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HBO’s ‘Paterno’ Tackles 2011 Penn State Scandal

The Nittany Lions nation, along with the rest of the country, was rocked in 2011 when news broke that former Penn State assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, was accused of molesting several young boys over the years and the university, along with its legendary head coach Joe Paterno, was accused of covering it up.

HBO’s newest original movie, Paterno, details the two week period leading up to Joe Paterno’s firing from the Penn State football program as part of the Penn State Board of Trustees’ attempt at damage control. At the time of his firing, Paterno was the winningest coach in college football history; he was considered a football icon and legend until it became clear he — along with athletic direction Tim Curly and University vice president Gary Schultz — had been informed for Sandusky’s crimes years ago and took little to no action.

Directed by Barry Levinson (Rain Man), the film takes all one hour and 40 minutes to answer the question of when did Paterno know about Sandusky was a pedophile and what did he do about it?

The short answer is, a young boy who was molested at a football camp in the mid-70s told the coach what Sandusky did right away, but Paterno couldn’t be bothered to deal with it because, football — a theme Paterno sticks with until the end. Life was nothing without football for Paterno, and as he explains to his adult children, he did everything he could to make his name “mean something.”  His children are forced to walk the delicate balance of supporting their father and dealing with the realization that he knew and did the bare minimum to protect other children from enduring the perversions of his former assistant coach.

The truth as presented in this film is that there were several people involved, from Paterno to the District Attorney, who failed to handle the situation for the sake of the reputation of Penn State’s football program. It’s an interesting rollercoaster of feelings, much like what the Penn State community went through: you want to feel bad for Paterno, an old man who has given his life to a program only to be cut short of retiring with dignity and grace but, on the other hand, how can you feel bad for someone who turned a blind eye to the horrific events that took place under his watch? Paterno makes a case for both sides before dropping a stern verdict that Paterno failed those children and the University he loved by knowingly or unknowingly keeping his priorities focused (a word used A LOT in this film) on his football team and letting anything outside of that focus stay blurred.

If you want the long answer, watch Paterno on Saturday, April 7 at 8pm ET on HBO.