A reader writes:
From the students and alumni I've spoken to, we all feel Paterno's removal is fully justified. That said, I feel like your characterization of him as an "enabler of child-rape" is hasty and perhaps entirely inaccurate. Given what we currently know, it's unclear how much Mike McQueary, who witnessed Sandusky with the child in the shower, had told Paterno, and it may not have been anything more than "I saw something that made me uncomfortable," in which case I think Paterno's moral culpability, while still there, is lessened a bit.
If someone came to me and accused a 20 plus year friend with "messing around" in the shower with an underage boy, I would be paralyzed. (Paterno claims that's all the assistant coach told him.) I don't know if a lot of people would want him to elaborate. I don't know if a lot of people would even believe him. They might even think this young assistant coach has some sort of ax to grind. It's amazing the mental gymnastics we are capable of. So Paterno did what I think a lot of people would do: try to shift the responsibility to some one else. It's not right, but we can't say it's inhuman.
Those two defenses are torpedoed by a question posed by a reader:
If the victim had been Paterno's grandson, and Paterno was told that Sandusky was caught "messing around" with him, however vague, how long would this conspiracy of silence and cover-ups have lasted?
Another urges caution against pillorying Paterno:
Here (pdf) is a link to the Pennsylvania policy on sex abuse. It states quite clearly that the people are to report abuse to superiors, who will then contact the Child Abuse hotline. This is why Curley and Schultz have been indicted and Paterno and McQueary have not.
It's now clear that this is bad policy and should be changed. (Texas, for example, requires direct reporting.) Please also note that confidentiality rules protect the accused in these situations, preventing the "first reporters" from ensuring that anything has been done until the situation has been resolved (which has taken at least three years in the present case).
While I'm happy for people like Bissinger and Madden to indulge their conspiracy mongering, I'd just as soon also have the facts out and not invent a narrative based on a small portion of the Grand Jury statement of fact. The most infuriating thing about our constant media cycle is that if those alleging a conspiracy are proven right, they will crow endlessly about. If they're proven wrong, they will never be held responsible.
Another digs deep in search of Paterno's culpability:
I was a prosecutor for ten years and I have done Grand Jury investigations. I have complex views about the situation. I've read the Grand Jury report three times now. (It's not that long – 23 pages, double spaced, Microsoft Word – so everyone should read it.)
I think it should all hinge on the old Nixon question, "What did he know and when did he know it?" And according to the GJ Report, neither he nor Spanier knew much. The report just does not say what the commentators are saying that it says. While the incident McCreary saw was obviously terrible, the Grand Jury charged Curley and Schultz with perjury for testifying that McCreary didn't tell them specifically about the anal rape. But, Paterno and Spanier told them the same thing and the Grand Jury did not charge them with perjury. That leads me to believe that McCreary told the grand jury that he didn't tell Paterno the specifics.
The last victim, where the janitor saw Sandusky engaged in oral sex, was never reported to anyone other than the janitor's supervisor and the supervisor told no one. So how was Paterno, Spanier or anyone else supposed to do anything about it or even know about it?
The only other time an adult witnessed Sandusky doing anything was a wrestling coach at a local high school who stumbled on some wrestling that looked suspicious. But Sandusky and the kid were both fully clothed. That had absolutely nothing to do with Penn State and there is no indication that Paterno knew anything about it.
The 1998 case that was reported to campus police, was reported by the mother of the boy from what the boy told her. No adult saw anything. But nothing happened in that incident that could have been prosecuted – that's why it wasn't prosecuted. Again, according to the GJ report, the boy told his mom that Sandusky had taken a shower with the boy at the university, soaped his back and helped him wash, and the boy felt that it was wrong and I'm sure it was. But that's all that happened in that incident according to the GJ Report.
The other four victims reported behavior that occurred in Sandusky's home and was reported to no one until this investigation.
It's entirely possible that Paterno and others saw "signs" and/or "should have known" what Sandusky's proclivities were. But based solely on what's in this report there is absolutely nothing that justifies the scorn being heaped on Paterno.
Think about this. McCreary was 28 years old when he saw Sandusky and the boy. Why didn't he break it up on the spot? Instead, according to the Grand Jury report, he called his Dad who told him to leave the building immediately and come to his house. They discussed things and the dad told him that he should report it to Paterno the next day. Why didn't either McCreary or his Dad go to the police? Sandusky wasn't even a coach at that point. He'd retired three years before.
Also, according to the GJ report, Curley and Schultz reported the incident to the Executive Director of Sandusky's Foundation! Why didn't he do anything about it? If anyone could have single-handedly stopped Sandusky, it was him.
Lastly, the final incident in the GJ report occurred in 2008. It was reported by the high school authorities in 2008. If the authorities are so horrified that the PSU officials didn't do anything about it, why did it take them three years to investigate this? How many kids were hurt while they were taking their good old time? The Grand Jury testimony in this case was given in January of 2011. Why did they wait ten months to arrest Sandusky?
I don't mean to exonerate Joe by all of this. All I'm saying is the only facts that I'm aware of make Joe's involvement look pretty puny compared to some others who've gotten off the hook completely and that Joe is being held to a way higher standard than McCreary, his Dad, and the Foundation E.D., to name a few. Maybe the Trustees have additional information that's not in the GJ Report (which is itself pretty sloppy in my opinion) and if so the Trustees' actions might be justified.
So the answer to my question, "What did he know and when did he know it?", is not much. At least according to the only facts that we know.
(Photo: Penn State University head football coach Joe Paterno watches his team during practice on November 9, 2011 in State College, Pennsylvania. By Rob Carr/Getty Images)