Amid Penn State scandal, Paterno’s legacy may be on line

Posted: November 08, 2011

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Pennsylvania State University officials struggled Tuesday to contain the fallout from a child-sex abuse scandal that suddenly threatened not only the job but the legacy of fabled football coach Joe Paterno.

The university board of trustees scheduled a private conference call for Tuesday night, hours after school officials canceled Paterno's first public appearance since his former assistant Jerry Sandusky was accused of molesting boys and amid fresh signs that support for Paterno was waning.

"There's been a lot of discussion between the trustees, and I think Coach Paterno's support has eroded," said a person who was briefed on the talks but asked not to be named. "I don't know if it's eroded enough to end his career. That remains to be seen."

The board is scheduled to gather Thursday for a private session, and then hold its regular public meeting Friday in State College. One board member said he expected Paterno's future might be discussed as well as that of university president Graham B. Spanier.

One board member told The Inquirer that he was livid over school officials' mishandling of reports of suspicious conduct by Sandusky, the team's longtime defensive coordinator. He said the trustees were determined to prevent it from happening again.

"It's about putting processes in place at Penn State, holding people accountable, so that no one in the rest of the entire history of Penn State ever has to go through abuse like this from someone in a trusted position," said the board member.

Sandusky, 67, is charged with molesting eight boys between the mid-1990s and 2008, at home, on campus, and on team trips. After retiring in 1999, Sandusky kept an office at the team's football complex and university privileges as an emeritus coach.

Two university administrators, athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president Gary Schultz, are accused of failing to report a 2002 sex assault by Sandusky and of lying about it to the grand jury investigating the complaint. Both men have stepped aside since being charged.

All three men have denied any wrongdoing.

As mothers of two of the alleged victims spoke out Tuesday, Pennsylvania State Police said a potential ninth victim, a man in his 20s, had come forward to say Sandusky abused him a decade ago in Centre County.

Like the others, the new accuser, whom police did not identify, said he met Sandusky through the Second Mile, a charity for the underprivileged founded by the coach. Sandusky routinely brought boys from the Second Mile to Penn State practices and games, and helped run summer camps for them on campus.

Prosecutors have said that the investigation is ongoing but that Paterno is not a target. The grand jury presentment says that when a graduate assistant told him he had seen Sandusky rape a boy in the team showers in 2002, Paterno passed on the allegation to athletic director Curley, but did nothing else.

In a statement released Sunday, Paterno said the assistant had told him about "inappropriate conduct" but not a sex assault. Paterno said he believed he "did what I was supposed to do" in reporting the information to the athletic director because Sandusky was no longer an assistant coach.

On Tuesday, school officials abruptly canceled what was to be Paterno's first public appearance since the scandal broke - a football briefing to talk about this week's home finale against the University of Nebraska.

"Due to the ongoing legal circumstances, centered around the recent allegations and charges, we have determined that today's news conference will not be held and will not be rescheduled," spokesman Jeff Nelson told more than 100 journalists outside the Clemens Family Football Team Complex.

The 84-year-old Paterno told a crush of reporters and fans outside his house that he hoped to soon be able to say more about the case.

"I know you guys have a lot of questions and I was hoping I was going to be able to answer them today," he said before getting into a car waiting to take him to the team's midafternoon practice. "We'll try to do it as soon as we can."

His son Scott said school officials, not his father, had canceled the news conference. Scott Paterno also challenged a New York Times report saying university administrators were preparing for Paterno to leave or be ousted in days or weeks.

"At this point in time there has been no discussion with the coach about retiring," Scott Paterno said in the driveway outside his father's house. "There have been no discussions with the coach about stepping down. And as far as he is concerned, he will be coaching the team on Saturday. He's looking forward to it."

The case has stirred national headlines and outrage from advocates and others who questioned how and why Sandusky's alleged crimes went undetected or unpunished for a decade.

Those calls continued Tuesday. U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan (R., Pa.) urged U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to investigate whether federal laws were broken in the failure to report allegations of sexual abuse.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) said "there's some accountability issues here - people who may not have broken the law but have a duty that they may not have discharged."

State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) went further, calling for Spanier to offer a full accounting of university officials' actions or to be prepared to resign.

The school's trustees learned about the complaints against Sandusky about a year ago, months after state police began investigating an allegation that he had abused a Clinton County boy. Since 1998, a number of grand juries had investigated similar allegations against Sandusky.

"The trustees were told that there were three or four grand juries looking into Sandusky's conduct and that none of them came back with a true bill," said the person close to the board.

The grand jury report said university police and state public welfare officials first investigated Sandusky in 1998 after the mother of a boy complained that the coach had grabbed her son in the shower.

Two years later, a janitor in the football complex told his supervisor he saw Sandusky perform oral sex on a boy in the facility showers, the grand jury report said. No one reported that allegation to law enforcement.

After the accusation against the coach in 2002, Spanier and former counsel Wendell Courtney were also informed of concerns about Sandusky's behavior, as were executives at his charity, the grand jury said.

Sandusky resigned from the organization last year as the investigation intensified.

He had been scheduled to appear at a preliminary hearing on the charges Wednesday, but a Centre County Court judge agreed to continue that proceeding until December.

On Sunday, university officials said Schultz was retiring and Curley would take a leave of absence until the case is resolved. Curley's and Schultz's attorneys say they will challenge the contention that their clients were required to report abuse under state law.

Spanier has said the two men have his "unconditional support," a pledge that stirred backlash from mothers of two of the alleged victims.

"My son is extremely distraught, and now to see how we were betrayed, words cannot tell you," one of the women told the Harrisburg Patriot-News. "To see that Graham Spanier is putting his unconditional support behind Curley and Schultz when he should be putting his support behind the victims, it just makes them victims all over again."

Spanier and his wife, Sandra, a professor of English, were to be honored Wednesday at an annual school fund-raising dinner. The dinner has been canceled.

Contact staff writer John P. Martin at 215-854-4774, or @JPMartinInky on Twitter.

Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Susan Snyder, Melissa Dribben, Michael Matza, Jeremy Roebuck, Amy Worden, and Joseph Tanfani. It also contains information from the Associated Press.

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