In 2011, Jerry Sandusky, longtime assistant coach for Pennsylvania State's successful football program, was arrested and charged with over 50 counts of sexual abuse (he was convicted a year later). This horrific event is the backdrop for HBO's new movie, Paterno, which follows the two weeks of fallout faced by head coach Joe Paterno after Sandusky's arrest. Photos of the real Paterno people vs. the actors are eerily similar, and by bringing the scandal to life for the small screen, hopefully the film will remind viewers that turning a blind eye to abuse is never the answer.
Despite being a beloved coach with the most wins in NCAA Division 1 Football history, Paterno was let go from Penn State after questions arose about how much he knew about the decades worth of allegations against Sandusky. One specific instance involved Sandusky molesting a 10-year-old boy in the Penn State football locker room in 2001. Assistant coach Mike McQueary told the grand jury in 2011 that he witnessed the incident and reported it to Paterno, who did not inform the police (in testimony, Paterno said that he told McQueray he would contact Penn State authorities).
It's unclear what exactly McQueary actually said to Paterno, but as the film recounts, some people accused the coach of watering down the allegations against Sandusky when he reported them to Tim Curley, the athletic director. Over time, more information has come out about the inner workings of Penn State and what the administration might have known, including leaked e-mails, as reported by CNN, that suggested that Paterno had advocated for keeping the allegations against Sandusky within the department — which Paterno denied.
HBO's Paterno doesn't exactly come down on one side or the other when it comes to Paterno's debated legacy. It's for the audience to decide how much they think the coach knew. But the movie does provide viewers with pretty accurate portrayals of the real life characters, at least when it comes to their physical appearances, as you can see below.
Paterno served as Head Coach at Penn State from 1966 to 2011, taking his team towards more victories than any other coach before him. He was so beloved and ingrained into the culture of the campus and surrounding area that riots erupted when he was asked to leave the school.
In the film, Paterno is played by Al Pacino, who tried not to make his performance an indictment of the revered football coach. "It's not black and white," Pacino said in a behind-the-scenes video for HBO. "It's nuanced."
Sara Ganim was fresh out of college working as a local journalist for Harrisburg's The Patriot-News when she published her piece on Sandusky, the first to break the news. Ganim had been investigating the story for some time, cultivating sources and following the story in a way that most journalists were not. She continued to report on the story for months, writing specifically about what Paterno might've known about the allegations against Sandusky before he was arrested. She later won a Pulitzer Prize for her reporting.
Riley Keough plays Ganim in Paterno. And, if this photo is any indication, she definitely nails the whole college-grad, reporter grunge look. "It was like a pretty ballsy thing that she did, taking on a big story and something that was very controversial," Keough said in the behind-the-scenes clip.
Sandusky was found guilty on 45 counts of sexual abuse in 2012 and was sentenced to 30-60 years in prison. He is expected to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Though the movie focuses on Paterno's reaction to the Sandusky scandal, the disgraced football coach, as played by Jim Johnson, is still a big part of the story.
McQueary was a key figure in the case against Sandusky, as well as in the discussion about Paterno's alleged knowledge. He left his position as assistant coach at Penn State shortly after the case against Sandusky went public.
Viewers might recognize Darren Goldstein, who plays McQueary, as Oscar Hodges from Showtime's The Affair.
Sue Paterno, Paterno's wife, was a huge presence in Penn State football while her husband was head coach. Paterno died in January of 2012, but his wife later sued the NCAA after the organization stripped Paterno of several wins as part of the investigation into Sandusky. The lawsuit was dropped in 2017.
Kathy Baker (Edward Scissorhands) will play Sue in the HBO film.
Scott Paterno, one of Paterno's children, was with his father when the Sandusky scandal broke, and was reportedly the first in the family to realize how this might affect Paterno's job. "When Scott read the presentment, he called his father and said, 'Dad, you have to face the possibility that you will never coach another game,'" reads an excerpt from the Joe Paterno biography by Joe Posnanski published by GQ.
In the movie, Scott is played by Greg Grunberg of Alias and Felicity fame.
Fans familiar with the Sandusky scandal and the end of Paterno's career will no doubt have their own take on how well the cast of Paterno resembles the real people, but looking at these photos, you can't say they didn't make an effort.