Adam Taliaferro on Firing Joe Paterno, Penn State Leaks and Jerry Sandusky

Q&A with the former PSU football player and newly elected PSU board of trustees member.

I recently talked to former Penn State football player Adam Taliaferro, who famously recovered from a paralyzing spinal cord injury suffered during a game, and now works for Philadelphia’s Duane Morris, about his new post on Penn State’s Board of Trustees.

You were recently elected to the Penn State Board of Trustees. How’s that going?
Good. I was up in State College last week for some trustee orientation. I’ve met with some administrators, got caught up … We have our first official meeting in July.

How do you view your role on the board?
Our main objective is to be a voice for the alumni. I’m going to try and stick with the alumni. They want to be informed. Over the next week or two, I will get my committee appointment. We’re each assigned to different committees. They have outreach, student life, academic affairs and a few others. They’re introducing new committees in the next week or two.

Many alumni are upset that Joe Paterno was fired. If you were on the board, would you have fired him?
Absolutely not. I would not have fired him on the basis that they got rid of him. I think he deserved an opportunity to come in, and he deserved more than a phone call. You hate to see anybody or anyone at Penn State or Coach Paterno go through anything like this. Coach Paterno was like family to me. For him to have to go through all this in his last days was something that I hated to see.

Former President Graham Spanier’s emails—apparently part of the internal Penn State investigation—reveal that he called not reporting an alleged incident of sexual assault “humane.” Why were the emails leaked to NBC News?
Certainly with anything that’s confidential, you never want to see leaks. For me, personally, I don’t know how that leak occurred. But time will tell all. We will know a lot more over the next couple of months. Everything I’ve heard has been second hand or the media reporting. I’m the type of person where I want to see it firsthand. I want to see it myself and read it myself. There’s been an issue with people speculating. With Graham, with Coach Paterno, I’m not that type of person.

You work for Duane Morris, a Philadelphia law firm that provides general counsel for Penn State. Could that be a conflict of interest?
There’s no conflict of interest. I evaluated that part before I ran. I also spoke to the board of trustees members. I wouldn’t have run if there was a conflict. I will only have to abstain when there’s a vote to hire my firm to do legal work.

Keith Masser, vice chairman of the board, told reporters he thought there was a “cover-up” of the alleged allegations against Sandusky. Do you agree? [Editor’s note: Since this interview, Masser has apologized for his comments.]
Since the beginning of this case, our spokesperson, Karen Peetz, said we’re going to withhold comment until the trial is gone and until the [Louis] Freeh investigation is done. I think as board members, we should respect that. The communications are to go through our chairwoman. She is really supposed to be the only one who is speaking. At our first meeting, that’s one of the things we need to talk about. How do we want to communicate?

So how do you want to communicate?
If it comes out that there was a cultural problem at Penn State, all we can do is train our people and make our people aware of these situations so that they don’t happen again. I’m in contact daily with other board members through email, getting information on different articles, and I speak several times per week on the phone with other members.

Some of the alleged victims’ testimony last week was horrifying. Do you want to comment on the trial?
It’s tough to hear any of that. I haven’t been reading every testimony. I really have just tried to keep an even keel on it. For me, it’s my training to let the process play itself out. When the jury rules on the case, when the Freeh investigation comes out—that’s when I can make an informed opinion.

When you recovered from your spinal injury, you worked out in the Penn State locker room. Arguably, you and Sandusky represent the best and worst, respectively, of Paterno’s legacy. What do you think when you look back on those workouts?
It’s tough. When I think of Jerry, I just thought of him as a coach. He retired by the time I got there. But it’s, it’s tough. Looking back on it, it’s hard for me to say. I haven’t thought about it. He was just Jerry. He was like anyone else in the gym.