What did Joe Paterno know and when did he know it?

Photo by Bill Moore. Copyright 2006 Bullz-Eye.com

In the wake of the stunning and disgusting allegations against Jerry Sandusky, legendary coach Joe Paterno is facing the inevitable questions about what he did he know and when did he know it.

It seems clear that Paterno is not being charged and he was cooperating with the grand jury investigation. Paterno was told of allegations in 2002 and he did the right thing by reporting it up the chain of command. The issue is whether he followed up and what he knew about the allegations. Given the severity of the allegations, how could Paterno not become more involved and try to get to the bottom of the situation? Penn State barred Sandusky from bringing minors to the athletic facilities, yet the police were never informed. Did Paterno ever ask what happened and whether the police became involved?

As of last night, the fallout began at Penn State:

Athletics director Tim Curley is going on administrative leave at his request, according to a statement from the school board of trustees late Sunday. Senior vice president for business and finance Gary Schultz will step down and go back into retirement.

The two face charges they perjured themselves before a grand jury and failed to notify law enforcement authorities of child sexual abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky, the one-time presumed successor to legendary coach Joe Paterno. Curley and Schultz are expected to turn themselves in to law enforcement in Harrisburg today. The move follows an emergency meeting of the trustees.

Also Sunday, Facebook page “Fire Graham Spanier” began as the specter of the scandal grew. On Saturday, Spanier had issued a statement offering strong support for Curley and Schultz.

Spanier’s comment suggests the real problem here – that Penn State was more interested in protecting the program and their own people than they were about protecting kids. Spanier should resign today due to this comment alone. Again, this begs the question of what did Paterno know. Wouldn’t allegations like this result in some meetings by all the powers that be at Penn State about how to proceed? Shouldn’t the issue of notifying the authorities be a minimum requirement by all involved?

Paterno claims he was “fooled” by Sandusky and denied knowing the specifics of the allegation:

Paterno wasn’t charged, and the grand jury report didn’t implicate him in wrongdoing. His son Scott, an attorney who helped his father draft the statement, said in a phone interview Sunday evening that his father didn’t know the severity of the alleged crimes until he read the grand jury’s findings Saturday.

“When he read the presentment and called me, he could barely speak,” Scott Paterno said.

“It was like a punch in the gut.”
“As my grand jury testimony stated,” Joe Paterno said in the statement, “I was informed in 2002 by an assistant coach that he had witnessed an incident in the shower of our locker room facility. It was obvious that the witness was distraught over what he saw, but he at no time related to me the very specific actions contained in the Grand Jury report. Regardless, it was clear that the witness saw something inappropriate involving Mr. Sandusky. As Coach Sandusky was retired from our coaching staff at that time, I referred the matter to university administrators.”

The problem with this statement is that it looks like Paterno did the minimum required here. Yes, he reported the incident, but where was the follow-through? Even if you don’t know the particulars, why continue to allow Sandusky to use the Penn State facilities? Why not insist on a full investigation? Paterno may not have committed a crime, but the issue is whether through his lack of follow-through he enabled Sandusky’s additional crimes.

Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Enquirer think that Paterno has to go.

Paterno escaped indictment because he told athletic director Tim Curley about an alleged 2002 incident in which a graduate student reported discovering Sandusky performing sex acts on a boy who was about 10 years old in the shower area of a football locker room. Paterno told Curley, who failed to report it to the proper authorities, according to the attorney general. Then Paterno apparently did nothing.

That is where we start to see the difference between the fictional Joe Paterno, whose reputation and that of the university has been built on rock-solid morals, and what might be the real Joe Paterno.

The fictional Joe Paterno would have said, “Hey, this is awful, but we have to clean it up. We have to do the right thing. It’s going to look bad for us, but you can’t let something like this go. We have to get Jerry some help, and we have to make sure he doesn’t hurt any kids.”

The real Paterno, as nearly as can be determined from the indictments, passed the information to Curley and then washed his hands. He apparently didn’t follow up when there was no further investigation. He apparently didn’t ask questions when Sandusky continued to enjoy his emeritus status on campus, complete with an office and access to the same building in which the alleged assault took place.

Again, this addresses the real questions here. Ford makes some assumptions about how Paterno handled this, and Paterno needs to answer these questions. Did he in fact wash his hands of this as the current knowable facts suggest?

Dan Wetzel offers a good summary of the allegations against the Penn State officials. These items stand out:

Curley later met with Sandusky and told him he was no longer allowed to bring children onto the Penn State campus. He forwarded the report on to university president Graham Spanier, who approved of Sandusky’s ban from bringing children onto campus and himself never reported the incident to police.
More importantly, Spanier needs to be immediately removed from an authority position since his culpability is tied to Curley. After all, Spanier both knew of the allegations against Sandusky and approved of Curley’s handling of the case.

That includes an act almost unfathomable in its insensitivity. According to the attorney general, no one at Penn State ever tried to find the boy. At worst, he was raped in a shower. At best, according to testimony that law enforcement finds non-credible, he was either “horsing around” with or being “inappropriately grabbed” by an old man in an empty locker room.

Yet no one thought they should go find the kid so he and his family could get proper help or further protection. Not even the university president?

“Despite a powerful eyewitness statement about the sexual assault of a child, this incident was not reported to any law enforcement or child protective agency, as required by Pennsylvania law,” said Kelly, the attorney general. “Additionally, there is no indication that anyone from the university ever attempted to learn the identity of the child.”

How? How could all these people of power, people of education, people of authority simply look the other way? And how could Graham Spanier maintain a level of arrogance to release that statement on this day?

Again, how could Paterno not follow through here? He hears about disturbing allegations, and whether or not he knew of the specifics, he had to know that Sandusky was later banned from bringing children to the campus. To anyone, this would look like the university was protecting itself as opposed to helping children. How could Paterno let this go? Did he?

Paterno’s son tried to explain the context:

Paterno first met Curley, a 57-year-old native of State College, when the future athletic director was in his teens. His indictment, Scott Paterno said, has left his father “shocked and saddened” as well.

“This has been as hard on Joe as anything I’ve ever seen him endure in the sense of, trying to come to grips with, ‘How did this happen?'” Scott Paterno said. “… When he was first told this (in 2002), he was 75. This was so far from what he could possibly conceive of. You come back to him now, he’s 84. It’s so outside of what he can even imagine.

“This guy grew up in a Norman Rockwell painting and wanted to live in one in State College,” Scott Paterno said about his father. “The sad reality is, even in Norman Rockwell paintings, there’s the back side of the painting. It’s just a very dark, ugly thing that happened around us that we didn’t see.”

Will this fly? I don’t think the public will let Paterno hide behind his age and his record. In the end he has to be open about the facts and the timeline, and if he failed to follow up, he has to own up to it and be ready to accept his share of responsibility.

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