Penn State confirmed Sunday that its payouts to alleged victims of sexual abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky cover incidents that date from 1971, the Associated Press reported. That confirmation followed an open letter from university President Eric Barron, who wrote that he was “appalled by the rumor, innuendo and rush to judgment that have accompanied the media stories surrounding these allegations.”

The AP report bolsters a CNN account Friday of a man who told the news network that he was sexually abused by Sandusky as a 15-year-old in 1971. On Thursday, amid proceedings between Penn State and insurers from which the school hopes to recoup millions that it has paid out, a court filing claimed that another victim had notified former football coach Joe Paterno in 1976 that he had been abused by Sandusky. The victim was not identified, with details coming from a sealed deposition.

One victim, whom CNN did not identify in accordance with its policy of not identifying the victims of sexual abuse, told CNN’s Sara Ganim that, as a troubled youth in 1971, he was picked up by Sandusky, then a 27-year-old assistant linebackers coach, while hitchhiking and was raped in a Penn State bathroom. “I’d be willing to sit on a witness stand and confront Joe Paterno,” the victim, now 60, told CNN last year. “Unfortunately he died and I didn’t get to.”

The victim’s foster mother, her husband and the victim said they took action after the assault, calling Penn State. The victim said he spoke to two men named Jim and Joe, who accused him of fabricating the story and threatened to call authorities. At that point, the victim said he “just wanted to get off the phone” and told CNN that, while he did not know who Jim was, he recognized Joe. “There was no question in my mind who Joe was,” he said. “I’ve heard that voice a million times. It was Joe Paterno.”

Paterno, who died in 2012, the same year that Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse involving 10 boys, had said that he first learned of any accusation against his former assistant in 2001. The incidents of abuse for which Sandusky, who worked for Paterno from 1969 to 1999, was sent to prison dated from the mid-1990s, but the recent court filing also indicated that a pair of unnamed Penn State assistant coaches said they witnessed inappropriate contact between Sandusky and children in the late 1980s.

In his letter, Barron wrote, “The two allegations [from the 1970s] related to knowledge by Coach Paterno are unsubstantiated and unsupported by any evidence other than a claim by an alleged victim. … We should not be rendering judgments about the actions of Coach Paterno or any other former employees of Penn State based on incomplete, sensationalized media accounts.”

Penn State has paid more than $90 million to settle 32 claims of abuse by Sandusky, but few details of those claims have come to light. The court proceeding has provided significant new evidence that Sandusky’s alleged acts go back much further than previously thought, and that Paterno may have been told of some of them much earlier than he acknowledged.

From the AP report:

Sue Paterno, who has defended her husband’s legacy and said the family had no knowledge of new claims, also called for an end to what she called “this endless process of character assassination by accusation.”
[University spokesman Lawrence] Lokman declined to answer questions about what steps the university took to verify abuse claims during the settlement process, or about what it had done to investigate the new allegations that Paterno and members of his coaching staff knew about Sandusky’s abuse decades before his 2011 arrest.

Paterno was not charged with any crimes, but he was fired by Penn State after 45 years at the helm of its football program, and a statue of him outside the football stadium was removed following his death. Three university officials, including former president Graham Spanier, are scheduled to face criminal charges related to their handling of the Sandusky scandal.

“Over the past 4-and-a-half years Joe Paterno’s conduct has been scrutinized by an endless list of investigators and attorneys,” Paterno family attorney Wick Sollers said in a statement emailed to The Post last week.

“Through all of this review there has never been any evidence of inappropriate conduct by Coach Paterno. To the contrary, the evidence clearly shows he shared information with his superiors as appropriate.

“An allegation now about an alleged event 40 years ago, as represented by a single line in a court document regarding an insurance issue, with no corroborating evidence, does not change the facts. Joe Paterno did not, at any time, cover up conduct by Jerry Sandusky.”

Last week, Sandusky was granted an appeals hearing on his convictions.