Penn State coach Joe Paterno issued a statement Sunday concerning his knowledge of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation case and while heartfelt and appropriately toned, it raised as many questions as answers.
Most notably for Paterno, it did nothing to quell debate over whether the legendary coach fulfilled his moral obligation when a then-graduate assistant presented a chilling allegation of a potential sexual assault of a 10-year-old boy inside the Penn State locker room by Sandusky, the team's former defensive coordinator.
Legally, Paterno did the right thing; he summoned his boss, athletic director Tim Curley, to his home the next day and passed along the information.
That Paterno apparently didn’t follow up on the investigation or call the police himself remains a hotly debated topic of this ugly scandal.
On Saturday, Sandusky, 67, was charged by a state grand jury with myriad counts of deviate sexual intercourse, corruption of minors, endangering the welfare of a child, indecent assault and other offenses after a three-year state police investigation.
Curley and Penn State vice president Gary Schultz were also charged with failure to report the abuse of a child and perjury for claiming they were not told of “sexual acts” by the graduate assistant, who the Harrisburg Patriot-News has identified as current Penn State assistant Mike McQueary.
Paterno is in no legal trouble and the Patriot-News reports he will be a prosecution witness in the case.
That has left even the coach’s most ardent fans wondering why he didn’t do more. Nothing came of the 2002 incident and Sandusky was allowed to live free for another 9½ years, where he went on to abuse more victims according to Linda Kelly, the Pennsylvania attorney general.
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Paterno acknowledged McQueary told him of “an incident in the shower of our locker room” involving Sandusky and that he believed McQueary clearly “saw something inappropriate involving Mr. Sandusky.” However, he said the incident wasn’t described in the same graphic detail as contained in the grand jury’s "finding of fact" released Saturday that shocked the nation.
“As my grand jury testimony stated, I was informed in 2002 by an assistant coach that he had witnessed an incident in the shower of our locker room facility,” Paterno’s statement read. “It was obvious that the witness was distraught over what he saw, but he at no time related 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.
“I understand that people are upset and angry, but let's be fair and let the legal process unfold. In the meantime I would ask all Penn Staters to continue to trust in what that name represents, continue to pursue their lives every day with high ideals and not let these events shake their beliefs nor who they are.”
Pennsylvania law asks employees to pass the information up their chain of command, where it fell on Curley to tell authorities. However, Paterno is no normal middle manager. He is a powerful and iconic figure across the state and Curley worked as much for him as he did for Curley.
Paterno also built his reputation as much for his moral compass and NCAA compliance as his 409 career victories in his five-plus decade career as head coach at Penn State. Paterno has always been about doing more than the letter of the law.
How could he possibly agree that there was concern that something inappropriate may have occurred between an old man and a young boy in the shower of what should’ve been a closed locker room yet apparently believe the information wasn't inappropriate enough to call the cops himself?
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There is no sliding scale here. There is no reasonable explanation for a then 58-year-old man and a 10-year-old boy to be in that situation. This was a potential sexual assault of a minor occurring inside Paterno’s own locker room, by a long-time assistant coach and former player.
McQueary shouldn’t have had to provide explicit detail of what he saw for Paterno to be outraged and spring to action.
What Paterno heard and how he heard it was enough to call his boss to his home on a Sunday. It also should’ve been enough to follow up with police and continue to pursue it in the ensuing years.
Legally Paterno wasn’t required to do more. But since when has just doing enough been sufficient for a man such as Paterno?
A true leader would've done everything he could to spur action and not been satisfied with Curley's decision to simply ban Sandusky from bringing young boys onto the Penn State campus.
“Sue and I have devoted our lives to helping young people reach their potential,” Paterno’s statement read. “The fact that someone we thought we knew might have harmed young people to this extent is deeply troubling. If this is true we were all fooled, along with scores of professionals trained in such things, and we grieve for the victims and their families. They are in our prayers.”
That was an appropriate sentiment, and a long way from the pathetic statement offered by Penn State president Graham Spanier on Saturday that expressed little concern for the victims and pledged his “unconditional support” for his current employees.
For Paterno the statement is a start, but it’s a long way from a finish. There are many more questions that need answers. Paterno’s life work has earned him the temporary benefit of a doubt, and there is little doubt he regrets not seeing Sandusky for what he was and doing more. But there is no amount of football success that should shield him from a full and limitless investigation into the case.
There is no suggestion here that Paterno face prosecution. There is no suggestion here that Paterno was purposefully harboring a monster.
There is the expectation that he answers the toughest of questions publicly before he assumes the right to coach the Nittany Lions on Saturday against Nebraska.
Paterno owed that boy more back in 2002. That much is clear now. The past can't be changed but today he owes that same person, Sandusky’s other victims and the people of Pennsylvania a complete explanation of his actions and inactions at that time.