Saudi Arabia has been under fire on the world stage recently on a variety of fronts, from the death of Jamal Khashoggi to other human rights concerns to the ongoing feud with Qatar, and that’s led to criticism of sports and entertainment entities like WWE for continuing to do business there. But there’s now an unusual voice speaking up in defense of the country, and doing so in an outlet with close ties to the government. That voice would be Jay Paterno, son of Joe Paterno.
Jay Paterno was an assistant football coach at Penn State under his father from 1995-2011, and has since been quite busy going after those who criticized his father’s actions in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Jay was also elected to Penn State’s board of trustees in 2017. And now, he’s written an op-ed in the Arab News (an English-language daily newspaper based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which is one of 29 publications published by the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, a group chaired by Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud, Saudi Arabia’s minister of culture) with the headline of “My visit to Saudi Arabia changed all my perceptions”:
OP-ED: While I may have come to #SaudiArabia believing it was a closed country wanting to turn its back on the rest of the world, the opposite was true in everyone we met, writes @JayPaterno https://t.co/P2zNNLeJB5 #thespace pic.twitter.com/Woaht1XexK
— Arab News (@arabnews) January 14, 2019
That piece introduces Paterno as a “writer and consultant on politics, leadership, crisis communications and public relations” and “a surrogate speaker on two US presidential campaigns. ” Here are some highlights from it:
When I visited Saudi Arabia last month, I saw a desire for change in that country on a number of fronts. While the path to meaningful change can be long and arduous, I saw an urgency to begin planting, and the patience to know that the fruits of efforts will mature across years.
…When I was invited to visit Saudi Arabia, there was admittedly some hesitation. In the West, the Kingdom can seem to be a distant and veiled foreign land. But I decided to put macro-geopolitical controversies aside and go focused on learning from personal connections.
For many in a Judeo-Christian-dominated society, the Muslim faith remains mysterious and unknown. But one of my great fortunes in life was to be born to visionary parents. They led an effort to build an all-faith spiritual center at Penn State University that houses worship and office space for dozens of student religious groups, including a kosher kitchen, a Muslim prayer room and foot baths.
Being raised to respect all peoples and faiths, my journey began with a goal of seeing not where we differ as peoples and nations, but where we are similar. The trip was an unforgettable experience.
So yes, shockingly, a piece in a paper with close ties to the Saudi government wound up saying nothing but good things about Saudi Arabia. We’ll see if this Paterno op-ed winds up helping with the country’s public relations initiatives.