ESPN’s Todd Blackledge Talks Freeh Report, Paterno

Todd Blackledge is one of the best Penn State quarterbacks in its history. The 3-year starter led the Nittany Lions to a 31-5 record and the 1982 National Championship. However, he has become ubiquitously known by today’s generation of college football fans for his work with ESPN and Todd’s “Taste of the Town” segment every Saturday during college football season.

Blackledge was also given the honor of speaking at Joe Paterno’s memorial service in January 2012. Like almost all former players, Blackledge was deeply affected by the Sandusky scandal Joe Paterno’s and subsequent fallout. With his position at ESPN, he was in a particularly unique situation where he was expected to provide unique and personal insight to millions of viewers.

John Ziegler of recently spoke to Blackledge in a 30-minute interview about his evolving thoughts on the events that transpired at Penn State and Joe Paterno’s firing. You can check out the audio and some of the highlights below:

  • “I was confused from the very beginning…I was shocked and outraged…that just totally blindsided me.”
  • “I got involved with the Second Mile during my time at Penn State because of Jerry. From the very beginning, it hit me very hard. And then as it moved not just to being a Jerry Sandusky, it became a Joe Paterno and Penn State football issue, it became a very difficult thing for me to get my emotions around.”
  • “I wasn’t really sure in the beginning what I thought. I had a lot mixed emotions and mixed feeling. It was a very difficult week.”
  • “The only regret I would have about what I said…is that I don’t think the Board of Trustees and Penn State were right to fire Joe Paterno when they did and the way that they did. At one point I was asked, ‘Should he still be coaching?’…and at one point I thought <his firing> was the best thing at the time. That’s the one thing I feel much different about at this point.”
  • “I felt a responsibility because I knew people were hurting. There were a lot of people who thought they were punched right in the stomach. I felt a sense of responsibility to speak, but I was not quick to speak. I tried to use as much wisdom that I could when I spoke and who I spoke to. That was a very difficult time, and for me personally. I was and continue to feel like I was very good friends with Tim Curley as well, so it wasn’t just my feelings for Joe, it was my relationship with Tim.”
  • “To speak at his memorial service was…a tremendous honor. That was something that I put a lot of thought into what I said and what I wanted to share. I felt very strongly about what I had to say that day.”
  • “I became much more firm in where I stood on things…after the Freeh report and what took place from that point on. First of all, I didn’t comment on anything until I read the Freeh report. Not the summary or what was listed at the press conference. I read the report before I commented. I don’t know that that’s what many people did that commented publicly on the situation in the media…At that time I didn’t study it and compare it and see it dissected to the point where I saw how many potential flaws there were in the report.”
  • “The thing that stood out to me upon reading the Freeh report that I could just not be at peace with was basically two things…One was the suggestion that Joe Paterno — the Joe Paterno I knew that I played for  and respected as much as I did — would be part of some coverup or attempt to conceal something as horrible as what Jerry Sandusky obviously did to preserve the reputation of Penn State or Penn State football. That was just inconceivable to me…and totally inconsistent with the Joe that I knew. The other thing was the comments by Freeh, by Mark Emmert, and by Ed Ray about the culture of what the culture of Penn State football was like. I felt that those comments and those assertions were incredibly false.”
  • “My personal feeling is that the Freeh report is a document with a lot of flaws and a lot of facts that were not there…it didn’t connect everything. And for the NCAA to use that without their own investigation and to levy the type of sanctions against Penn State that they did…I just don’t agree with that.”
  • “After the Freeh report it was very difficult to say anything that would be perceived as defending Penn State or Joe Paterno or Tim Curley or anybody…one of the biggest things that I learned about myself that was a valuable lesson through all of this is that you really do have to think for yourself and evaluate situations. If the media is telling a story or if they have created a narrative on whatever subject it is, they’re counting on the majority of people to follow along and not question the narrative. I learned that I was prone to do that…You have to question things.”
  • “It went very quickly from being a Jerry Sandusky issue to a Joe Paterno issue and a Penn State football issue…one of the images I have in my own mind throughout this whole process was that there were a lot of dots on this campus and not a lot of them were connected. It felt like the media felt at liberty to just connect all those dots, whether they had facts or not…they were going to connect the dots and tell a story. It had tremendous momentum. Because of these serious and horrendous allegations against Jerry, that narrative went pretty much unopposed.”
  • “I’m not an impulsive speaker and never have been. I’m pretty thoughtful in the things that I saw and the things that I do, sometimes maybe to a fault. I tried to use wisdom the best that I could because I like my job with ESPN. Even though there were things that happened through this that frustrated me and disappointed me, they have been very good to me as a company…I had to keep that in the balance.”
  • “I think Tim [Curley] is a high-quality, high-character person. He was never an ego guy. He was never a ‘me, me’ guy. I thought he did an excellent job as an athletic director, worked his way up the ladder, and paid his dues. He loved Penn State…the fact that he could be a part of [a cover up] is inconceivable…what he’s going through right now, just waiting — I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”
  • “I believe that there is hope that things could turn around…in certain cases where the bell has been rung it will be impossible to change that. On other things, though, I think it can still change.”
  • “I know that it’s possible to support Bill O’Brien and the current Penn State football staff and the current staff…while at the same time saying, ‘I don’t think we can completely move forward until justice has full had its day and until this thing has played itself out and we know as much of the truth as we possibly can.’ I don’t know that we’ll ever know all the truth. Obviously the fact that Joe is no longer alive there is some stuff we can never know. But, I think there is a lot more that we still have to learn. I don’t think it’s an either or situation, and I would encourage all Penn Staters — don’t feel like you have to choose. You can support the current team and the current staff and be proud of Penn State, and at the same time say ‘We want to see due process play out completely.'”
  • “I know [Paterno] loved Penn State and I know that anything that [Paterno] would see or feel or sense that was hurring Penn Staters or ripping apart his school — the school that he loved — I’m sure he would be upset and disappointed with. He was a competitor, and I think that all competitors know that you play for four quarters. As long as there’s time left on the clock, you keep fighting.”

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About the Author

Kevin Horne

Kevin Horne was the editor of Onward State from 2012-2014 and currently holds the position of Managing Editor Emeritus, which is a fake title he made up. He graduated from Penn State with degrees journalism and political science in 2014 and is currently seeking his J.D. at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law. A third generation Penn Stater from Williamsport, Pa., Kevin is also the president of the graduate student government. Email: [email protected]

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