The Sins of Penn State: The Untold Story of Joe Paterno’s Fall

The world Joe Paterno created brought him down in the end.

JOE PATERNO, GRAHAM SPANIER AND TIM CURLEY would all miss or ignore—or possibly hide—what Jerry Sandusky is accused of doing to young boys. One of the big unanswered questions is what they might have known before Mike McQueary went to Paterno on that Saturday morning in 2002.

Back in 1998, university police investigated a complaint a mother of a boy brought against Sandusky, going so far as to listen in on a phone conversation between the mother and the coach in which he said, “I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. … I wish I were dead.”

No charges were filed, but the case generated a lengthy university police report. Joe’s son Scott and others around Paterno have said the coach knew nothing about that investigation.

Many Paterno watchers, citing how he knew everything that went on in his program, find that claim of ignorance laughable. Jerry Sandusky retired abruptly in 1999, a year after the investigation, at age 55, at the height of his powers as a ballyhooed football mind. Supposedly he wanted to devote more energy to his Second Mile charity. Apparently he’d been told by Paterno that he would never be his successor as head coach. But just why Paterno told him that is an open question. When Sandusky left, the friend who’s been close to Tim Curley for more than 40 years told the A.D. he was surprised the coach was gone.

“It’s for a very good reason,” Curley told him—but he wouldn’t elaborate. (I attempted to talk to Curley, but he hasn’t spoken to the media since the scandal broke.)

Moreover, someone who knows the Paternos well told me—reluctantly—that a person whose last name begins with P-A-T (a Paterno, obviously, though not Joe) told him at least four years ago that “Jerry Sandusky didn’t get along well with little boys.”

Joe Paterno claimed he never fully understood what McQueary was telling him that Saturday morning in 2002. But it sounds like some of the Paternos may have had a pretty good idea of Sandusky’s behavior.

There’s much we don’t know. Regardless, unless some bald cover-up emerges in one of the ongoing investigations or trials, this sort of speculation of who knew what when is ultimately beside the point.

It’s much more important to realize that any number of people—Joe Paterno, Graham­ Spanier and Tim Curley prominent among them—could have looked deeper into whatever they heard about Jerry Sandusky. But they chose not to.