'Perfect' Joe Paterno painted in a new light

Involvement in child abuse cover-up has severely damaged the reputation of the late Penn State coach.

A report from a former FBI director says Joe Paterno concealed facts about the Sandusky case.
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For decades, the Penn State University football programme was considered special, immune from the corruption of college athletics by virtue of Joe Paterno's high ideals, long list of victories and even longer list of graduates.

Now, that has been exposed as an illusion.

A report released this week found Paterno helped hush up allegations of child sex abuse against a former assistant coach that went back more than a decade, sacrificing the ideals he preached to protect his football programme.

Paterno, former FBI director Louis Freeh said, was "an integral part of this active decision to conceal".

"I doubt anybody could have imagined this. In eight months, he's gone from St Joe to something approaching the devil," said Frank Fitzpatrick, a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist and author of two books on Paterno and Penn State, including a biography last year, Pride of the Lions.

"The contrast between the ethical standards we always associated with Joe and the complete lack of them in how this was handled - if what the Freeh Report says is true, and I have no reason to doubt it is - to sacrifice kids for the reputation of a football program, that's pretty despicable. I can't imagine anything more shocking than that."

Nike announced it was stripping Paterno's name from the childcare centre at its headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, not even six months after founder Phil Knight drew a thunderous ovation for an impassioned defence of major college football's winningest coach at a memorial service after his death in January.

There was renewed clamour online to remove Paterno's statue outside Beaver Stadium on the Penn State campus, and USA Today columnist Christine Brennan called on Penn State to drop American football for at least a year until the university has addressed the failings that led to the scandal.

There could still be more fallout from court cases - criminal charges against two administrators, civil suits from victims of Jerry Sandusky - and the NCAA has yet to decide whether it will weigh in on the scandal.

"A statue should be least of someone's worries at this point," LaVar Arrington, a former star lineback at Penn State, said on his radio show in Washington DC. "A name on a building should be the least of someone's worries.

"On the one hand, Joe messed up. Joe was not perfect, Joe was not God. Joe was a person, and he messed up," Arrington said. "On the other hand, if you're looking at everything Joe has done and all the lives he's impacted and all the things he's done … that still remains as well. So how do you separate the two? I don't know. I don't have the answer for that one, I really don't."

Until last autumn, Paterno symbolised all that was right about college sports.

His teams won, but he did not sacrifice his standards to do it. Penn State's graduation rates were among the best, his players were as good off the field as they were on, and his financial support of the university often had nothing to do with the football programme.

Even after the November arrest of Sandusky, the architect of Penn State's ferocious defences and Paterno's one-time heir apparent, many were hesitant to put too much blame on Paterno or let his one failing outweigh all his good deeds.

Paterno acknowledged before his death that he should have done more after a graduate assistant coach told Paterno he had seen Sandusky assaulting a child in the Penn State showers in 2001, but insisted he had no knowledge of any accusations prior to that.

But the stark horror of Freeh's report was impossible to ignore.

Freeh's firm, hired by university trustees to investigate how the scandal happened, found that Paterno, and three other administrators at the time - president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz - "repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse". Handwritten notes and e-mails portray Paterno as being involved in a decision by the officials not to tell child welfare authorities about a 2001 encounter, while other e-mails show Paterno closely followed allegations made against Sandusky in 1998.

Sandusky is awaiting sentencing after being convicted last month on 45 criminal counts of abusing 10 boys. Paterno died of lung cancer in January, two months after school trustees dismissed him for what they called a failure of leadership.

"I always thought he knew. To what extent, that was the only question," said Brad Benson, a former Penn State offensive lineman who won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants. "I thought that anyone who didn't think he knew was pretty naive.

"Joe knew pretty much everything going on there."