Child Sex Abuse Scandal and Termination
"My name, I have spent my whole life trying to make that name mean something. And now it's gone."—Joe Paterno, following his termination
On November 5, 2011, former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was arrested on 40 counts of child sexual abuse occurring between 1994 and 2009, including allegations of incidents on the Penn State campus. A 2011 grand jury investigation reported that then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary told Paterno in 2002 (prosecutors later amended the date to 2001) that he had seen Sandusky abusing a 10-year-old boy in Penn State football's shower facilities. According to the report, Paterno notified Athletic Director Tim Curley about the incident, and later notified Gary Schultz, Vice President of Finance and Business, who also oversaw the University Police. Paterno said McQueary informed him that "he had witnessed an incident in the shower... but he at no time related to me the very specific actions contained in the Grand Jury report." In his Grand Jury testimony, Paterno stated that McQueary had described Sandusky "fondling" a young boy in an act he described of a "sexual nature," but stopped short of the graphic rape to which McQueary would later testify. While the prosecutors did not accuse Paterno of any wrongdoing, he was criticized for his failure to follow up on McQueary's report. The victim in the 2001 incident was identified in July 2012. Sandusky continued to have access to the university's athletic facilities until his arrest in November 2011. Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly said that Paterno was cooperative with prosecutors and that he met his statutory responsibility to report the 2001 incident to school administrators. Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan opined that while Paterno did not violate any laws, anyone with knowledge of possible sexual abuse against minors had a "moral responsibility" to notify police. Despite the gravity of allegations against Sandusky, Paterno did not notify state police.
On the night of November 8, hundreds of students gathered in front on Paterno's home in support of the coach. Paterno thanked the crowd and said, "The kids who were victims or whatever they want to say, I think we all ought to say a prayer for them. It's a tough life when people do certain things to you." As Paterno began walking back into his home with the crowd chanting "Let Joe Stay," he turned around to instead lead the crowd in "We are Penn State" cheers, which unnamed members of the Penn State Board of Trustees viewed as insensitive. In part because of the scandal, Paterno announced the following day that he would retire at the end of the season, stating:. . . I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can.
Later that evening, however, the Board of Trustees decided to turn down Paterno's offer to resign, instead voting to relieve him of coaching duties effective immediately. They considered but ultimately rejected the idea of letting Paterno finish out the season, saying that growing outrage at the situation made it impossible for him to be effective. Unable to reach Paterno personally due to the crowd around his house and not wanting Paterno to find out through the media, the board notified him of their decision over the phone. Tom Bradley, Sandusky's successor as defensive coordinator, was named interim head coach for the remainder of the 2011 season. At the same meeting, school president Graham Spanier resigned rather than face being fired as well.
Paterno's firing was met with violence from students and alumni. That night, several thousand Penn State students chanting Paterno's name rioted in the streets, hurling rocks, tearing down street signs and overturning a news van. Paterno supporters and family members continued to harshly criticize the Board's actions in the months following his death, prompting the Board to release an additional statement explaining their decision. The board said that Paterno had demonstrated a "failure of leadership" by only fulfilling his legal obligation to inform Curley about the 2001 incident and not going to the police himself.
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