U. reevaluates Paterno’s legacy after scandal

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 5, 2012

 On the heels of a report commissioned by Penn State that implicates Penn State’s former head football coach Joe Paterno ’50 in the cover-up of a sexual abuse scandal involving assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, the University decided in July to rename the Joseph V. Paterno ’50 award, which had been awarded for nearly two decades.

The University presented the award without Paterno’s name in May this year and confirmed in a press release that the award will revert to its original title – “the first-year male athlete award” – citing the report’s findings as the reason for the change.

From 1993 to 2011, the Department of Athletics and Physical Education bestowed the Paterno award to the year’s “outstanding male freshman athlete.” The University will notify previous award recipients that the name has been changed, according to a University press release.

The report, led by former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Louis Freeh, revealed that Paterno knew about possible inappropriate behavior as early as 1998. It also concluded that Paterno – along with Penn State’s former President Graham Spanier, former Vice President Gary Schultz and former Athletic Director Timothy Curley- actively colluded to shield the football program from bad publicity. Curley and Schultz are facing charges of perjury and failing to report the abuse.

Paterno died in January before he was able to speak to investigators, but the details of the report have broad implications for how his time at Penn State will be remembered.

The Freeh report included a description of an incident in February 2001, during which Paterno convinced Tim Curley, then Penn State’s athletic director, not to report Sandusky to the authorities after Curley expressed an intention to do so. The report concluded that “the failure to protect the February 9, 2001 child victim, or make attempts to identify him, created a dangerous situation for other unknown, unsuspecting young boys who were lured to the Penn State campus and football games by Sandusky and victimized repeatedly by him.”

The scandal erupted in November 2011 when a grand jury indicted Sandusky for abusing young boys who attended programs run by Second Mile, his charitable organization. As the controversy evolved and entered into public view, it became clear the abuse had occurred for years and that several officials at Penn State had “repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the Board of Trustees, Penn State community and the public at large,” the report reads.

Immediately following the scandal, many fans and observers insisted Paterno, who had a reputation as a coach of integrity, had not been aware of any misconduct. The recent report casts serious doubt on that possibility.

Freeh said the behavior of Paterno and others at Penn State indicated a “callous and shocking disregard for child victims.”

After a heavily publicized trial, Sandusky was convicted in June on 45 of 48 counts of sexual assault against 10 different boys.

Since Freeh announced the findings of his report, public opinion has turned decidedly against Paterno. A statue of Paterno located outside of Penn State’s football stadium was taken down in July.  

The Howard D. Williams ’17/Joseph V. Paterno ’50 Football Coaching Chair was also renamed in the past year, but for reasons that predate the Penn State scandal.

Paterno was inducted into the Brown Athletic Hall of Fame in 1977, but his status could now also be in jeopardy. The Hall of Fame’s board of directors will meet this month to discuss the matter, the Providence Journal reported in August. Paterno played football for Brown as an undergraduate and still shares the record for most career interceptions.

An earlier version of this article appeared online July 17.