As the much-talked-about film, Paterno, aired on HBO Saturday night, some current and former Pennsylvania State University leaders said they would be watching Al Pacino’s portrayal of the school’s legendary football coach, while others said they would not.
“I reluctantly am going to watch it,” trustee Barbara Doran said Saturday just before the movie’s debut. She is among a group of alumni-elected board members who believe Joe Paterno has been unfairly tarnished by the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. “So I know what it says.”
The 105-minute film captures the two-week period spanning Paterno’s recognition as the winningest coach in college football through his firing by the board of trustees days after his former football assistant was charged with abusing young boys.
Even 6½ years later, the scandal continues to divide some segments of the Penn State community, who still debate what really happened. The movie could reignite some of that debate.
But Doran, a private wealth portfolio manager, like several other alumni trustees, said they already know the work will be a fictionalized account, offering no clarity on what really happened in 2011 when the Sandusky revelations rocked the campus.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s fictionalized nonsense, Hollywood junk,” said alumni elected board member Bill Oldsey, an educational publishing consultant.
He said he did not plan to watch it.
“I want nothing to do with it,” he said.
Neither Oldsey nor Doran were on the board when the scandal broke.
Keith Eckel, a Lackawanna County farmer, was.
The former trustee said he would watch the film when he gets the chance, though not on Saturday. He doesn’t have HBO. He said he’s not sure what impact the movie could have on public perception. He stands behind the board’s decisions, he said.
“I think we absolutely did the right thing from that Saturday afternoon when I first became aware of it until Wednesday when we made the decision to change the president and the coach,” he said. “You have to remember when we made that decision we were acting as a board of trustees who had no knowledge of guilt or innocence. Our judgments were based on the responsibility of leaders taking the university forward.”
Others seemed as if they couldn’t care less about what the film says. One board member called its release “a non-event.”
Penn State President Eric Barron, who took the helm in 2014, does not plan to watch the movie, a spokesperson said earlier Saturday, and the university plans to offer no comment on the film’s depiction of events.
The university overhauled its governing and operations and sought to become a leader in child abuse prevention in the aftermath of the scandal.
The Paterno family issued a statement in advance of the movie, first reported by The Morning Call.
Scott Paterno sent this statement today regarding the premiere of 'Paterno' on HBO. pic.twitter.com/dxXIQ1L8NX
— Mark Wogenrich (@MarkWogenrich) April 7, 2018
“The HBO movie regarding Joe Paterno is a fictionalized portrayal of the tragic events surrounding Jerry Sandusky’s crimes,” the family said. “Numerous scenes, events, and dialogue bear no resemblance to what actually transpired.”
Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, an alumni group supportive of Paterno and critical of the board’s handling of the scandal, tried to intervene.
In a statement, spokeswoman Maribeth Roman Schmidt said her organization reached out to the president of HBO films to offer “factual background about the Sandusky saga” and was rebuffed.
“Levinson and HBO Films whiffed on their moral obligation to take an honest and truthful approach to such a serious subject,” she said.
In an interview with NPR, filmmaker Barry Levinson left no doubt of his position.
“Sandusky had sexually molested a young boy, and they knew it,” he said. “If they had addressed it at the time, it never would have become the scandal it became.”
That makes Doran bristle.
“His story line and actual belief seems to be that there was a cover-up at the highest levels of the university and that Joe Paterno knew,” she said. “From what I know none of that was true.”
While two former Penn State administrators pleaded guilty to child endangerment and Spanier was convicted of the same, Paterno was never charged. He died of cancer about two months after the scandal broke.
“I don’t need to watch a movie to know Joe Paterno,” said alumni trustee Anthony Lubrano, an ardent defender of the coach. “I already do.”