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It was a horrific crime in itself, sexual abuse of children. But what happened at Penn State University in 2012 became a national story because of who and what was involved.
The convicted abuser was Jerry Sandusky, a respected football coach at the school. His boss was head coach Joe Paterno, a legendary figure in college sports history and a near mythical figure at Penn State itself.
Jeffrey Brown is back with a conversation he recorded earlier.
The documentary "Happy Valley" focuses less on the crime, for which Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to what amounts to a life sentence, and more on the atmosphere, the aftermath and the complex reactions of the community, including to the treatment of Joe Paterno, who was fired from his job amid questions of whether he had known of the abuse or done enough to stop it much earlier.
Here's an extended clip.
The board of trustees and Graham Spanier have decided that, effective immediately, Dr. Spanier is no longer president of the university.
In addition, Joe Paterno is no longer the head football coach, effective immediately.
SUE PATERNO, Widow of Joe Paterno: We were getting into bed. When it rang, I gave Joe the phone. And he said, OK, OK. And he hung up and he said, goodbye. And he said, they just fired me.
So I redialed the number. And I said, after 61.5 years, he deserves better, goodbye, and I hung up. I couldn't — I couldn't believe that's how you — they can take your heart away that quickly.
Why did you guys come out?
What do you want to say?
Leave Joe alone! Leave Joe alone! Leave Joe alone! Leave Joe alone! Leave Joe alone! Leave Joe alone!
JOE PATERNO, Former Penn State Head Football Coach:
Study, all right? We still got things to do. All right, I'm out of it maybe now. I had a phone call to put me out of it, but we will go from there, OK?
Hey, good luck, everybody. And thanks for coming.
We love you, Joe!
I love you, Joe!
You're making him the fall guy for this.
I think we have to do what we think was the right thing to do in the circumstances. I am confident that the university and our students will behave in the proper manner.
Have you made any contingency plans?
Our administration is very adept at handling these sorts of affairs. And I'm sure they're prepared for whatever eventualities there may be.
The campus is going to burn.
We want Joe! We want Joe! We want Joe! We want Joe!
I was just so angry, so I took that picture I have of Joe. And I just stood out there on my balcony with it. And I got like a bunch of texts from family and stuff, saying, like, good job. You're on TV representing Joe.
Filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev joins us now from New York. His previous film, "The Tillman Story," examined the death of football player and soldier Pat Tillman.
Well, welcome to you.
You know, this — this story so much captured the national psyche and attention. What was there more to tell? What were you after?
AMIR BAR-LEV, Director, "Happy Valley": I was after reexamining the way we dealt with the principals — the principal failings of the story.
I mean, as you mentioned at the top, I'm not so interested in Jerry Sandusky, but in the way we kind of distanced ourselves from his failings. What drew me to the story, for instance, was a prayer service a couple of days after the clip you just showed. There was the first game without Joe Paterno in half-a-century.
The two opposing teams gathered on the field in prayer. And Ron Brown, the Nebraska coach, said: "There's a lot of little boys watching this game today, and they're wondering about the definition of manhood. Lord, this is it right here."
And I thought — when I watched that on television, I thought, boy, Jerry Sandusky's crimes make me outraged, they make me sad, but they don't make me question my definition of manhood. And I certainly don't think there's an answer in football.
And, you know, we all had a strange reaction to Jerry's crimes and to Joe Paterno's failure to do more than he should have.
Well, you show in great detail this — a football culture that borders on religion, really, with Joe Paterno. And we saw in that clip, when he's fired, it causes a riot on the campus.
Joe Paterno was a kind of religious and holy figure there. What did you see in that culture?
Well, you know, I mean, I think it's another case in which the pot calls the kettle black, because, after all this happened, we all pointed the finger at Happy Valley and said, my God, they have a football-first — football-first culture. That's what the NCAA said, and that's what Louis Freeh said in his report. The culprit here is a passion for football.
Well, the whole country has a passion for football. And, you know, I think what we tried to do with the story is sort of widen the circle of responsibility ever wider. So it becomes, to my mind, not a story about Joe Paterno or Penn State or even football, but America today.
It's interesting you say that because it comes through in the film, you know, capturing many voices, pro and con football, pro and con Penn State, pro and con Joe Paterno.
Did you yourself come to conclusions about the culture, about the aftermath, about the sort of culpability of people, or did you just really want to put those voices out there?
You're right. We do let a lot of opposing voices be heard, but, ultimately, the film has a perspective. And that perspective that has to do with this sort of — this kind of shaming spectacle that — you know, it's a film about ideas.
It's a film — and one of those ideas is the way we shame people and kind of run them out of town, so the culture can move on. There are a bunch of other ideas. It's a film that, while there's a painful story at its heart, it's, dare I say, kind of an enjoyable 90 minutes, because these are, I think, to my mind, compelling ideas that are very much at play right now. And they didn't go away three years ago.
Let me just ask you, briefly, finally, what's your sense of — in the end of how this has played out in the aftermath in the years since at Penn State? Is there still — or in the larger culture? Is there still soul-searching over this?
This is something that is in the headlines right now.
We're learning more about potential improprieties in the way Louis Freeh conducted his report. Certainly, you know, the NCAA saying that — fining Penn State and saying that they had a culture that put football first is something that bears more scrutiny.
And I think, you know, all the questions about the role of athletics and the role of football in our universities in America are — you know, are in the headlines today. So this is a story of our time. That's why I was drawn to it.
All right, the film is "Happy Valley."
Amir Bar-Lev, thank you so much.
Thanks for having me.
"Happy Valley" is now showing in theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and several other cities. It's opening wider next month and is now available on demand on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, and Google Play.
Sue Paterno, wife of Joe Paterno, was accidentally identified as Dottie Sandusky in this transcript. We regret our error.
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