Penn State football coach Joe Paterno has been among the most universally respected coaches in college football--that is, until the recent sex abuse engulfed his reputation. Paterno's former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, is accused of sexually assaulting at least eight young boys over the last fifteen years, including one as young as ten years old. Two current Penn State officials, Athletic Director Timothy Curely and Senior Vice President of Finance Gary Schulz, have been indicted on charges of perjury and failing to report the sexual abuse to police as required by Pennsylvania law. In short, it appears these two official covered up the story. If true, they undoubtedly decided it was more important to protect the university's reputation than the safety of future children who were subsequently sexually assaulted by Sandusky.
As a Chicago personal injury lawyer and father of two young children, I was both shocked and disgusted when I heard this story. There is no question that Sandusky and others who covered up his sexual abuse of children should go to jail if the allegations are true. For his part, Sandusky is accused of sexually assaulting at least eight young boys, most or all of whom he met through a charity he founded to help troubled youth. According to the grand jury indictment, Sandusky's involvement provided him "access to hundreds of boys, many of whom were vulnerable due to their social situations." As more evidence comes to light, it appears Coach Joe Paterno knew that Sandusky, in 2002, reportedly sexually assaulted a young boy in a Penn State locker room shower, but Paterno did not report the matter to the police.
Sandusky served as defensive coordinator under Paterno from 1976 to 1999. After retiring in 1999 as a coach, Sandusky was allowed to maintain his presence at Penn State with an office in and free run of the football complex. In 2002, a graduate student allegedly witnessed Sandusky performing anal sex a little boy that appeared to be about ten years old while in a Penn State football shower. The graduate student then reported the incident to Paterno. Paterno did not alert the local police; instead, Paterno reported the matter to Penn State Athletic Director, Timothy Curely. According to Paterno, he fulfilled his obligation to report the matter to Curley. In a statement, Paterno said "[i]t was obvious that the witness was distraught over what he saw, but he at no time revealed to me the very specific actions contained in the grand jury report. Regardless, it was clear that the witness saw something inappropriate involving Mr. Sandusky. As coach Sandusky was retired from our coaching staff at that time, I referred the matter to university administrators." In response, University administrators prohibited Sandusky from bringing young children onto the campus. Most importantly, no one reported the matter to the police. Sandusky was then allowed to sexually abuse other children--just not on the Penn State campus.
Although Coach Parterno may not have committed a crime, his failure to report the matter to police is morally criminal in the eyes of many. Paterno was the head of the football team. As one former player commented, "he was a leader of men. " Yet, Paterno failed to stand up for the safety of young children. Had he learned the boy that was sexually assaulted in the shower was, God forbid, one of his own grandchildren, would he have just "referred the matter over to university administrators" or would he have done more?
Coach Paterno has had a spectacular 46-year career as a football coach. Although it is a shame his legacy will be marred by the sex abuse scandal, the larger shame is his failure to do more. His failure to do more after learning his fellow coach sodomized a little boy in his football teams locker room shower. By failing to report Sandusky to the police, Paterno and others effectively allowed Sandusky to commit future sexual assaults on other young boys from 2002 to 2009 (according to prosecutors). Whether any of these now young men file a personal injury, sexual assault case against the University and individuals like Paterno remains to be seen. In the meantime, support for Paterno among the Penn State board of trustees is reportedly "eroding." Given all that has happened, Paterno may consider doing himself a favor and step down before the choice is no longer his.
CNN Website, Students Rally At Paterno's Home Amid Penn State Sex Abuse Scandal, November 8, 2011.
Associated Press Website / Fox News, Paterno Fights For Job Amid Widening Sex Scandal Under His Watch, November 8, 2011.
Associated Press Website / ABC News Webiste, Official Tells AP That Support For Paterno Eroding, November 8, 2011.