STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – A wealth of information regarding Joe Paterno, including everything from congratulatory notes to travel logs, is stored in the Special Collections section at the Paterno Library on the Penn State campus.
Six boxes and an accordion folder are overstuffed with documents including awards, letters, handwritten notes from Paterno's secretary, and other personal effects. There's also the annual "Appointment Book," which details Paterno's various public functions as well as meetings completed and missed, speaking engagements completed and missed, and other commitments.
It's open to the public and takes on added importance after a devastating email from longtime Penn State athletic director Tim Curley was revealed. That email calls into question whether Paterno helped convince university officials to not turn over former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky to child welfare services way back in 2001 after Sandusky was discovered abusing a boy in the football building showers. Sandusky was convicted June 22 on 45 counts of child molestation and is awaiting sentencing.
Paterno's appointment book could serve as a confirmation that he met with Curley on or around the date Curley says they met, Feb. 27, 2001. Or it could exonerate him, showing Paterno was off on vacation or unavailable for even a phone conversation. While it often lacked great detail, for a Penn State community desperate for any facts or explanations, the appointment book could offer a morsel of truth.
Unfortunately it doesn't; at least not yet.
The library's collection of Paterno appointment books run from 1985 to 2000, the last entry being Dec. 30, 2000. There is nothing from 2001 until Paterno's firing in November 2011.
Seven weeks after the last item in the appointment book, Curley's email stated that he and the iconic coach talked about how to handle Sandusky. There is no publicly available documentation that the meeting did or didn't occur, let alone the subjects discussed.
The paperwork of Paterno's whereabouts ending so close to these critical days appears to be coincidental.
There was an initial donation by the Paternos to the library in 2001, according to school officials. That explains the cutoff in 2000, as the 2001 book would still have been in use. The family did not donate additional documents that included appointment books or schedule confirmations, regrets or cancellations.
"The Paterno papers inventory represent the Paterno materials currently housed by the Library," Jackie R. Esposito, university archivist and head of the school's Records Management Programs. "The family has not donated any subsequent personal papers."
It's possible the Paterno family has that information. The anticipated Freeh Commission report on the Sandusky case may provide additional context or information into Paterno's role.
At this moment though, little is available for a public seeking answers.
The hole in the Paterno Papers, as the university calls them, only deepens the power Tim Curley holds over Paterno's legacy.
Paterno passed away in January, leaving Curley as possibly the only person who can confirm this critical meeting and the subjects discussed. He, directly and through his attorney, has declined comment on the case since he was arrested last November for lying to a grand jury.
It is his word, which could be expounded upon in an upcoming criminal trial, that may write the history of Paterno's role in the Sandusky scandal.
Curley can either save a measure of the coach's once sterling reputation or condemn JoePa as someone who put the interests of himself and his program above the safety of area children.
"After giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe yesterday, I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps," Curley wrote in a Feb. 27, 2001, email, according to a CNN report on its contents. "I am having trouble with going to everyone but the person involved."
With that email to then president Graham Spanier and vice president Gary Schultz, Penn State officials scraped a previously agreed upon plan that included contacting child services.
"Joe" is believed to be Joe Paterno.
Reporting Sandusky could have ended his reign of terror in 2001. Instead, he wasn't arrested until November 5, 2011, after he abused additional boys. Schultz and Curley were also charged that day with failure to report a crime and perjury in front of a grand jury. Within days, Spanier and Paterno were fired. Schultz and Curley, who have pleaded not guilty, are awaiting trials which may not occur until the fall. The Pennsylvania attorney general has not ruled out indicting Spanier.
For decades Paterno was held up as a bastion of ethics and moral leadership while winning more college football games than any other coach. That reputation was tarnished upon Sandusky's arrest, with Paterno acknowledging he should've done more to stop his former defensive coordinator. The CNN report threatens to damage Paterno's reputation even further.
The emails were discovered during an independent investigation by Penn State, which has commissioned a company run by former FBI head Louis Freeh. The wide-ranging probe included the hiring of forensic computer specialists who, sources say, have been able to uncover emails from old hard drives. Scores of people have been interviewed.
Curley's email suggests that Paterno had a greater role in handling Sandusky than he described in testimony to a grand jury in 2011. Under oath, Paterno said he reported what assistant coach Mike McQueary had told him to Curley and had no further involvement in the case. McQueary witnessed Sandusky having sex with a young boy in the showers and informed Paterno in at least general terms.
There are only a few viable explanations for what Curley wrote.
• He could've been lying at the time about discussing the incident with Paterno or even that a meeting took place at all.
• During the meeting, Paterno could've supported the plan to turn Sandusky in to child welfare services only to have Curley overrule the coach and decide on his own to convince everyone else to protect Sandusky.
• Paterno could have talked Curley out of the previously agreed upon plan, to turn in Sandusky.
The second possibility is the most unlikely. It would suggest Curley, who was Paterno's boss in name only, was willing to go against the wishes of the powerful coach he played for and, as a State College native, grew up cheering for the Nittany Lions. It also would mean Paterno, when later finding out Curley had defied his wishes and essentially harbored a child molester, didn't overrule him and himself go to the police, child services or Spanier.
That's just not plausible.
In the end, this is about what Curley will say happened, if he ever explains himself. He'll either claim he was wrong about a meeting ever occurring in 2001, an unexpected reprieve for Paterno, or he'll further paint Paterno as the villain many now see him as.
Curley is in his late 50s and battling lung cancer. He faces serious criminal charges, potential prison time and already his reputation is ruined. A State College native who as a kid sold game programs at football games, a Penn State alum and since 1993 the school's athletic director, he's remained silent and loyal to Paterno throughout this case.
In this twisting, lengthy scandal, Curley's recollection becomes the most anticipated bit of testimony and the single most important moment in how Joe Paterno is viewed from now until forever.
The email he may have long forgotten and certainly never thought would become public could change everything. The rest of the Freeh report, which could be released by mid-July, should provide far greater detail and perspective, possibly to the benefit of Paterno, possibly to his detriment or the detriment of both sides.
Time will tell. Right now, not even the Paterno Papers can provide documentation that the two men met in February 2001. There are no answers, just lingering questions and one obvious realization:
One voice will speak loudest on how history will recall Joe Paterno when he details exactly what the coach knew and what exactly he did once he knew it.
Blue White Illustrated editor Nate Bauer contributed to this report.
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