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Executive Voice: ESPN Journalists Tell Story of ‘Most Dangerous Player in the History of College Football’ in Immersive Long-form Piece

EDITOR’S NOTE: Chris Buckle, Vice President, Investigative and Enterprise Journalism, leads ESPN’s award-winning investigative and enterprise journalism unit. An exceptional, nationally-respected journalist, Buckle has managed and edited a myriad of impactful, cross-platform investigative projects.

Starting today and continuing through the week, ESPN is showcasing “Untold,” an immersive piece of journalism written and reported by acclaimed long-form writer Tom Junod and distinguished investigative reporter Paula Lavigne.

“Untold” is a remarkable, never-before-told story about the most dangerous player in the history of college football, the program and justice system that struggled to contain him, and the incredible strength of the women who survived his assaults on them.

In 2011, when the Jerry Sandusky scandal rocked Penn State football, the world thought that it was the first time that Joe Paterno and Penn State had faced a serial sexual predator in their midst, something they never could have imagined or prepared for had happened. But that was not the case. “Untold” is the story of the predator who had come before.

The four-act, 30,000-word piece debuted Monday on the ESPN app and ESPN.com.

Eric Neel, ESPN Director of Development
(Credit: Chris Beauchamp/ESPN Images)

“This is the sort of story that is all too often forgotten or never told at all,” said Eric Neel, ESPN director of development, who edited and directed the story alongside senior editor Laura Purtell through the leadership of executive editor Scott Burton. “The events took place 43 years ago, but what happened then, and the ways in which it was dealt with and the enduring impact it had on so many lives, is not only profoundly relevant to today but also illuminating and inspiring and, in the end, deeply troubling.

“We hope it will move readers as it has moved us, to ask: How could this have happened? And why didn’t we know that it did?”

A portion of the reporting is represented in an ESPN Films short film titled Betsy & Irv, which had its world premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival last month in California. Directed and produced by Nicole Noren and Rayna Banks, the short film will be released on ESPN platforms later this year.

The digital piece this week, designed by ESPN Creative Studio’s Munehito Sawada, Heather Donahue and Michelle Bashaw with original photography produced by Kaitlin Marron and Karen Frank, is the first of two examinations of Penn State in the coming weeks: “The Paterno Legacy” by E60 will premiere at 8 p.m. on April 18 on ESPN and streaming through ESPN+.

 

Tom Junod
(Credit: Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images)

Junod is a two-time winner of the highest honor in magazine journalism, the Ellie, given by the American Society of Magazine Editors. His Esquire profile of Fred Rogers is the basis of the Tom Hanks-led feature film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. He has written and appeared on ESPN platforms since 2019. His piece, Hero of Goodall Park, was a finalist in the 2021 Sports Emmys for Outstanding Journalism.

 

 

 

Paula Lavigne
Courtesy: P. Lavigne

Lavigne has been recognized for her investigative journalism with several awards including a George Foster Peabody Award for her work investigating sexual assaults within Michigan State athletics, an Alfred I duPont-Columbia University Award for an investigation on a youth football gambling ring, multiple Investigative Reporter and Editor awards, two Sports Emmy nominations, three New York International TV & Film Awards and a Gracie Award.

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