HBO’s “Paterno” Thoughts

On April 7th, HBO released its much-anticipated movie, Paterno, which brings the perspective of the Jerry Sandusky Scandal from the eyes of Joe Paterno, (played by the all-time great actor, Al Pacino) and the other prominent authority figures at Penn State such as Tim Curley, Gary Schultz, and Graham Spanier.  This is a topic that would be better represented in the form of a documentary rather than a feature film.  The movie starts with Joe Pa earning his 409th win as the head coach of the Nittany Lions against the Illinois Fighting Illini.  During the game, Curley, Schultz, and Spanier are seen in the Beaver Stadium tunnels discussing that charges against Sandusky for sexually abusing over 40 kids could be announced the following week.  The rest of the movie takes the viewer through the next two weeks of events at Penn State, and goes all the details of what led to the eventual firing of Paterno from Penn State.

There are a few scenes that were not accurately depicted as they occurred in real life.  For example, Scott Paterno was not consistently interrupted by the students when he went out to talk to them after Joe Pa’s weekly press conference was cancelled by the University.  Footage of this actual interaction can be seen in the Netflix documentary, Happy Valley.  Also, the scene where Paterno is pacing around his house during the Nebraska game makes no sense because that was the same day he was coughing up blood and was in the hospital getting diagnosed with lung cancer.

Are these specific inaccurate depictions significant?  No, not really.  Did the rest of the movie do a good job portraying the whole situation?  Yes.  Was it fair?  Yes, I believe so.

Barry Levinson, the director of Paterno, did not mention Sandusky as much throughout the movie as I would have thought, which is good.  He does not deserve any unnecessary attention.  He is a monster.  Graham Spanier and Tim Curley did not receive as much criticism as expected either.  Paterno and Schultz were the two men that got hit with the brute of the blame for this scandal to transpire at Penn State.  Schultz was willing to do whatever it took to cover up the scandal, which is why his blame in the whole situation is completely justified.  Joe Pa’s situation was presented in a way that most people already understood.

Paterno was 84 years old in 2011.  His whole life had been devoted to coaching football and enriching the academic environment at Penn State.  That is all he had ever known and cared about.  He was at the school for over 61 years!  Paterno did not want to get involved in this situation when it came up, he just wanted to prepare for Nebraska.  When asked about the Sandusky/McQueary confrontation that came about in 2001, Joe Pa says he notified Curley and Schultz.  He said, “They seemed like good guys and could handle this situation.”  He also did not believe that he should go straight to the police because he did not witness the acts described to him by McQueary, and he was not 100% if it was factual.

The movie delivered Paterno’s perspective just like all of us have heard over the last 7 years, so there was not anything there that should distress any of the Penn State community.  This all comes back to the million-dollar questions:  Did he do enough? Did he purposely cover up this scandal?  This film did not answer these questions, it just put the series of events in the form of a drama film, and not a documentary.

One of the most powerful scenes in the entire movie for me was at the end when Joe Pa was having nightmares which included watching Jerry playing with little boys in a pool during one of the bowl trips, and then Paterno watches Sandusky take an elevator up to his room with a young boy with him at the Alamo Bowl.  Obviously, there is no way to tell if Paterno was having these specific dreams, but these were instances that were brought up earlier in the movie that could have haunted Paterno in his last months before he died in January of 2012.  I always was a believer in that Joe Pa would coach until he died, and he practically did.  What I never thought about though was that maybe it was the pain of Paterno looking back at all the signs that Sandusky left behind, proving he was capable of molesting children that was the reason that he died so quickly after these events took place.  Or maybe, he was just old, and the cancer was going to get him anyway.  No matter what, it would have been beneficial for everyone if he was able to stay around longer for us to get more from the man himself about this scandal.

Being a Penn State alumnus, (shit, still doesn’t seem right saying that) this was a must-watch.  Anyone that finds any fascination from the story, it is worth a watch.

The one thing that remains clear after this movie:  Jerry Sandusky is a sick monster, and I hope something like this never happens again.

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