Penn State Abuse Scandal Engulfing Revered Joe Paterno
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Every Tuesday during the fall, Joe Paterno ambles into the media room at Beaver Stadium, settles into his seat and holds court.
The octogenarian coach usually doles out some one-liners along with the injury updates.
This Tuesday’s press conference isn’t likely to resemble any other in Paterno’s 46-year tenure at Penn State.
Paterno will be asked about what he knew and when about his former defensive coordinator and one-time heir apparent Jerry Sandusky, who was indicted on charges of sexually abusing eight boys over 15 years.
Authorities have said that Paterno, who testified in the grand jury proceedings that led to the charges, is not a target of the investigation. But the state police commissioner has chastised him and other school officials for not doing enough to try to stop the suspected abuse.
Pennsylvania state police Commissioner Frank Noonan said Monday in Harrisburg that Paterno fulfilled his legal requirement when he relayed to university administrators that a graduate assistant had seen Sandusky attacking a young boy in the team’s locker room shower in 2002. But the commissioner also questioned whether Paterno had a moral responsibility to do more.
“Somebody has to question about what I would consider the moral requirements for a human being that knows of sexual things that are taking place with a child,” Noonan said.
“I think you have the moral responsibility, anyone. Not whether you’re a football coach or a university president or the guy sweeping the building. I think you have a moral responsibility to call us.”
“I don’t know his involvement, but I do think he could send a very strong message if he would step down and retire, or even make a public statement,” said Julie McGinn, a 23-year-old biology major from Chicago.
The school issued a statement Monday night reminding media that the main focus of this week’s press conference was Saturday’s Senior Day game with Nebraska.
The contest, however, is almost an afterthought considering the shocking developments.
“He’s a figurehead for this school,” said McGinn, who stood in front of the student union Monday afternoon holding a sign that read, “I paid a six-figure tuition and all I got was this lousy sex scandal.”
Sandusky was prohibited from holding youth sports camps on campus in 2002, but continued to hold them through 2008 under his Sandusky Associates company at the university’s Behrend campus, just outside Erie.
“We provided the facilities for it,” Behrend spokesman Bill Gonda said Monday. “There were no allegations, no complaints during his tenure here.”
Sandusky also operated football camps at Penn State Capital College in Middletown, Robert Morris University and Muhlenberg College, among others, according to his website, which is now offline.
The camp was aimed at students from fourth grade through high school and offered personal attention and coaching from Sandusky.
Happy Valley has been consumed by the scandal since Sandusky, once revered as the architect of the “Linebacker U.” defenses, was charged over the weekend with the abuse of eight boys over a 15-year span. Penn State athletic director Tim Curley — Paterno’s boss — and senior vice president Gary Schultz have stepped down, and they surrendered Monday in Harrisburg on charges of perjury and that they failed to alert police about abuse complaints.
Lawyers for Sandusky, Curley and Schultz have said their clients are innocent. Paterno, in a statement Sunday issued by his son, Scott, said he was shocked and saddened by the allegations.
“If this is true we were all fooled, along with scores of professionals trained in such things, and we grieve for the victims and their families. They are in our prayers,” Paterno said in the statement.
But Happy Valley has always been different, where the program boasts the slogan “Success with Honor.”
“Can they say ‘Success with Honor’ anymore?” asked Rebecca Durst, owner of Rinaldo’s Barber Shop, a fixture in State College since 1926.
At a news conference, Noonan and state Attorney General Linda Kelly were peppered with questions about whether Paterno was given details about what graduate assistant Mike McQueary — now the team’s wide receivers coach — saw on the night of March 1, 2002.
Paterno has referred to his grand jury testimony in which he testified that he was informed by a graduate assistant that he had witnessed an incident in the shower of the team locker room. Prosecutors have said Paterno passed on the information to Curley.
But Paterno said specific actions alleged to have occurred in the grand jury report were not relayed to him.
“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,” Paterno said in the statement. “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.”
Whether that was enough was being debated on campus and across “Happy Valley,” where pride in the Nittany Lions is as deep as it is fierce.
“People were talking about having JoePa step down, making Facebook sites about it,” Mac Frederick, a Penn State senior from Chambersburg, Pa., said as he ate at The Diner, just across street from campus. “I don’t think that’s really necessary. It’s obvious some individuals tried to cover the story up, but I don’t know if JoePa knew much about it.”
Alex Fakhraee, 19, of Ambler, Pa., said it might be time for the 84-year-old Paterno to go. But his concerns have more to do with the direction of the program under JoePa’s leadership than the scandal.
“I’m sure it’s going to affect our image in some way,” Fakhraee said outside the union. “From what I know, he knew about it and he reported it. After that I feel it’s not his obligation. He’s just here to coach the football team.”
Others were more critical.
“If he cared, he would have said something 10 years ago,” Joshua Daly said as he dined with a friend at Champs Sports Bar and Grill in State College. “He’s as guilty as anybody. He knew about it … no one called the police.”
Paterno has won 409 games, the Division I record, along with two national titles. He has an impeccable record of focusing on academics as well as athletics — it’s the Penn State library, not an athletic building, that is named for Paterno and his wife Sue.
But that doesn’t absolve him of responsibility, said Lori Schope, who cuts hair at Rinaldo’s.
“Anybody that says they knew about it and didn’t do anything about it,” she said, “is complicit.”
Former Penn State safety Byron Scott, now with the Buffalo Bills, believes Paterno’s legacy is strong enough to withstand the current turmoil.
Much like JoePa’s show on Tuesday afternoon, the rock-solid program may never be quite the same.
“It’s sickening, shocking. It’s very saddening,” said Scott, who played for Penn State from 1999-2002 and roomed with Sandusky’s son one year. “Hopefully it’s not true. And, if it is, man, it’s just bad.”
AP writers Mark Scolforo and Marc Levy in Harrisburg; Nancy Armour in State College; and John Wawrow in Buffalo, N.Y., contributed.