By John Finnerty
CNHI Harrisburg Bureau
On the night before he died, Joe Paterno scrawled a message that his wife, Sue, did not find until after the legendary Penn State coach had passed away.
In that message, Joe Paterno noted that the silver lining in the child sex abuse coverup that led to his firing might be that the scandal could inspire a greater awareness about child abuse.
“We took that as a directive,” Joe Paterno’s son Scott said Wednesday, moments after his brother Jay and mother Sue were the featured speakers at a child abuse awareness event.
Wednesday’s appearance was the first time the members of the Paterno family have lent their public support to a cause directed at fighting child abuse.
The event was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance. Angela Liddle, the executive director of the alliance, said the Paternos’ involvement has been controversial but the organization is glad to have the advocacy of the former football coach’s family.
“Everyone’s questioning it,” Liddle said. “People say they are just doing it to try to repair their image.”
“(The Paternos) said ‘We are educating ourselves and we were shocked at how little we knew and we want to take the leadership in helping educate others,’” she said. “We could not be prouder that they are working with our organization.”
Sue Paterno had long supported the Special Olympics and the family had done work on behalf of multiple sclerosis research, Scott Paterno said. In both cases, the Paternos had some family connection to those issues. Sue Paterno has also been an avid donor to support the library at Penn State. The library holds a special place in her heart because it was where she met the man who would become her longtime husband long before he became an icon, Scott Paterno said.
Liddle said she first met the Paternos when they invited her to meet to discuss the issue of child abuse and hear her ideas about what needs to be done.
The Pennsylvania Family Support Association is lobbying for more and better training for people who are supposed to recognize and report child abuse.
Scott Paterno said that the Clemente Report had detailed how Jerry Sandusky had allegedly fooled many people, including Joe Paterno and numerous other professionals who were mandated reporters of suspected child abuse. The findings in the Clemente Report illustrated the need for better training for people who are supposed to recognize child abuse, Scott Paterno said.
The Clemente Report was commissioned by the Paternos in response to the Penn State board of trustees’ Freeh Report. The Freeh Report had determined that Joe Paterno had been a participant in the scheme to cover up the allegations about Sandusky.
In his speech, Jay Paterno noted that his own children had been around Sandusky at soccer games. Jay Paterno said that he never saw anything that made him suspect that Sandusky might be a child predator.
Jay Paterno said that he hopes that Pennsylvania can develop a culture that encourages witnesses to raise the alarm when they have suspicions about child abuse. Sandusky’s predatory behavior continued unabated because there were allegedly witnesses who did not report what they had seen and there were cases when witnesses told university administrators but police were never notified.
“When you come forward, we will stand with you,” Jay Paterno said. “Child abusers do not need enablers — those who protect children do.”
Jay was an assistant coach at Penn State, working for his father and alongside Sandusky.
Finnerty reports from Harrisburg for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.’s Pennsylvania newspapers, including The Meadville Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.