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Does 'Paterno' Provide Any Answers?
April 7, 2018  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

One of the great coaches in college football history, Penn State’s Joe Paterno, couldn’t figure out how to handle the last play of his own game.

Paterno, an HBO film that stars Al Pacino (top) and debuts Saturday at 8 p.m. ET, paints the legendary JoePa as a genuinely bewildered octogenarian after he was fired in the wake of the revelation one of his assistants had been molesting young boys.

That 2011 scandal eventually sent several Penn State officials, including its former President Graham Spanier (Tom Kemp), to jail. The child molester, Jerry Sandusky (Jim Johnson), went to prison for life.

Paterno, who was never charged with any criminal offense, died several months later of cancer. But his role and culpability were the subjects of heated controversy even while he was alive and director Barry Levinson doesn’t use Paterno to come down on one side or the other.  

Pacino’s Paterno is confused himself, and viewers may feel the same.

Almost a decade before there were any public hints that Sandusky was a pedophile, Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary (Darren Goldstein) saw him in a Penn State locker room shower seemingly molesting a young boy.

McQueary told Paterno, who passed along the report to university officials. They kept the investigation in-house, not wanting to risk the university’s reputation, and no action was taken.

When one of his victims, Aaron Fisher (Ben Cook), finally came forward, the case broadened from Sandusky’s horrifying behavior to Penn State’s cover-up.

Paterno at first brushes it all aside, painting himself as an outlier who did exactly what he was required to do: relay McQueary’s observation to his superiors.

As the extent of the university’s efforts to protect the reputation of the school and its football program become clearer, though, questions start to arise about what Paterno could or should have done.

He’s widely considered the most powerful person at the university, and ironically, that puts him more at risk.  If there were serious questions about one of his staff members, did he have a responsibility to find out more, or at least monitor the progress of the investigation?

His instinctive response is no, and he repeatedly rejects family and legal advice that he make public statements. His job is to win football games, he says, and that’s how he supports the university. Alleged misconduct off the field is not his department. He has game films to watch so he can prepare his team for Northwestern and Illinois.

Coaching football, it’s clear, is his life, because that’s where he’s a deity. Outside of the coaching world, he could be any of a million blue-collar guys from the Rust Belt – a little cranky, a little impatient, fundamentally decent. He lives in a nice, not exceptional house. He loves his wife Sue (Kathy Baker), who understands football will always be his top priority.

As the investigation moves along, Paterno gets a little more involved, thinks a little more about it. He asks himself some of the same questions being asked by a local newspaper reporter, Sarah Ganim (Riley Keough), who keeps printing the troubling factoids that are slowly and inexorably leaking out.

Ganim is a big part of Paterno, but in the movie as in life, JoePa is such a towering figure that all the lights follow him wherever he goes.  

Around Penn State, many people today still consider Joe Paterno as one of their great heroes. They see no tarnish on his name or his record, and they have no sympathy for those who spoke out in the case, in some cases even the molestation victims, because they were part of the chain that led to Paterno’s dismissal and humiliation.

Paterno himself, at the end, seems not so defiant. He’s wounded. He’s also conflicted.  

The viewer will know the feeling. Was he a good man caught in the backwash of acts by an evil man? Or was he so obsessed with winning football games that he missed something even more important on the sideline? Could both those things be true?

Whatever the truth, it wasn’t the ending anyone wanted.

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Like the culpable Roman Catholic bishops who knew and hid the offenders,Paterno came from this mindset. This is not an excuse. As those bishops die,their jobs in Hades consist of digging deeper,hotter places for Nazis and others guilty of genocide. Paterno gets a shovel,too. There is no reason to dramatize scum. If he had to do it all over,things would have stayed hidden. More kids abused. Like the others,he just got caught. And yes,shame on the corrupt NCAA for reinstating Penn State's wins. The NFL's lucrative minor league system,causing harm and early death/brain damage to players who are paid nothing. Shovels are waiting for those NCAA folk,too. Oh,and don't confuse factoids with facts. This was never Fake News.
Apr 7, 2018   |  Reply
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