What Paterno admitted he knew shows Sandusky couldn’t have done it without him


Signs and flowers are seen at the statue of the late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, before the annual Spring football scrimmage in State College, Pennsylvania April 21, 2012. Paterno died on January 22, 2012. (PAT LITTLE/REUTERS)

Ahead of former FBI director Louis Freeh’s report on Penn State’s handling of the Sandusky scandal, CNN has reported that emails between fired school president Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz suggest that it was Joe Pa who talked the others out of reporting Sandusky to the authorities. The Paterno family has countered that the emails are misleading and the story a smear.

But even if that’s 200 percent true, Joe Paterno’s own words, under oath, in grand jury testimony he gave last December 16, are damning enough.

Because here’s what Paterno, who died in January, told the grand jury former Penn State quarterback Mike McQueary had told him, after driving to his home in a swivet one Saturday morning in February of 2001: “Well, he had seen a person, an older — not an older, but a mature person who was fondling, whatever you might call it — I’m not sure what the term would be — a young boy.’’

Asked if he’d ever had a man named Jerry Sandusky in his employ, Paterno responded, “I did for a while, yes.’’ Which is true; Sandusky only worked for him for 30 years. So who was this ‘mature person’ fondling somone in the showers?

“Jerry Sandusky, who had been one of our coaches,” but had retired in 1999. That is, a year after an investigation of another report about Sandusky molesting two boys in the team shower went nowhere.

Of the ‘fondling’ incident in 2001, Paterno didn’t seem to think there was much doubt about Sandusky’s actions: “Obviously, he was doing something of a sexual nature. I’m not sure exactly what it was. I didn’t push Mike to describe exactly what it was because he was very upset. Obviously, I was in a little bit of a dilemma since Mr. Sandusky was not working for me anymore. So I told — I didn’t go any further than that except I knew Mike was upset and I knew some kind of inappropriate action was being taken by Jerry Sandusky with a youngster.”

He didn’t tell anyone right away, he said, because “it was a Saturday morning and I didn’t want to inferfere with their weekends.”

Which, unlike Sandusky’s victims, went on unmolested.

As he remembered it, he called Curley some time in the next week, and said, ”Hey, we got a problem.”

Could this possibly have been the first time he’d heard anything of the sort about Sandusky? “It may have been discussed in my presence, something else about somebody,’’ Paterno said. “I don’t know.”

He didn’t tell anyone besides Curley, he said, “because I figured that Tim would handle it appropriately.”

But he didn’t, as we now know. And if you want unseemly, you should have been in the courtroom last month where eight young men testified about what Sandusky had done to them. Though eight members of the jury had close ties to Penn State, those young men were believed, too, and 68-year-old Sandusky found guilty on 45 counts of child sex abuse over the course of 15 years.


Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno with his defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky in 1999. (Paul Vathis/AP)

For the next decade, whenever Paterno saw Sandusky with the boys he continued to troll for through his charity — and continued to ply with access to Penn State’s football program -- did Paterno not ever think about what he’d been told?

Was he untroubled when he saw Sandusky with other youngsters, sitting on the bench and hanging out on the sidelines during games?

Around Penn State, Paterno is revered still; Joe Pa did nothing wrong and everything he was supposed to do, I was told time and again during Sandusky’s recent trial.

Unfortunately, that’s an attitude that can only lead to more of the same. That is, to more “humane” treatment of predators at the expense of children. To more misguided Joe Pa worship at the expense of the truth. And to more deference to even such lame excuses as the one about the sacrosanct weekend, during which officials apparently shouldn’t have to hear any unwelcome news.

If children are ever to be protected, however, and other scandals prevented, the answer isn’t better cover-ups, but more transparency. And all that Joe Paterno did and did not do must be acknowledged at last.


Melinda Henneberger has been writing about politics and culture for the Washington Post since 2011.

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