Sue Paterno and her family discussed the late Joe Paterno, the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case and the Freeh Report on Katie Couric’s nationally televised talk show on Monday afternoon.
For the widow of Penn State’s former head football coach, the appearance on “Katie” was her first national interview since the Sandusky case broke and the death of her husband from lung cancer in January 2012.
Couric had the widow and three of her children in-studio prior to Monday, but it was broadcast at 3 p.m. and was re-aired the following hour.
When first asked about how she has dealt without her husband and considering the circumstances that followed, the widow said there is sadness, but those who surrounded her have provided unwavering support.
“When you love someone dearly, it's hard to adjust and accept the loss,” Paterno said. “This last year has been quite a challenge. I thank God for God, my faith, our family, our friends and all the people that have written letters about what Joe meant to them.”
After the Freeh Report — an investigation conducted by former FBI Director Louis Freeh that claimed Joe Paterno, among others, covered up Sandusky’s crimes — was brought up by Couric, Sue Paterno said Freeh didn’t know her husband like she did.
“For someone who knows someone for 54 years, I knew him better and he was what he was. What you saw is what you got — a man of integrity, honesty [and] he never let down any of his moral values,” Paterno said. “His life was built on doing things the right way and for Louis Freeh to say what he said about Joe, I was in a state of disbelief.”
Couric also asked Paterno about Nov. 9, 2011 — the night the former coaching icon was fired via telephone by the Penn State Board of Trustees.
“They said that he was terminated immediately. He said, ‘I've just been fired.’ So I picked up the phone and redialed the number and I said, ‘After 61 and a half years he deserves better.’ And I hung up,” Sue said.
When addressed with the issue of Sandusky and the crimes he committed, Sue Paterno said she thought the abuses were “vile” and that she and her husband’s lives revolved around children, including their five children and 17 grandchildren.
With regard to the charges presented against the former assistant coach, Sue said it was difficult to accept and she felt physically ill upon reading the first presentment that outlined charges against Sandusky.
Sandusky was found guilty on 45 of the 48 counts of child sex abuse.
Couric then brought up that the late head coach said before his death that he wished he had done more with regard to the 2001 incident where former football assistant Mike McQueary witnessed Sandusky in the shower with a young boy and followed up by telling the late coach.
Sue pointed out that the quote of, "I wish I had done more," had been taken out of context.
“Well, you're missing the whole sentence. [The statement was], ‘With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.’ Hindsight came because of what we learned later,” Paterno said. “If he knew in 2001 what he learned in 2011, yes, he would do more. Anyone would, but we didn't have that benefit because we didn't know anything.”
She also said it was apparent that Sandusky enjoyed playing with children, but that nothing of a negative connotation was considered and they were unaware of what he had been doing.
“He did love to be around children,” Paterno said. “When we were at bowl [games] in warm weather, he would go in the pool and play with the kids, our kids included. Do you think we'd let our kids play with someone who might be a pedophile? I mean would you let your children in that pool? So obviously we were totally unaware.”
When asked by Couric if Sandusky's actions could have been uncovered sooner if closer attention had been paid by Penn State and the former head coach, Sue pointed out that Sandusky had been screened before in order to adopt children and by The Second Mile.
Sandusky adopted six children, served as a foster father and founded The Second Mile — a nonprofit organization for underprivileged children.
“The executive director of the Second Mile is a child psychologist. If the experts don't know, how can we know?” Sue said.
Also present for the show was three of Paterno’s children — Mary Kay, Jay and Diana — along with Wick Sollers, one of the family’s attorneys, and two former Penn State football players.
Couric asked Diana Paterno about her father and the aftermath of his statue being removed from outside Beaver Stadium and his legacy.
“Not for one minute did I think he did anything wrong,” Paterno’s daughter said. “And the fact that his statue is gone and he doesn’t have the wins anymore, that’s not what my dad was about. And you talk about a tarnished legacy, but his legacy was his family and the players he’s reached over the years.”
When asked about the Freeh Report and the reason to issue a rebuttal, Sollers — a managing partner at King & Spalding in Washington, D.C. — said Freeh’s report was “oversold to the public” and “deeply flawed.”