Jerry Sandusky Sex Scandal Means Joe Paterno Will Be Remembered for Failure, Not Accomplishments


A couple of hours ago, Penn State University announced that Joe Paterno’s weekly Tuesday press conference was cancelled. It’s probably just as well, since the Paterno camp had already advised the press that he would not be taking questions on his role in the sex abuse scandal — and that’s the only thing reporters want to ask about at this point. In any event, it’s a clear sign that university officials are circling the wagons, and an even clearer sign that they don’t yet comprehend the magnitude of what has happened.

This isn’t a sports story, and the news media shouldn’t be harping on Joe Paterno just because he is the most famous name connected — however tenuously — with the scandal.

First, this is about Jerry Sandusky, one of the most honored assistant coaches in college football, and the allegations that he has sexually abused numerous — the count today is nine — young boys. Second, this is about who knew what when and what the punishment should be for not taking appropriate action. My guess is that before it’s over, Penn State is going to be out millions of dollars in legal fees and out-of-court settlements and that this is going to topple several who are up high in the administration. How high? Let’s say anyone at anyone at Penn State who was there on or after March 3, 2002, who heard anything about the allegations concerning Sandusky and did not report them to legal authorities, regardless of what “university policy” was.

March 3, 2002, was the day after Penn State graduate assistant coach and former Nittany Lions quarterback Mike McQueary went to Paterno and told him of an incident he had witnessed in the locker room at the Lasch Football Building. In the showers, he saw a naked boy (now known in legalese as Victim 2) whose age he estimated to be 10 years old being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky, who was 58 at the time.

(You can read about allegations regarding other victims in detail on every news source’s website, but I would particularly recommend the Newark Star-Ledger‘s coverage, which has outstripped even the New York Times in comprehensiveness.)

We don’t know exactly what McQueary, now an assistant coach at Penn State, said to whom. We do know that he told his father and that he then called head coach Paterno and went to his home to speak to him. What exactly did McQueary tell Paterno? In a statement released Sunday night, Paterno says, “It was obvious that the witness [McQueary] was distraught over what he saw, but he at no time related to me the very specific actions contained in the grand jury report.”

This strikes me as being the crux of the matter as it relates to Paterno: Paterno thought McQueary was “distraught” but he failed to relate to Paterno “the very specific actions contained in the grand jury report.” The next day, Paterno called Tim Curley, Penn State’s athletic director, at his home and passed on what McQueary had told him. But what exactly did Paterno relate to Curley? He said McQueary was “distraught.” Was that not signal enough to Paterno that something terrible had happened?

Paterno says McQueary was not “specific.” Was he really so naive as to not understand what McQueary was telling him? On a matter of such grave importance, why did Paterno not compel McQueary to be specific?

If Paterno had nothing “specific” to pass on to Curley, then what exactly did he tell him? Apparently Curley met with McQueary (though it isn’t clear that it was March 4 or a few days later) and brought in Gary Schulz, the senior vice president for finance and business whose responsibilities include campus police. We do not know whether McQueary was more specific in his allegations than he had been with Paterno, though it seems impossible that two high-ranking Penn State officials could not have asked specific questions about what McQueary saw in the showers.

In any event, McQueary did not hear back from Curley until March 27, at which time he was told that Sandusky’s locker room keys had been taken away and that the incident had been reported to the Second Mile, an organization Sandusky helped found in 1977 which began as group foster home dedicated to helping troubled boys and grew into a charity dedicated to helping children from broken or dysfunctional families.

What Curley and Shultz did not do is contact any outside legal entity. McQueary was never questioned by university police, and Sandusky’s association with the Second Mile continued until 2009, when a Pennsylvania woman filed charges accusing Sandusky of sexually abusing her 12-year old son. (Curley and Schultz have not been indicted for felony perjury.)

These facts are absolutely staggering. Let’s repeat: Joe Paterno did not, or says he did not, understand exactly what McQueary told him that he had seen; Curley apparently lied about contacting the Second Mile while Sandusky continued to rape young boys for seven years. And no one at Penn State — not Paterno, not Curley not Schultz, not McQueary — so much as contacted the local police or the state district attorney.

Nor, for that matter, did McQueary — after going to Paterno and meeting with Curley and Schultz — bother to follow up and see whether any action was taken. (Apparently Sandusky was not actually banned from the facility, as he was using it as recently as 2009.)

In other words, no one at Penn State did anything but look the other way and the abuse was allowed to continue.

This afternoon, as I write this, there are two new developments. The first are reports that Joe Paterno will be resigning — my guess is that this will be immediately, within the next day or so before what should have been a great moment in his long career, his final home game against Nebraska. There are already those who say that this single incident should not overshadow his great career. They are wrong. Joe Paterno’s failure to do something about the allegations against his friend Jerry Sandusky was a vivid contradiction to everything that Paterno was supposed to stand for in more than 60 years as a coach and assistant coach. Of course, this will color his legacy; of course, it will be what he is most remembered for.

That the officials at Penn Sate still don’t understand the magnitude of the scandal is stupefying. The second major development this afternoon is that Penn State president Graham Spanier, who approved Curley’s and Schultz’s “actions” after the Sandusky incident was reported, has issued a statement of “unconditional support” for Curley and Schulz.

It’s astonishing that President Spanier doesn’t seem to understand that it’s too late to circle the wagons; the wagons are already on fire.

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