By the end of this week, both Graham B. Spanier, the president of Pennsylvania State University, and longtime football coach Joe Paterno could both be out of their jobs, according to three officials with ties to the university’s senior leadership. Both Spanier and Paterno are fast losing the support of the university’s Board of Trustees, which will hold a closed-door meeting on Thursday.
Last Friday, charges of molesting at least eight children over a 15-year period against former Penn State defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, were announced. Trustees, apparently angry at the university’s response, held emergency meetings late on Saturday and again on Sunday; some trustees had only learned of the charges via the radio or family members. On Monday, both Penn State’s athletic director, Timothy M. Curley, and the university’s senior vice president for finance and business, Gary C. Schultz, announced that they were stepping down.
Both Paterno and Spanier enjoy widespread popularity but, in the wake of a scandal about the sexual abuse of children in the university’s football facilities, support even for the winningest coach in college football history is fast waning. At stake is what Paterno did or did not know about a 2002 assault of a young boy by Sandusky.
In explaining his actions, Mr. Paterno has publicly said he was not told of the graphic nature of an alleged 2002 assault by the assistant coach Jerry Sandusky of a young boy in the football building’s showers. He said the graduate assistant coach who reported the assault, Mike McQueary, said only that something disturbing had happened that was perhaps sexual in nature.
But on Tuesday a person with knowledge of Mr. McQueary’s version of events called Mr. Paterno’s claim into question. The person said that Mr. McQueary had told those in authority the explicit details of what he saw, including in his face-to-face meeting with Mr. Paterno the day after the incident.
Sandusky came into contact with the eight boys whom he allegedly abused via his Second Mile foundation, which he established for needy children. His name is as entwined with Penn State’s football program as Paterno’s; Sandusky was at one time considered to be a candidate to replace Paterno as head coach. Sandusky and his wife, Dottie, have adopted a number of children and took in many foster children so that it was “not uncommon” for him to be seen at Penn State football functions and elsewhere with young children.
Mystique and mythologizing run deep about Paterno. He has been at Penn State since 1950, starting as an assistant coach planning to pay off his student loans at Brown University where he studied English literature after graduating from Brooklyn Prep, a Jesuit high school. Paterno became head coach in 1966 and “has been widely credited with helping elevate the Penn State football program and the rest of the university from a local enterprise into a national brand.” Penn State’s endowment grew to $1 billion from virtually nothing during Paterno’s years and his name is attached to everything from the endowed chairs for professors to a library to an ice cream flavor. He has been lauded for his “Grand Experiment”; for a football program that not only brought home two national titles in 1982 and 1986, but that also could boast of a high graduation rate and “education-first ideals” among players.
The Pennsylvania attorney general said on Monday that Paterno was not part of an ongoing criminal investigation. But the sex scandal casts a dark shadow over his long career of success at Penn State. Whatever Paterno knew or did not know, why did he, why did no one at Penn State, alert the police and all the more so as a child was involved?
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