Wednesday, Dec. 07, 2011

The Penn State Sex-Abuse Scandal and the Fall of Joe Paterno

It was an ugly, shocking off-field scandal that was probably the top sports story of the year. In November, the Pennsylvania attorney general's office announced it was charging former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, a pillar of the State College community who had founded a charity for at-risk youth, with 40 counts of sexual abuse against minors. Sandusky maintains his innocence, though he has admitted to showering with boys, and more alleged victims of Sandusky's abuse have come forward since the original indictment. According to a grand-jury report, legendary Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, winner of two national championships and a Division I–record 409 games, knew about one heinous incident that took place in 2002; instead of reporting it to authorities, however, Paterno told his athletic director and apparently left it at that. The school's then president, Graham Spanier, was also aware of the allegations, yet rather than alert authorities, top administrators merely required that Sandusky no longer bring kids onto the campus. Nevertheless, one alleged victim testified that Sandusky brought him to Penn State football practices as recently as 2006 or 2007, and Sandusky reportedly continued to run sleepaway camps on other Penn State campuses as recently as 2009. Former athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president Gary Schultz have been charged with perjury and failure to report in the case; they both deny the charges.

Facing searing public criticism, Paterno, known for his "Success with Honor" mantra, announced he'd retire at the end of the year. That wasn't soon enough for Penn State's board, which fired Paterno before he could coach another game. The decision, which also included the dismissal of Spanier, sparked an angry response from some student backers of the coach. Paterno, who had coached Penn State for over 45 years, was quickly removed from consideration for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and his name was immediately taken off the Big 10 Championship trophy. In the realm of big-time sports, never before has such a revered figure come crashing down this quickly — for allegedly covering up the worst of crimes.