THE TRIAL OF former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky ended 10 days ago with a lengthy list of guilty verdicts, but the questions that remain unanswered go further than what his sentence will be.
A chain of e-mails has surfaced in the independent investigation being conducted by former FBI director Louis J. Freeh on behalf of Penn State’s board of trustees. These e-mails, first reported by CNN, concern the 2001 incident in which Mike McQueary, then a graduate assistant football coach, caught Mr. Sandusky in the shower with a young boy. And they reportedly involve the correspondence of several former Penn State officials: former president Graham B. Spanier; Gary Schultz, a former vice president who is charged with perjury and failing to report the incident; and Tim Curley, the suspended athletic director who was also charged with perjury and failing to report the incident. However, it’s the existence of another name in the e-mails that is so unsettling: the late Joe Paterno, Penn State’s iconic head coach and the former boss of both Mr. Sandusky and Mr. McQueary.
Although Mr. Paterno was fired shortly after the scandal broke in November, it was generally believed that, after learning of the incident from Mr. McQueary, the late coach had passed along the information to the athletic director and took no further action. Mr. Paterno — notwithstanding a moral duty — had no legal obligation to do more and was never charged.
But these recently disclosed e-mails suggest further involvement by Mr. Paterno. The correspondence shows that, at a particular moment after the 2001 incident, Mr. Spanier, Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz all favored reporting Mr. Sandusky to child welfare authorities, even acknowledging the legal liabilities of doing otherwise. Mr. Curley, however, wrote back that, after talking with Mr. Paterno, he didn’t think that was such a good idea anymore.
Mr. Sandusky was convicted June 22 of 45 counts of sexually assaulting young boys. Yet, as the e-mails reveal, the group decided that its decision not to report a former colleague was the “humane” thing to do.
Assuming the accuracy of these e-mails, what was the full extent of Mr. Paterno’s involvement in the alleged coverup of the scandal? What exactly held these administrators back? How is it possible for a group of four adults to conclude that the “humane” thing to do was to ignore the plight of an abused 10-year-old boy? These questions demand answers, not only to understand what gave rise to the Penn State scandal but also for the sake of past and future cases in which children have been victimized at the hands of adults and were then made to live in shame.