Inquirer Editorial: Scandal at Penn State

Posted: November 08, 2011

Say it ain't so, Joe Paterno. He was among many in the world of Pennsylvania State University football who did far too little to stop a once-trusted coaching colleague now accused of repeated sexual assaults on minors.

Penn State has its work cut out in assuring such failings never again darken Happy Valley.

Former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's grand-jury indictment for preying on boys as young as 10 spells out a litany of failures by university officials - including Paterno, the revered head coach, and the school's president, Graham B. Spanier.

What's more, the prosecutors' allegations Saturday against Sandusky - 40 counts related to sexual abuse of boys over a 15-year span - hint at a broad cover-up, one with shocking ramifications.

For two officials, senior vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley, the cover-up may mean jail. While professing their innocence - as does Sandusky, who retired in 1999 to work with his charity, which allegedly gave him access to victims - Schultz and Curley face perjury charges.

Many others on campus, though, helped create a climate in which Sandusky's alleged exploits continued for years.

A 1998 campus police inquiry produced an admission from Sandusky that he'd showered with a boy. After that, it's incredible that the former coach's retirement agreement still gave him full access to Penn State facilities where, prosecutors say, school employees witnessed him make two more assaults.

The most damaging claim is that so little was done after an alleged assault witnessed in 2002 and reported to Paterno and others. While not accused of any wrongdoing, Paterno contends he learned none of the details when alerted by an assistant coach. Yet, his embarrassing, pass-the-buck response was to report up the chain to Curley and, apparently, nothing more.

The university-approved response to the 2002 incident was an order barring Sandusky from bringing youths onto campus - a move straight out of the playbook of Catholic Church officials who shifted predator priests, rather than alert authorities.

What a contrast, too, with Spanier's cutting-edge campaign at the time against binge drinking. If only Sandusky's alleged underage victims had benefited from similar university concern.

All told, Penn State trustees must be asking themselves why it is they - and not Spanier's administration - who have launched a task force to review policies and ways to prevent sexual abuse of minors. They also must ask if the Spanier team has credibility to carry out reforms.

As for Paterno, Attorney General Linda Kelly said yesterday that he is not a target of the investigation. But his oft-discussed retirement would be timelier than ever - even though leaving amid this scandal will provide a sad coda to an otherwise stellar career for the man who, until now, served as the reassuring public face of Penn State.

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