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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Joe Paterno: The Godfather

     In 1999, Joe Paterno's longtime friend and defensive coach, Jerry Sandusky, retired from Penn State following credible allegations that a year before he had inappropriately touched a 10-year-old boy in the school's locker room showers. While university investigators wanted Sandusky prosecuted, the Centre County District Attorney, Ray Gricar, declined to pursue the matter. Joe Paterno surely knew of the molestation accusation against his colleague. It would be interesting to know just how much pressure the Godfather of Penn State had put on Gricar to drop the case.

     Notwithstanding the 1998 allegations, Sandusky, a made-man in the Penn State football family who benefited from a code of silence a Mafia don would have admired, kept his office in the football building as well as his access to all of the university's sports facilities. Using his youth organization, The Second Mile, to attract and groom his young victims, Sandusky continued to sexually molest boys under the noses of Paterno and others in the football family. Instead of reporting a serial pedophile operating in their midst, Paterno asked Sandusky to stop bringing his young "guests" on campus. In other words, do your molesting somewhere else, where, if caught, it won't be so hard to cover up.

     In 2000, when a Penn State janitor was told by a fellow employee that he (the fellow worker) had seen Jerry Sandusky in the showers raping a boy, the janitor didn't report it. (This came to light in 2012 when investigators working with former FBI Director Louis Freeh questioned the janitor. According to the Freeh Report, the janitor, in explaining why he hadn't reported Sandusky to someone in authority, said, "It would have been like going against the President of the United States. I knew Paterno had so much power, if he wanted to get rid of someone, I would have been gone.")

     On February 26, 2001, a graduate assistant in the Penn State football organization named Mike McQueary presented the Godfather with a problem that if not handled carefully, threatened the family. McQueary had witnessed, firsthand, Jerry Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in the locker room showers. The threat to Paterno's football organization intensified when the athletic director and a vice president contemplated, to Paterno's horror, reporting Sandusky to the authorities. The Godfather ordered his "superiors" to clam-up, and the matter remained a family secret. The football program had to be protected--at all costs.

     In 2004, the president of Penn State, and the head of the board of trustees, two ostensibly powerful university figures, went to Paterno's office to inform the 80-year-old don it was time to step down. What were these men thinking? Godfathers don't retire voluntarily. They have to be taken out, and these lightweights didn't have the muscle. Paterno threw the pathetic emissaries out of his office. They were lucky Paterno didn't fire them on the spot.

     On April 15, 2005, Ray Gricar, the longtime Centre County District Attorney who in 1998 had given Jerry Sandusky a prosecutorial pass, took a drive in his mini-Cooper and didn't return. The 59-year-old's car turned up in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania in an antique mall parking lot. Three months later, someone found the prosecutor's county-issued laptop on the edge of the Susquehanna River not far from where he, or someone else, had left his car. In October 2005, Gricar's hard-drive turned up in the same river not far where the laptop had been found. Gricar himself has not turned up. (What's really strange  about Gricar's disappearance is how poorly it was investigated. The FBI had declined to get involved.) If Ray Gricar didn't kill himself, someone else did, but without his body, this unexplained and uninvestigated death will remain a mystery. It is not unreasonable to wonder if Gricar's disappearance is related to Jerry Sandusky, and the Paterno lead cover-up of his pedophilia.        

     In January 2011, 13 years after Ray Gricar decided not to charge Jerry Sandusky with sexually touching the 10-year-old boy in the Penn State locker room showers, Joe Paterno's worst fears were coming true. Jerry Sandusky, his longtime friend, and lifetime member of the football family, after years of sexually molesting boys within the inner sanctum of Penn State football, was once again under investigation. And this time, investigators were seriously out to get Mr. Sandusky, and anyone who had helped facilitate his crimes. The Godfather must have been shocked when he was summoned to appear before the Centre County Grand Jury looking into the case.  

     Having been sworn to tell the truth, Paterno made his appearance before the grand jury that January. It was then he was asked the dreaded question regarding what he knew, and when he knew it. Did he know of any sexual abuse allegations made against Jerry Sandusky before the February 2001 episode? To that question, Paterno said, "I do not know of anything else that Jerry would have been involved in of that nature, no." That was a lie. But what choice did he have? The future of Penn State football was at stake, not to mention the coach's legacy as a hero.

     With sex scandal storm clouds on the horizon, the Godfather made his move. He entered into secret contract negotiations with the president of the university to sweeten his compensation/retirement package. In return for the enhanced contract, Paterno promised to quit at the end of the 2011 football season. In August 2011, without the knowledge of the board of trustees, the president of Penn State agreed to pay Paterno $3 million for his last year. Pursuant to the overall deal, $350,000 in interest-free loans given to the coach would be forgiven by the university (and Pennsylvania taxpayers). In addition to various incentive bonuses, the university would give Paterno and his family access to the Penn State corporate jet, and reserve a luxury box at Beaver Stadium for the coach and his family--for the next 25 years.

     While the president of the university had finally managed to loosen the Godfather's grip around Penn State's neck, it had come at a high cost, and without the knowledge of the board of trustees.

     The wheels came off Joe Paterno's sex abuse cover-up on November 5, 2011 when officers with the Pennsylvania State Police arrested Jerry Sandusky on several counts of sexual molestation. To football fans across the country, Jerry Sandusky was a household name. In Sandusky's hometown, Washington, Pennsylvania, people were shocked and distraught. Along with the former football coach, the police arrested the school's athletic director and a university vice president on charges they had failed to report Sandusky's alleged crimes. Penn State fans considered Joe Paterno, the man most responsible for allowing Sandusky to molest dozens of boys, an innocent victim in the growing scandal. Poor Joe, he didn't deserve to have his football legacy tarnished by that bastard Sandusky.

     Although the Godfather had already negotiated a secret deal carrying him through the 2011 football year, he offered, ingenuously, to step down at the end of the football year. The board of trustees, eager to use the opportunity to take out the Godfather, fired him 5 days later. On November 20, Paterno's family announced, for the first time, that Paterno had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

     The firing of Coach Joe Paterno, as one might expect, didn't go down well with football fans in Happy Valley and across the country. This man was more than a coach, he had come to symbolize everything that was good and great about Penn State University. (How pathetic is that?) Students went to the streets, and according to opinion polls taken after the icon's dismissal, more than half the citizens of Pennsylvania still had a favorable opinion of the coach.

     Following Joe Paterno's death on January 22, 2012 at the age of 85, his family demanded that the university live up to the secret $5.5 million deal the coach had extracted from the president. Rather than go against the Paterno family, and incur the wrath of their supporters, the school gave in. (The family did not get the luxury box and use of the corporate jet, but Mrs. Paterno did maintain access to the athletic department's hydrotherapy facilities.)

     The public hadn't been told of Joe Paterno's lung cancer diagnosis until 15 days after Jerry Sandusky's arrest. How long had that information been kept secret?

     A statue of Joe Paterno stands outside Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. In light of the Godfather's role in protecting Jerry Sandusky at the expense of the boys this pedophile had molested over the years, that statue should be torn down. But, according to the powers that be, it will remain standing for now. People who look at that statue will see different things. It will remind many that Joe Paterno was a wonderful man and coaching hero who did more for Penn State than anyone in history. To others, the statue will represent what can happen when an institution allows one man to have too much power. That what it means to me.

     

1 comment:

  1. Jim,

    It is the culture at PSU that is most appaling. From students rioting over a football coach being fired to students "protecting" Paterno's statue from coming down. It is all the same. Nobody is rioting, marching down to Old Main and saying get this Administration out. Nobody cares that their tuition is rising three times the inflation rate, no one cares that they are graduating with degrees that cannot get them jobs, no they care more about Good Ol' JOEPA and his legacy. Dear God what a mess.

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