The famed Penn State University football coach took the answer to that question to his grave. But there’s some evidence that hints at an answer.
The Paterno family released a report over the weekend that largely exonerates the revered coach, known affectionately as “Joe-Pa.” The report also once again stirs up the controversy about whether he played a role in covering up former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of boys.
The Paterno family commissioned the report to challenge ex-FBI director Louis Freeh’s findings that Paterno played a role in enabling Sandusky.
Perhaps some of the most damning evidence is an email sent Feb. 27, 2001. Then-athletic director Tim Curley sent the email to former University Vice President Gary Schultz, and then-Penn State President Graham Spanier. The email references an incident where then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary witnessed Sandusky raping a child in the football locker room showers.
Curley wrote, “After giving it some thought and talking it over with Joe yesterday -- I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps. I am having trouble with going to everyone, but the person involved. I think I would be more comfortable meeting with the person and tell him about the information we received. I would plan to tell him we are aware of the first situation. I would indicate we feel there is a problem and we want to assist the individual to get professional help. Also, we feel a responsibility at some point soon to inform his organization and [sic] maybe the other one about the situation. If he is cooperative we would work with him to handle informing the organization. If not, we do not have a choice and will inform the two groups. Additionally, I will let him know that his guests are not permitted to use our facilities. I need some help on this one. What do you think about this approach?”
The Freeh report interpreted this email to mean Curley and the other administrators had formulated a plan to report the abuse allegations to the proper authorities, but after Curley talked to Paterno, that plan was scrapped. The incident went unreported for almost a decade until investigators uncovered it. The explosive, 23-page grand jury report that formed the basis of Sandusky’s charges in November 2011 accused the former assistant coach of sexually assaulting eight boys over a period of 15 years.
The Paterno report says the 2001 email does not prove Paterno asked anyone to not report the abuse allegation: “Ultimately, the Freeh report’s interpretation of this single 2001 email does more to undermine the credibility of the report’s conclusions than it does to advance the truth, as the alleged conversation between Mr. Curley and Joe Paterno could have transpired in countless ways that exonerate Joe Paterno.”