State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Sue, Jay Paterno say they might've stopped Sandusky with training

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Apr 10, 2013 10:45 PM
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Photo by Mary Wilson / witf

Sue Paterno greets attendees at the annual breakfast organized by the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance.

Members of the Paterno family said Wednesday the only way to find meaning in the Jerry Sandusky child abuse case that rocked Penn State is to use it to bring more attention to child protection efforts.

The gathering marked the first time, said a spokeswoman, that the Paterno family has spoken at a child abuse awareness event since convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky was arrested nearly a year and a half ago.

Jay Paterno, son of Penn State’s late head football coach, joined his mother Sue at this year’s annual breakfast organized by the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance, an organization that trains people to recognize signs of child abuse.

“I know my presence here and the presence of our family here is not without controversy, I am not naïve. But I am not here to press the case for my father or talk about my family,” he said. “I’m here for one reason and one reason only and that’s to discuss the responsibility we all have for the children of this commonwealth.”

Joe Paterno, who died last January, was fired by the Penn State board of trustees shortly after the former Nittany Lions defensive coordinator was arrested. He insisted, as does his family, that he didn’t know of Sandusky’s criminal behavior.

Jay Paterno went on to stress the importance of training people to identify and report child abuse.

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Photo by Mary Wilson / witf

Jay Paterno speaks with state Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre) at a child abuse awareness breakfast in Harrisburg.

“I worked with Jerry Sandusky for several years. My own children were around him – my own children were around him at youth soccer games,” said Paterno. “I didn’t see anything. I didn’t know what to look for. Perhaps, with an awareness, I could have seen something, so I could have said something.”

His mother, Sue, said such training should be available for everyone. She said in the months since the Sandusky case was made public, her family has been praying for peace of mind of those who were too naïve to recognize signs of child abuse – a subset that includes the Paternos.

“Why were we so unaware? Why didn’t we see signs? And why did we never talk about child abuse?” said Sue Paterno. It was the first time since she had spoken publicly since her February interview with ABC’s Katie Couric. But unlike those interviews, which focused on the legacy of her late husband, the remarks in Harrisburg offered passionate, if vague, commitments to preventing further child abuse.

Mentioning her work with Special Olympics athletes, Sue Paterno reflected on the hugs and pats on the back that were so commonplace in the past, and wondered aloud if such exchanges are now out of bounds.

“I don’t have any answers for anyone,” she said. “I wish someone had one for me.”

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