What did Joe Paterno know and when did he know it?
And what was his duty based on what he knew, and did he shirk it?
I won’t mince words here: what is alleged to have taken place at the hands of Jerry Sandusky in the Penn State locker room in 2002, the anal rape of a child, is a terrible sexual crime of great magnitude. If Paterno knew that had happened and had any part in covering it up, he shirked his duty in a major way and his firing is a mild punishment.
Of course, even Sandusky himself is innocent until proven guilty. But the allegations in the grand jury indictment against him are compelling (and revolting), and seem to point very strongly towards guilt (a witness, many seemingly independent reports of other instances of Sandusky abusing children and using a similar m.o. in some of the cases). But even if Sandusky is innocent—which does not appear to be the case—that would not affect Paterno’s duty to report when he got word of the allegations of child rape.
And therein lies the conundrum: what word of child rape did Paterno get? He says he was told something much more vague—that something untoward and inappropriate but only possibly sexual happened in the shower at Penn State, involving Sandusky and a male child:
…[E]ven if the grad assistant [who reported the offense] in question, Mike McQueary, was too traumatized or intimidated to tell Paterno the unfathomable particulars of what he saw (and we’ll see how that story develops), Paterno knew a naked Sandusky didn’t belong anywhere near a naked grade schooler in the shower.
In his original statement on the case, after denying that McQueary informed him of “the very specific actions contained in the Grand Jury report,” Paterno went on to concede that “it was clear that the witness saw something inappropriate involving Mr. Sandusky.”
The former defensive coordinator stands accused of something that “inappropriate” couldn’t begin to describe. Sandusky was indicted on felony charges of sexually abusing eight boys, and experts believe the damage inflicted on child victims in these cases can be everlasting.
However, no one alleges that Paterno knew about the other victims. But it is indeed the case that, had a proper investigation been launched at Paterno’s request in 2002, at least some of those victims—the ones who came after the incident of which he had been informed—might have been spared their terrible experiences.
What did Paterno do when he was told whatever he was told by McQueary? He launched an internal investigation—within the athletic department—hardly worthy of the name. And that, I think, is where his major wrongdoing lies.
Why not tell the police? Why not tell Child Protective Services? And why such tepid findings resulting from the internal investigation, given the extreme nature of the allegations? One cannot help but think there was a coverup, at least on the part of Tim Curley and Gary Schultz:
Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, the school’s vice president for business and finance, were charged with perjury and failure to report the allegations. Curley and Schultz each face up to seven years in prison if convicted…
Pennsylvania law requires that anyone who comes into contact with children in the course of their employment to report evidence of abuse to “appropriate authorities.” Failure to do so is a third-degree misdemeanor.
The statute specifically lists teachers, nurses, doctors and child-care workers, among others, as those required to notify authorities when they suspect children in their care have been molested.
Paterno apparently followed the letter of the law by telling Curley about what McQueary had witnessed. But if Paterno had notified law-enforcement officials once it became clear university officials had not shared the allegation with police, Sandusky may have been arrested, sparing at least one of the boys whose abuse was detailed in the grand jury report.
Paterno does seem guilty of extremely poor judgment and excessive trust in the internal mechanism of the university, and a simple lack of common sense. He had no legal duty to report to the police, but he should have done so:
Penn State football icon Joe Paterno probably adhered to the letter of the law when he told the school’s athletic director – but not the police – that former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky allegedly sexually abused a boy in the Nittany Lions’ locker room in 2002.
But attorneys familiar with child abuse statutes say that while the venerable college coach may not face criminal charges, he is hardly an innocent bystander…
Paterno issued a statement late Sunday that said he “did what I was supposed to do with the one charge brought to my attention.”
But he also claimed that a graduate assistant who told him he witnessed Sandusky having anal sex with a boy in a locker room on the Penn State campus “at no time related to me the very specific actions contained in the grand jury report.”…
“After learning that school officials were not reporting the matter to police, Joe Paterno should have reported it himself,” [attorney] Garabedian said. “It is simply common – and ethical and moral – sense.
Perhaps Paterno wanted to protect his beloved Penn State and the athletic department there (although Sandusky had stopped working for the university in 1999 and was no longer an employee at the time of the offense). Perhaps Paterno was naive and didn’t believe Sandusky capable of anything so terrible. But there’s no “perhaps” to the fact that Paterno committed a terrible lapse of judgment in not reporting the allegations to the proper authorities—which were most definitely not the athletic department at Penn State.