HARRISBURG, Pa. — Joe Paterno, major college football’s oldest, winningest and perhaps most revered coach, was engulfed Monday in a growing furor over the alleged cover-up of a sex abuse scandal at Penn State.
The Pennsylvania state police commissioner said Paterno fulfilled his legal requirement when he relayed to university administrators that a graduate assistant had seen former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky attacking a young boy in the team’s locker room shower in 2002. But the commissioner also questioned whether Paterno had a moral responsibility to do more.
On the Happy Valley campus and in the surrounding town of State College, some were even asking whether the 84-year-old coach should step down after 46 years on the sidelines.
Two Penn State officials, Senior Vice President Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley, surrendered on charges that they failed to alert police to the complaint about Sandusky, Paterno’s former defensive coordinator and one-time heir apparent.
Schultz and Curley are also charged with lying to the state grand jury that indicted Sandusky on charges of sexually abusing eight boys over 15 years. Both stepped down from their posts Sunday, Curley taking a temporary leave and Schultz retiring. They appeared Monday in a Harrisburg courtroom, where a judge set bail at $75,000. They weren’t required to enter pleas.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly said Paterno is not a target of the investigation into how the school handled the accusations. But she refused to say the same for the university president, Graham Spanier.
“All I can say is again, I’m limited to what’s contained in the presentment, and that this is an ongoing investigation,” Kelly said.
State police Commissioner Frank Noonan said that although Paterno may have met his legal requirement to report suspected abuse by Sandusky, “somebody has to question about what I would consider the moral requirements for a human being that knows of sexual things that are taking place with a child.”
He added: “I think you have the moral responsibility, anyone. Not whether you’re a football coach or a university president or the guy sweeping the building. I think you have a moral responsibility to call us.”
At a news conference, Noonan and Kelly were peppered with questions about whether Paterno was given details about what graduate assistant Mike McQueary — now the team’s wide receivers coach — saw on the night of March 1, 2002.
The grand jury report said McQueary was in the locker room that night to put away some new sneakers when he heard “rhythmic, slapping sounds” and looked into the showers.
He reportedly saw a naked boy, about 10 years old, with his hands against the wall as Sandusky subjected him to anal sex. McQueary left immediately and first contacted his father before calling Paterno the next morning and then meeting at Paterno’s home.
Exactly what was said during that meeting is unclear from the grand jury record, which states that Paterno called Curley the next day to tell him McQueary had seen Sandusky “in the Lasch Building showers fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy.”
Paterno released a statement Sunday in which he said he was not told “the very specific actions” contained in the grand jury report, but that McQueary had seen “something inappropriate involving Mr. Sandusky.”
“If this is true we were all fooled, along with scores of professionals trained in such things, and we grieve for the victims and their families,” said Paterno, who has not spoken publicly about the matter.
The indictment also cited a 1998 incident in which an 11-year-old boy’s mother called university police to complain after learning that her son had showered with Sandusky. A state Department of Public Welfare investigator told the grand jury that Sandusky said he showered naked with the youth and hugged him, “admitted that it was wrong,” and promised not to shower with any child again.
Kelly would not say whether Paterno or the university president knew of that investigation.
“All I can say is that investigation was handled by Penn State University’s police department,” Kelly said. Penn State police said they were not releasing any information about the 1998 investigation.
Sandusky retired in 1999 after learning that he would not be Paterno’s successor as head coach.
Kelly and Noonan encouraged anyone who would accuse Sandusky of sexual assault to step forward and talk to police, with Kelly specifically asking that the child reportedly assaulted by Sandusky on March 1, 2002, call detectives.
Paterno has long had an image as a leader who does things by the book and runs a program that has seen far fewer major scandals than other major college football teams. Doubts about his judgment in handling the Sandusky matter quickly began to emerge.
Facebook users, including those on a newly created group called “Joe Paterno should resign,” expressed outrage and disappointment in Paterno. Many said Paterno should have gone to police after the 2002 incident.
At Rinaldo’s Barber Shop in State College, hair cutter Lori Schope said she believes Paterno shares responsibility.
“He passed the buck,” she said. “Anybody that says they knew about it and didn’t do anything about it is complicit.”
Advocates for priest-abuse victims saw parallels in how the university and the Roman Catholic church handled similar problems.
“Here we are again,” said John Salveson, former president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “When an institution discovers abuse of a kid … their first reaction was to protect the reputation of the institution and the perpetrator.”
“They didn’t even try to find out the identity of the kid that was being raped in the shower,” he said. “Their solution to this was to not let Sandusky into the shower anymore. It’s just stunning to me that no one called the police.”
Sandusky was described by Keith “Kip” Richeal, co-author of his autobiography “Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story,” as a loving father of six adopted children
“I hope to God it’s not true because I admire the man very much,” Richeal said. “All I saw was Jerry was kind to kids of all ages, including the students he dealt with.”
Sandusky has maintained his innocence, his lawyer said Saturday.
At Sandusky’s two-story brick house at end of a cul-de-sac about five minutes from campus, a State College police car was parked in the driveway for a time Monday. An officer said police had been asked to keep people off the property, which included a neatly trimmed lawn with a pumpkin at the front.
Schultz, 62, and Curley, 57, are innocent and will seek to have the charges dismissed, their lawyers said. Curley’s lawyer, Caroline Roberto, called the case weak, while Schultz’s lawyer, Tom Farrell, said the men did what they were supposed to do by informing their superiors of the accusations.
“You folks may have seen Mr. Paterno’s statement,” Farrell told reporters. “Mr. Paterno’s statement matches their statement. They were given a general allegation of inappropriate conduct. That’s what Mr. Paterno told them, that’s what Mr. Paterno told you folks yesterday, that’s what he testified to in the grand jury, and that’s what these gentlemen testified to in the grand jury.”
Sandusky continued to use the school’s facilities after retirement for his work with The Second Mile, a foundation he established in 1977 to help at-risk kids. The charges against him cover the period from 1994 to 2009.
The allegations against Sandusky range from sexual advances to touching to oral and anal sex. The young men testified before the state grand jury that they were in their early teens when some of the abuse occurred; there is evidence even younger children may have been victimized.
Buffalo Bills safety Bryan Scott, a three-year starter at Penn State from 1999-2002, said he was roommates with Sandusky’s son John and had heard from mutual friends that the younger Sandusky was “just completely devastated.”
“How can you not be? Your dad being accused of these allegations,” Scott said.
He said he was praying that the charges against the former assistant coach were not true. “If it is, my thoughts and prayers are on the victims and on the victims’ families,” he added.
On College Avenue, the street running in front of the Penn State campus, the scandal — and who bears responsibility — was a popular topic of conversation.
“It’s uncomfortable for us, because we know a lot of the people involved,” said Rebecca Durst, who owns Rinaldo’s Barber Shop.
“I don’t think there’s an easy solution,” Durst said. “Damage has been done to a lot of people.”
Anthony Vecchio, working on a street improvement project nearby, agreed. In any other job, he said, a boss would be held responsible if he or she didn’t report wrongdoing by an employee.
“He’s the boss, he’s the head coach,” Vecchio said. “He should know what’s going on beneath him.”
No matter what happens, Durst said the scandal has left a permanent stain on Penn State and the community.
“Happy Valley is not going to be Happy Valley anymore,” she said.