Court Docs: Joe Paterno Knew About Sandusky’s Child Sex Abuse in 1976

The shocking claim came to light in court filings on Wednesday.

Joe Paterno, Penn State football coach, raises fingers in a victory gesture after Penn State defeated North Carolina State 19-10 at University Park, Pennsylvania, Saturday, Nov. 11, 1978.

Joe Paterno, Penn State football coach, after a victory over North Carolina State on November 11, 1978.

Did Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno know about Jerry Sandusky’s horrific pedophiliac ways 40 years ago?

That disturbing possibility was raised in a court filing Wednesday, as part of an ugly legal battle between Penn State and the university’s commercial general liability insurer, Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association Insurance Company. At the heart of the dispute is whether PMA should cover some or all of the $60 million the university has paid out in settlements to victims of Sandusky in recent years, based on what Penn State officials knew about Sandusky — and when.

Common Pleas Court Judge Gary Glazer referenced a long-ago alleged report of abuse in an opinion that delved into the particulars of Penn State’s various policies with PMA. The line that grabbed the most attention, of course, referred to Paterno.

“PMA claims Sandusky committed several acts of molestation early in his career at PSU: in 1976, a child allegedly reported to PSU’s Head Football Coach Joseph Paterno, that he (the child) was sexually molested by Sandusky; in 1987, a PSU Assistant Coach is alleged to have witnessed inappropriate contact between Sandusky and a child at a PSU facility; in 1988, another PSU Assistant Coach reportedly witnessed sexual contact between Sandusky and a child; and also in 1988, a child’s report of his molestation by Sandusky was allegedly referred to PSU’s Athletic Director,” Glazer wrote.

There was no evidence that the alleged reports made their way up to the top of Penn State’s chain of command, Glazer wrote, which is defined solely as the university’s officers, trustees and stockholders. That definition is crucial; Glazer noted that the university’s insurance might cover payouts for abuse that allegedly occurred in the 1970s and 1980s because its top officials were unaware of the incidents and thus unable to report them to PMA.

But the judge also points out that Penn State’s then-president, Graham Spanier, and then-senior vice president for finance and business, Gary Schultz, did know about several reports of Sandusky sexually assaulting children between 1998 and 2001, but neither bothered to alert PMA — or took steps to stop him from preying on children again. “Instead, they apparently chose to sweep the problem under the rug,” Glazer wrote.

By failing to notify the insurance company about Sandusky’s repeated sexual assaults, Spanier and Schultz risked breaching the school’s policies with PMA, Glazer wrote.

This development is heavy on the legalese, but you probably don’t need a law degree to understand why it’s added fresh outrage to a saga that has already been the source of endless arguments, accusations and conspiracy theories, many of which have revolved around the extent of Paterno’s knowledge about Sandusky’s abuse of children. Paterno’s family wasted little time dismissing this latest allegation.

Wick Sollers, the Paterno family’s attorney, said in a statement to the Inquirer: “An allegation now about an alleged event 40 years ago, as represented by a single line in a court document regarding an insurance issue, with no corroborating evidence, does not change the facts. Joe Paterno did not, at any time, cover up conduct by Jerry Sandusky.”

And Paterno’s son, Scott Paterno, took to Twitter on Friday to defend his late father:

Sandusky was in court earlier this week, seeking to overturn his 2012 conviction on dozens of child sex abuse charges. He also wrote letters to a television reporter in Pittsburgh, arguing that he believes he “has a compelling argument” for a new trial.

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