What did JoePa know and when did he know it?
And should he have done more?
If the sexual assault charges against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky are true, those are big questions that Nittany Lion fans want answered.
There are other concerns, to be sure, in this appalling story that broke on Friday and exploded on Saturday with a grand jury report that implicated two other Penn State officials (not Paterno). Among the concerns:
-- What of the innocent boys who were victims? Have they been able to lead normal lives?
-- If Sandusky is guilty, will authorities ensure he spends the rest of his life in jail?
-- Was there a cover-up in the Penn State administration that in effect let a sexual predator loose on campus?
But the reconstruct of what legendary Lion head coach Joe Paterno knew, when he knew it and how he reacted is paramount to many Penn State faithful.
We might not ever learn the complete answer, yet JoePa's legacy could depend on this answer.
First, it must be noted that Paterno is no Jim Tressel, who lost his coaching job at Ohio State because he did not report likely NCAA violations by his football players to his administration.
Paterno, on the other hand, told his athletic director, Tim Curley, of the allegation against Sandusky when they were disclosed to Paterno in 2002.
Furthermore, Sandusky was no longer a Penn State coach at the time, although he had the run of Penn State facilities, it appears from the grand jury report.
That Sandusky was no longer a Penn State coach in 2002 is germane. For it was in 1999 that Paterno essentially forced out Sandusky, known at the time as one of the nation's top defensive coordinators.
Why push aside Sandusky?
Possibly it was a result of a 1998 police investigation of Sandusky for alleged child molestation in which Sandusky was not charged.
What did JoePa do? He told Sandusky that he would never be head coach at Penn State. The Paterno-Sandusky relationship became fractured, and Sandusky retired from coaching following the 1999 season.
At the time, no one knew why Paterno would let this defensive mastermind walk away. And, at the time, Paterno was criticized for not attending a testimonial retirement dinner for Sandusky. Perhaps now we finally know why JoePa stayed away.
After 1999, Sandusky became even more involved in his Second Mile charity, which tries to help troubled and disadvantaged boys.
If the grand jury report is accurate, Sandusky targeted his victims via the Second Mile, not through any Penn State activity. However, because Sandusky held an emeritus position at Penn State, he had an office on campus and access to football and recreational facilities.
In 2002, an allegation against Sandusky (on Penn State property) was presented to Paterno, who on Sunday said it was conveyed to him then as "something inappropriate." Paterno in turn reported the allegation to athletic director Curley (who in this investigation is charged with perjury and failure to report child abuse).
Penn State reacted by banning Sandusky from bringing youth onto Penn State's campus. And Penn State notified the Second Mile of an allegation against Sandusky.
Meanwhile, Penn State really couldn't enforce the ban on Sandusky bringing youth on campus, since the campus is so large.
Which leads to questions concerning Paterno.
Sure, he did the right thing by telling Curley about Sandusky, but should Paterno also have gone directly to the police? And, should Paterno have followed up to see what, if anything, happened with that 2002 Sandusky allegation?
As we said earlier, we might need more discovery before these questions can be fairly answered.
The grand jury report lists no other post-2002 Sandusky allegations that made their way to Paterno. Perhaps Paterno assumed Sandusky had been cleared in an internal or even police investigation.
And remember, by 2002 Sandusky had not been a Penn State coach for three years -- so what exactly was JoePa's moral obligation?
Without all of the information –- and acknowledging that hindsight is always right -– here’s a stab at it:
An allegation of an adult preying on youth is very serious, particularly if that adult has constant interaction with youth by nature of his position -- Sandusky and the Second Mile. Remember as well that Paterno had to be aware of the 1998 Sandusky allegation.
So, if Paterno was not curious about what happened to Sandusky after the 2002 incident, he should have been for the sake of any potential future victims –- particularly if JoePa continued to see Sandusky around campus.
And, in fact -- if the grand jury charges are true -- Sandusky continued to prey on young boys for at least six more years following the 2002 allegation. That is heavy stuff. And it probably could have been prevented.
Want more heavy stuff? If the grand jury report is correct, Sandusky was sexually assaulting youth for at least five years while he was a football coach at Penn State, with Paterno as his boss.
Again, it goes back to perhaps the most heinous crime that one can commit: An adult preying on youth.
This is more than a black eye for Penn State. This is a cancer.
And, depending on how the blanks are filled in, this could forever mar the Joe Paterno legacy.
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