more in terms of follow up the chain of command. He was hesitant to do that because Jerry Sandusky had been an assistant coach of his so he didn’t want to appear to be interfering so he had to be careful about that.


What kind of relationship do you think Joe Paterno wishes to have with Penn State going forward?


As I say he’s deeply loyal to the university. He feels like he got here when it was a cow college and I think he feels he watched it grow, helped it grow, and I think that that loyalty is unwavering.


Was there any discussion about the recent $100,000 donation to the university?


He just said he did it because he had it to give and he wanted to do something for the university. He said he wanted people to understand he still had positive feelings for the school.


There was a rumor going around that Jerry Sandusky was in the presidential box at the last game that Joe Paterno coached. Did he elaborate at all about how involved Jerry Sandusky was and how often he was at practices and games and with the football program after 2002?


He didn’t. I didn’t get a chance to do a lot of follow up myself because the two interviews were relatively brief. I got a little chance to do some follow up on that sort of thing and he did answer some questions about it. He was unequivocal that he could not remember the last time he really had had anything to do with Jerry Sandusky.


Did you go through anything with him about anything that he could recall from the night when the Board of Trustees made that announcement?


Yes, he and Sue Paterno gave me a very vivid description of what happened in their household that night.


Does he feel at all betrayed about how it was conducted? Was he wishing for a little bit more closure?


He was certainly. I think he was wishing for a gentler process. I think that his initial feeling was obviously very upset and then he made himself sleep on it for a couple of days and decided to take the high road.

After talking to Joe Paterno, what do you think is next for him? Where does he go for here?


Well he’s got a very serious health battle. I mean I think he has bigger fish to fry. Personally, his first task here is survival. You know he has a lung tumor, which according to his family the chemotherapy is working and the radiation is working. But as you know from the fact he was hospitalized last night. The chemotherapy is very rough on him and the nature of chemotherapy, I know this from working with Lance Armstrong, it’s a race between the chemotherapy and the cancer to see what’s going to get you first. The fact that he had a tough reaction to the chemo is an issue and a problem. However, my understanding is he rallied very nicely overnight.


Did he say anything about the new coach and what he hopes Coach O’Brien will bring to Penn State?


He didn’t say exactly what he hopes, but you know of course he mentioned immediately and at least twice “Well he went to Brown you know. He went to Brown you know.” But he did say that they had spoken and that he supports him.


Obviously his son Jay is not going to be retained on staff. Did Joe give anything about his thoughts on that?


He didn’t. We didn’t discuss it. Jay was around and seemed cheerful and was not feeling sorry for himself or whining. Again, there’s no whining going on in that household. That’s one thing I would tell you from having visited him is that they are not sitting around in that house feeling real sorry for themselves.


Is he active? Does he just sit around the house all day?


Yeah, he has a broken pelvis and so between that and the chemo he’s not able to really get around. Now again, I don’t know exactly what he does with his day. This is a guy who at 60 was doing 60 pushups. Maybe he’s springing up in his chair when I’m not around and doing jumping jacks, but I don’t think so. He looked like it was a real struggle for him to get out of bed and get to the kitchen table.


What do you think is the timetable for Paterno to actually get his side of the story out other than you speaking to him?


I mean I think this is pretty much it. I don’t think he has a great deal more to say than what he said to me. To be honest with you I don’t think there’s a great banner headline over my story. I couldn’t tell you there’s going to be a money quote up on the Internet later this afternoon or in tomorrow’s paper. I think his attitude is philosophic which probably won’t surprise the students here at Penn State.


After talking to Coach Paterno and after covering this story for the last two months, what do you think the legacy of Joe Paterno will be?


Well I think time has to determine that. We have to make sure there are no more revelations. You know obviously people have questions about the police investigation in 1998 that didn’t go anywhere. Obviously people have questions; he reiterated he had no knowledge of that. Obviously, people have questions as to why he didn’t follow up more aggressively, why a number people didn’t follow up more aggressively in 2002, when he was told something by Mike McQueary. I don’t think you can say what Joe Paterno’s legacy is until the criminal trials have finished, the issues are worked out, healing and forgiveness begins, and then the smoke clears. And then I think maybe five years from now people will have a better idea exactly what Joe Paterno’s legacy is. Right now there are two possibilities. One is his 61 years of service to the university of doing pretty much everything right, rarely putting a foot wrong. He put a foot wrong sometimes. His program wasn’t perfect. He had some of the typical problems with big time college football. Athletes who got themselves arrested and things like that. All that stuff, I don’t think you can measure until this lens goes away.


What’s his (Joe Paterno’s) opinion of his own legacy?


He said if you want to call it a legacy, his opinion of what he’s proud of and if he has any legacy at all is he didn’t deviate from his intentions in 1966, which was to do it the right way. He believes he pretty well stuck to that and he thinks if there’s a legacy for him is that’s he tried to do it right.


Any sort of big regret that he had?


Well he’s heartsick. If these allegations are true he’s absolutely heartsick about it. I think that’s obviously his biggest regret is that if its true he’s literally absolutely sick.


Did he say if he was going to testify at the trial?


That’s a good question. I didn’t ask that question, didn’t have time to ask it.


With regards to his relationship going forward with university did he shed any light on how much he thinks they are going to give him?


He didn’t. I think they are talking that out right now. I got the impression that both sides want to resolve something so that his 61 years of service to the university is put in its proper perspective and place and honored for what it was. I don’t have any insider knowledge to give you on that.



Do you think more people are going to come off after seeing your interview with him and start believing Joe Paterno?


Well you know he’s a charmer. I mean you guys know him much better than I do. I’ve only really talked to Joe Paterno twice in 25 years. This was the second time. I saw him many years ago when I was a young reporter not much older than you guys and I came up here to do a feature story for the Washington Post, I couldn’t tell you what year it was. It was sometimes in early 90s or late 80s and I really hadn’t been around him since then You guys can answer that question much better than I can. The people who have been around him for years whether its two years, or four years, 50 years believe in him I think. My job here was not to decide whether not I believe him or not but to give him a format and a forum to tell his side of the story or to say what he wanted to say; neither sympathetically or unsympathetically.

About the Contributors

WIllie Jungels's photo

WIllie Jungels

Senior / Broadcast Journaism

Willie Jungels is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. He is a sports anchor/reporter for the Centre County Report and is also a sports director at ComRadio primarily covering the football team as well as breaking sports news. Two major stories that he was involved in covering were the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the 2013 Maxwell Football Awards. His goal is to become a television reporter covering sports in Philadelphia and later become a talk show host. He has interned at NBC 40 WMGM in Atlantic City, 97.3 ESPN Radio WENJ and for the past two summers at NBC 10 WCAU in Philadelphia. Willie also is a fill in producer for the Steve Jones show on ESPN 1450 WMAJ in State College. Willie lives in Northfield, NJ just outside of Atlantic City and enjoys spending time with his friends at the beach. You can reach Willie by emailing him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or by following him on twitter at @WillJungelsPSU