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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 11/21/11

What did Joe Paterno know and when did he know it? Part One

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As a Penn State alumnus, I have four personal priorities concerning the Jerry Sandusky scandal. First, I want to do my part to assure that all the boys allegedly violated by Jerry Sandusky receive justice and are made whole -- as far as possible. Second, I want Jerry Sandusky to receive justice, keeping in mind that he is innocent until proven guilty. Third, I want Penn State University to clean house by removing all the officials -- including members of the Board of Trustees -- who officially presided over Penn State while Sandusky performed his alleged serial sexual assaults on young boys. Fourth, I want to ascertain what Joe Paterno knew about Sandusky's behavior and when he knew it.

Thus, unlike the news media reporters and columnists engaged in a feeding frenzy and the many ill-informed members of the general public aroused by them (H. L. Mencken used the words "jackals" and "jackasses" respectively to describe them), I still strain to remember that, in the United States, Jerry Sandusky is innocent until proven guilty. Unlike the media commentators and the woefully uninformed public, I also am prepared to await Sandusky's conviction, before insisting Penn State clean house. You know, it's that small detail called due process. More significantly, unlike the frenzied news media and the mob they incited, I've yet to be persuaded that Joe Paterno failed his moral obligation or, worse, might have been part of a Penn State cover-up of Sandusky's alleged crimes.

Notwithstanding this media feeding frenzy and mob mentality, which appears to have provoked Penn State's Board of Trustees to unceremoniously fire Paterno, there is much we don't know about Joe Paterno's role in the Sandusky affair.  Below is an attempt to give an unbiased interpretation, based upon the evidence now available to us, of what Joe Paterno knew and when he knew it. If nothing else, it might slow the media frenzy and mob onslaught.

Reports by the media, supposedly based on information provided by lawyers representing alleged victims of Sandusky, now indicate that the sexual assaults might have commenced as far back as the 1970s. Sandusky was on the Penn State football team's coaching staff back then, so it's fair to ask what, if anything, Joe Paterno heard or knew about Sandusky's allegedly sordid behavior from as far back as the 1970s up until 1998 -- the year when an actual investigation of sexual misconduct was undertaken by Penn State's police.

Being the close-knit football community that Penn State was and is, one might assume that during the time period between the 1970s and 1998, Joe -- or a member of his staff -- must have heard rumors about Sandusky and simply turned a blind eye. After all, many, including this writer, believed that little went on at Penn State -- especially concerning his football program -- that escaped Joe Paterno's attention. Moreover, former coach Barry Switzer appears plausible when he asserts: "members of the Penn State coaching staff had to be aware of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky's alleged behavior."

"Having been in this profession a long time and knowing how close coaching staffs are, I knew that this was a secret that was kept secret. Everyone on that [staff] had to have known, the ones that had been around a long time," Keep in mind, however, that we don't know that Switzer is talking about the time period under consideration here. In addition, we can safely assume that he has no first-hand knowledge about what Joe or any member of his staff actually knew -- during this time period or any other time period.

Moreover, the presumption of Joe Paterno's omniscience must, obviously, be false. I'm sure, for example, that he never knew what I was doing during my five years at Penn State. I also doubt that he knew what his coaches or players were doing -- outside of his direct contact with them -- unless something about any one of them was brought to his attention. Presumably, they had private lives that were shielded from him.

Although he probably had more ways to hear about things at Penn State than most people there, his access to information was not unlimited. More significantly, at this point there is no evidence that anything concerning Sandusky's alleged dark side was brought to Joe Paterno's attention. Thus, we simply don't know -- at this time -- whether or not Joe Paterno had any clue about Sandusky's alleged dark side during the period from the 1970s to 1997.

If experts on pedophiles are correct and Sandusky indeed engaged in "grooming" his victims, then he not only selected at-risk boys, perhaps without fathers, but also provided them gifts and attention with the objective of convincing them that he was the ONLY person they could turn to -- even after he commenced abusing them. How, then, would Paterno or anyone else learn about his allegedly depraved behavior, except by chance?

Thus, what Joe Paterno most probably knew best about Sandusky was that he was a very capable football coach -- instrumental in building "Linebacker U." -- and that he was the moving force behind a charity for at-risk kids, The Second Mile.

Sally Jenkins has written an article in the Washington Post titled, "Blame for the Penn State scandal does not lie with Joe Paterno." She discussed the question of pedophiles with former FBI agent Ken Lanning, who has 35 years of experience profiling pedophiles and quotes him as follows: "It's hard to identify those people close to you as a potential molester, because you know them so well."

Ms. Jenkins says: "Try to forgive Joe Paterno. When he looked at Jerry Sandusky, he didn't see a dirty old man. He saw a friend, a close colleague, and a churchy do-gooder. He saw a nice guy. You'd have seen the same thing." Later she writes: "Paterno was in perhaps the worst position to see or judge the alleged behavior, because Sandusky was his valued assistant from 1966-1999."

Thus, in the absence of any information about what Joe Paterno might have known about Sandusky's alleged behavior during the 1970s through 1997, and given what Ms. Jenkins and FBI agent Lanning have shown us, any attempt to besmirch Joe during this period with guilt by association would not only be premature, but also reckless and immoral.

More significant to our evaluation of what Penn State and Joe Paterno knew about Sandusky are the events that unfolded in 1998. An 11-year old boy (identified as Victim 6 in the November 2011 grand jury report) came home with wet hair and told his puzzled mother that he had showered with Sandusky at Penn State's athletic complex. The mother immediately reported the incident to the university police. The university police conducted an investigation and compiled a report running almost 100 pages, which convinced some subsequent investigators -- according to The New York Times, -- that "campus police officers truly wanted to make a case against Sandusky."

Nevertheless, the district attorney (who subsequently disappeared) found insufficient reason to take the case to trial. As the Times reports: "According to people with knowledge of the current Sandusky case, the district attorney's decision in 1998 was a close call, even with the evidence the campus police had."

Was Joe Paterno aware of the 1998 allegations against Sandusky and the subsequent investigation conducted by the University police?  It's hard to believe that he wasn't aware, although his son, Scott, says he wasn't. 

After all, how probable was it that none of the officers involved in the investigation told their wives or friends about Sandusky's alleged crime? How probable was it that none of those confidants spread the rumor further? How probable was it, then, that Joe Paterno never heard the rumors?

According to the Times, "Prosecutors [of the current case] have said that Gary Schultz, the university official charged with overseeing the campus police, said under oath that he recalled being aware of some kind of incident involving Sandusky and a boy showering together, and the subsequent investigation." In his 2011 testimony to the grand jury, Schultz expressed surprise that the paperwork of the campus police was so voluminous.

How probable was it, that Schultz didn't give Paterno a "heads-up?"

Like Paterno, former President Graham Spanier denies knowing about the investigation, while Penn State's general counsel, Wendell Courtney, "said in an interview"that while he might have been given a customary heads-up that Sandusky, a university employee, was under investigation, he was never given any details or even general information about its nature." [Times, Nov. 16, 2011] To this day investigators question how so few people in authority could have known about the 1998 investigation.

But, even if Paterno was aware, what does he take away from those allegations after the District Attorney decided in 1998 that there was insufficient evidence to indict Sandusky? Is it possible that Paterno knew about the police investigation, but not the DAs decision? Or is it more probable that Paterno either knew about both events or neither? Remember, this information -- whatever it was, if anything -- still needed to be processed by a mind that probably still believed Sandusky to be a capable coach and a "churchy do-gooder." 

Many of the people who suspect Joe Paterno knew about the 1998 police investigation also suspect that, in May 1999, when Joe informed Sandusky that he would not become the next head football coach at Penn State, Joe did so because of the 1998 police investigation. (Sandusky announced his retirement in August.)

Those who harbor this suspicion seem to believe that May 1999 was an appropriate time for Joe to precipitate Sandusky's retirement -- before the smoke surrounding Sandusky's dark side turned into a fire that would bring down Joe and the entire football program. Such people seem to assume that the DA's decision not to indict, due to insufficient evidence, was irrelevant.

Against this suspicion, which even has been expressed publicly to CNN by a sports investigator at Sports Illustrated, there exist other explanations for both Paterno's and Sandusky's behavior. For example, according to an article in a 1999 issue of Sports Illustrated that addressed his retirement, Sandusky was asked if he would miss Joe Paterno. Sandusky responded, "Well, not exactly"You have to understand that so much of our time has been under stress, figuring out how to win. That takes a toll. We've had our battles. I've quit. I've been fired. I've walked around the building to cool off."

In January 2002 Paterno told the Centre Daily Times: "In staff meetings, it was getting to be "We' and "You' and it should be "Us.' Jerry leaving gave me an opportunity to get that out of the way and do things I'm comfortable with." [Thanks to Ben Jones of for posting this information.]

On November 10, 2011, interim head coach Tom Bradley stated his understanding of why Sandusky retired. When a reporter asked, "When you replaced Jerry Sandusky in 2000, what was your understanding of why he was leaving at the age of 55 or so?" Bradley replied, "Coach Sandusky got the retirement package that was released for a lot of state employees. Coach Sandusky was a professor here at the university, he had the opportunity to retire and get, I believe, 35 years. The last year he worked for us, he was a consultant. He had actually retired in that summer."

Finally, I specifically recall hearing more than one sports commentator who wondered aloud, in late 1999, why Paterno wasn't playing a greater role in Sandusky's impending retirement celebrations. Was it acrimony about the "We" versus "You," or suspicions about Sandusky's dark side that prompted Paterno to limit his role in the Sandusky retirement celebrations? Or was it, as my son Matt has suggested, Joe's tendency to "downplay" the significance of celebrations.

To my mind, "We" versus "You" management stress seems a less plausible explanation than suspicions about a colleague's dark side or the downplaying of celebrations.

Although none of these four bits of evidence disprove the suspicion that Joe sent Sandusky packing, because he was aware of the 1998 police investigation and, thus, of the charges against him; a fifth piece of evidence just might. If Joe knew about the 1998 police investigation and used it to force Sandusky's retirement, why did Joe do nothing when a boy -- subsequently identified by the grand jury as Victim 4 -- accompanied Sandusky to the Alamo Bowl, in December 1999? The fact that Victim 4 was allowed to accompany Sandusky to the Alamo Bowl strongly suggests that either Joe Paterno did not know about the 1998 police investigation -- or that he knew, but also knew that the DA found insufficient evidence to indict.

Part Two of this article is scheduled for publication next Monday -- initially at Walter C -- and will deal with what Joe Paterno knew and what he did after Mike McQueary spoke to him on 1 March 2002 to inform him that he witnessed Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy.

Unfortunately, after acknowledging what the 2011 grand jury report clearly states, namely that Joe performed his legal duty by reporting McQueary's allegations up the chain of command, the media engaged in a fact-free feeding frenzy about Joe's probable failure to meet his moral duty to stop Sandusky. The media frenzy incited the mob and, combined, they exerted sufficient indignation to compel the cowards on Penn State's Board of Trustees to prematurely and, thus, recklessly, fire Joe Paterno. That fact will endure, regardless of what we subsequently learn about Paterno's role.

Prematurely? Yes! They not only fired him before he could tell his side of the story, they actually shut him up by cancelling his scheduled press conference -- where he intended to address the scandal.

So, just to poke a stick in the eye of the irresponsible media and mob -- and, thus, turn the tables a bit -- I offer up a fourth-hand rumor (with my spelling corrections) posted by Ben Jones at Although it's fourth-hand -- something we shouldn't forget -- it appears to be more credible and newsworthy than some the outrageous bullshit that has appeared on the Huffington Post.

. "The Rumor mill says that the grand jury testimony shows that 3 days after McQueary talked with Curley and Schultz, Paterno followed up and was told a full investigation was underway to investigate these matters. Not hearing anything, 3 months later, Paterno followed up and was told that the police and the DA were not going to pursue the matter. It is reported that Paterno's reaction was one of anger and that he demanded that Sandusky be barred from campus. Paterno was told that he did not have that authority, since he was only a football coach. Paterno then said that he was going to bar Sandusky from the football facility and was told he did have the authority. (4th hand from the AG office, take it for what it is worth."

What if it's true?


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Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San (more...)
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