Those who have stood by late Penn State coach Joe Paterno have long embraced the narrowest interpretation of his role in the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal: After an assistant told Paterno in 2001 that he had seen Sandusky assaulting a boy in the shower, Paterno reported what he had heard to A.D. Tim Curley and had no further involvement.
But for others it seemed unfathomable that Paterno, who once rebuffed the school's attempt to shepherd him into retirement, knew and did so little. That notion seemed to be confirmed last Friday when CNN and other news outlets reported on past e-mails between Curley, university president Graham B. Spanier and Gary Schultz, who oversaw campus police. In the e-mails, the three men reference the 2001 incident and seem prepared to tell authorities about Sandusky. But then on Feb. 27, 2001, Curley wrote to Spanier, "After giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe ... I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps. I am having trouble with going to everyone but the person involved [Sandusky]. I would be more comfortable meeting with the person ... and tell[ing] him we are aware of the first situation."
It would appear that Paterno cast the decisive vote in keeping Sandusky's crimes quiet, allowing a now-convicted pedophile to continue his abuse. And given Curley's reference to "the first situation," likely an investigation of Sandusky for abuse in 1998, Paterno was quite possibly aware of that as well. More about Paterno's knowledge of Sandusky's crimes may be revealed in the coming months, but enough is now known for even the most ardent of Paterno's supporters to come to terms with the possibility that the worst that has been said about their beloved coach may be the truth.