The latest outcry emanates from emails leaked to CNN and NBC. One of those emails seems to indicate that, after consulting with Paterno, then-Penn State athletic director Tim Curley decided to contact Jerry Sandusky about an alleged 2001 incident involving the former Penn State assistant coach and a young boy in the shower before contacting authorities.
In the wake of these emails, columnists and talk-show hosts have called Paterno a coward, an enabler and a whole lot worse. Internet chat boards have been filled with words we won’t use here on PhillyPhanatics.com.
There have been proposals to remove the statue of Paterno that stands outside Beaver Stadium. There have been renewed calls to shut down Penn State’s football program.
My advice is to take a deep breath and relax. As I wrote last fall when charges were filed against Sandusky, let’s wait for all the facts before rushing to judgment. Let’s wait for the university’s investigation, conducted by a company run by former FBI director Louis Freeh, to be completed.
Judging by some of the histrionics last fall, one might have incorrectly assumed that Paterno himself was accused of molesting young men. A similar epidemic seems to have broken out again among those eager to dance on Paterno’s grave.
The truth is that Sandusky, who was found guilty of 45 charges related to sexual misconduct with boys, wasn’t even on the football staff at the time of the incident in the shower.
In time, we learned that Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant coach in 2001, didn’t provide Paterno with the salacious details that we’ve all since heard. Paterno knew that McQueary was disturbed about what he witnessed, but he did not know all that McQueary subsequently told the grand jury and, supposedly, Penn State administrators.
First and foremost, this is a case about a disturbed individual who preyed on vulnerable boys involved in The Second Mile, an organization Sandusky founded. This case is also about how Penn State, as a university, failed to report allegations of sexual abuse involving a minor. It’s also about how The Second Mile charity failed to take the proper steps once some of its administrators learned of accusations against Sandusky.
What I fail to see is how this story, once again, becomes all about Paterno. I fail to see how this story, once again, becomes all about the football program.
Before we look at the recent emails that have sparked the latest outcry, let’s keep a few things in mind. First, we don’t have all the relevant emails. We only have emails that were leaked to the media. Let’s not be so naïve that we don’t think these selective emails were leaked for a specific purpose, possibly related to an upcoming trial for Curley and then-Penn State vice president Gary Schultz, who are accused of failing to report the Sandusky incident to the proper authorities and for lying to a grand jury.
Second, the emails in question are not from Paterno. He did not email, text or tweet. Therefore, we don’t have Paterno’s own words. We only have the reaction from Curley to a conversation he allegedly had with Paterno.
Finally, it’s a huge leap from taking the words in Curley’s email to concluding that Paterno ordered a cover-up of the 2001 shower incident.
Here is the relevant portion of the leaked email sent by Curley to then-Penn State president Graham Spanier and Schultz, whose domain included responsibility for campus police: “After giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe yesterday, I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps. I am having trouble with going to everyone but the person involved.”
Assuming that this email is real and hasn’t been altered, my interpretation is that Paterno may have suggested that the administrators contact Sandusky and let him know about the allegations. What the email certainly does not say is that the administration should not contact police or the Department of Welfare. It says that Curley is uncomfortable “with going to everyone but the person involved.”
Urging administrators to contact Sandusky to let him know what will be reported is consistent with the sense of fairness Paterno demonstrated during his more than 60 years at Penn State. Anyone who works with children would appreciate being notified of abuse allegations before police or child welfare authorities show up at your door.
What wouldn’t be consistent with Paterno’s behavior is telling Curley that this incident with Sandusky be swept under the rug and not reported to authorities.
I interviewed Paterno one-on-one on one occasion, but I don’t claim to know him personally. I only know the man through his deeds and actions. I know he ran a clean program without a whiff of NCAA recruiting violations. I know he raised tens of millions of dollars, and contributed significant amounts of his own money, for Penn State. I know that more than 20 fathers who played for Paterno proudly sent their sons to play for Paterno at Penn State. I know what former players say about Paterno’s influence on their lives.
Only those who don’t know Paterno at all could read these selective emails and conclude that he directed a cover-up of Sandusky’s sexual abuse of boys.
Unfortunately, Paterno is no longer around to respond to the insinuations and criticism directed his way. But the least the man who built Penn State into a major university deserves is that we hold off on any accusations until after the investigation is completed.
Whether you’re a Paterno supporter or one of those who, inexplicably, can’t wait to throw more dirt on Paterno’s grave, my suggestion, as it was last November, is to wait until we have all the facts before drawing any conclusions.