The voicemail was left by a buddy from his playing days back at Brown University.
“He made a reference to the Sandusky thing,” Matt Paknis says. “I didn’t know what he was talking about, but it sounded weird.”
The Penn State scandal
Sandusky has pleaded innocent to the charges. Paterno released a statement over the weekend, through his son Jay, that he would not have further comment on the situation.
When Paknis, 49, started investigating the Sandusky thing on the Internet, it hit especially close to home.
In two ways: He is a childhood victim of sexual abuse, and a former assistant coach at Penn State, working on the same staff as Sandusky under Paterno.
“I was up until 2 in the morning, getting more and more enraged,” says Paknis, a Massachusetts resident. “But, on the other hand, it made some sense to me.”
He has done so on a blog entitled “Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.”
“I’m just tired of all these little fiefdoms popping up everywhere, and people hiding in the back office, surrounded by all their henchmen, and doing the wrong things,” Paknis told NBCSports.com. “It’s got to stop. Someone has to step up. I can’t sit back. I’m doing this to help people.”
It should be made clear that Paknis did not witness any sexual abuse while at Penn State as a graduate assistant coach in 1987 and 1988, before leaving to pursue an MBA at the University of Rhode Island. He did, however, see some things that made him queasy, especially in light of his own background, and especially when it came to Sandusky.
That wasn’t all that made him uncomfortable during his short Penn State tenure, which followed a successful playing career on a three-time undefeated state championship high school team before starting at Brown.
Paknis found it “bizarre” that Penn State coaches all showered in the same space, behind a clear Plexiglas perimeter.
“They would talk about plays," he said. "I thought that was maybe old-school or something, so I mentioned that to coaches at other places, and they never did that. That was not for me.”
Paknis also was unnerved by some of his interaction with Sandusky, even though none of it was sexual in nature. They didn’t spend much time together, but they coached different sides of the ball. Still, Paknis recalls that Sandusky would tell him “that he hated Joe. He was never unpleasant to me, but I could not figure out where that was coming from, so I would back off. I didn’t want to get into it.”
That doesn’t mean Paknis was a fan of Paterno’s, either.
“I was youngest guy on the staff,” Paknis says. “I was the lowest man on the totem pole.”
At Penn State, he valued his classes, admired much of the staff, liked and respected many of the players.
Paknis didn’t think much of the Penn State power structure, or the man at the top, who “wouldn’t give you time of day unless you were on his level, or have any interaction with you without it serving him.” He saw a system that served as a “kingdom,” designed to serve a single person, without checks or balances. He saw a coach who had been able to produce a constructive output on the field, but “underneath, optimized fear.”
And he saw a community that bought so completely into the image that “he does things the right way,” that his way was rarely questioned.
“Joe is perceived to be a father figure or grandfather figure, and that’s a very hard thing for people to get to that realization, that your dad is bad,” Paknis says.
That’s also why Paknis isn’t surprised that many Penn State students have rallied to Paterno’s defense as well, even doing so with violence and vandalism:
“I think the students are confused," he says. "They had to act out. They were probably acting out in anger. I’d like to think I wouldn’t have acted that way, that I would have sat back and said, ‘Wow, if he’s getting removed, there’s got to be real substance here.’”
Paknis believes that Paterno followed “what was his MO for all those years,” and that “when it was time to step up and protect the kids, he protected himself.” He also believes that the truth is even worse than what has been reported.
That, according to the grand jury indictment, was 2002, after McQueary allegedly saw Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in a Penn State shower.
Paknis thinks Paterno knew something earlier even than 1999, when Sandusky resigned, one year after one boy — Victim 6 in the indictment — reported an incident to his mother, and it was investigated by university police and the district attorney.
That’s because Paknis came to this simple conclusion during his two years in Happy Valley, a conclusion that doesn’t change after Paterno aged well past the point of the average working person:
“Joe knows everything.”
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