Bob Costas on Joe Paterno: ‘I Don't Buy the Idea That He Was Actively Involved in a Cover-up'

Emmy Award-winning NBC sportscaster Bob Costas said Wednesday concerning the ongoing investigation of the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State sex scandal, “I don't buy the idea that [late head coach Joe Paterno] was actively involved in a cover-up.”

Such happened on the NBC Tonight Show (video follows with transcribed highlights and commentary):

Towards the end of their interview, Leno asked Costas about the three Penn State officials being indicted.

“There's a grand jury proceeding that just said there's enough evidence to take it to trial, which was no surprise to anybody,” Costas replied. “Spanier, Curley, and Schultz, the administrators, who will go on trial.”

“But the main figure to the average person,” he continued, “the main figure is still, other than Sandusky himself, Joe Paterno, who has since passed away. And I really think that there is now some legitimate doubt.”

“I don't know where the truth is,” Costas added, "but there's some legitimate doubt about the extent of Paterno's involvement. The pat storyline became, everybody, Paterno included, knew pretty much what Sandusky was up to. And they all kind of conspired to cover it up to protect the image of the football program at Penn State.”

“And you don't think that's true?” Leno asked.

“I think that Paterno was negligent,” answered Costas. “I think he should have recognized what was going on because the warning signals were there. But, having read the Freeh report, and then having read some of what's been put out to refute it, I don't buy the idea that he was actively involved in a cover-up.”

From what I can tell, this was a far more skeptical view of Paterno's guilt than Costas has given in the past.

In May he said on ESPN's Mike and Mike Show:

"As we all know, this is one of those situations where most people have an opinion about it, they know what the Freeh report is, but I'm pretty sure less than one percent who have an opinion about this have actually read the Freeh report.

"At the very least, the other side deserves to be heard, there deserves to be a rebuttal. When [Gary] Schultz and [Tim] Curley and [Graham] Spanier go to trial, whether they're ultimately found guilty or not, they will have a defense.

"Joe Paterno was never charged and since the Freeh report came down and Penn State accepted it and the NCAA acted upon it, in the court of public opinion, it became almost a 'case closed' without any defense afforded Paterno. He at least deserves that."

He also said on the Jim Rome Show the following day:

"Part of the dynamic here is, people are rightly so horrified and disgusted by the heinous nature of Sandusky's actions and have so much sympathy for the victims, [outrage] follows if there isn't blanket condemnation of those actions. While that is understandable, that doesn't mean every assertion of Paterno's motives are therefore true."

As such, it appears in the past couple of months, Costas has grown even more skeptical of Paterno's guilt, and decided to express that on national television in light of the indictments this week.


As readers are possibly aware, documentarian John Ziegler has had this view from day one.

The basis of his argument is that the media, much as they did in the Duke lacrosse case, were quick to indict Paterno, and that as a result of his death, the legendary coach never had an opportunity to defend himself and clear his name.

Let's be clear that Jerry Sandusky was not a household name, and that this scandal - as disgusting as it was! - would not have captured anywhere near the media attention it did without the inclusion of arguably the best coach in the history of college sports.

By making this about Paterno being involved in the alleged cover-up, television and newspaper stories on the subject were guaranteed to reach significantly more eyeballs and therefore ad dollars.

So thorough and damning was the coverage that by August 2012, 45 percent of respondents believed Paterno himself was a child molester.

Readers are advised that none of the skepticism concerning Paterno's involvement should be deemed as a defense of Sandusky. Nothing can be further from the truth.

On the other hand, as Costas noted Wednesday, it is possible that although Paterno may have done more to shed light on Sandusky's behavior, he actually was not involved in the alleged cover-up, and it is therefore possible the news media rushed to judgment and wrongly accused an innocent man whose reputation and legacy have likely been permanently tarnished.

Maybe with Costas coming forward this way, and a pending trial, so-called journalists will be interested in re-examining exactly what Paterno really did and didn't do with regard to Sandusky and all the boys involved in this horrid affair.

It is after all quite possible that much as the boys on the Duke lacrosse team were wrongly prosecuted by the press, so was Joe Paterno.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.