Paterno retires, Penn State president may be next
STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) – Pressure mounted on Tuesday on Joe Paterno to retire as head football coach at Penn State amid a widening scandal involving allegations an assistant coach sexually abused boys for over a decade and school officials covered it up.
Calls also mounted for university President Graham Spanier to step down amid outrage over the case involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
Paterno, 84, one of the biggest names in American college sports, missed his first chance to publicly address questions regarding the scandal when a scheduled news conference was abruptly canceled on Tuesday by university officials.
The coach is not a target of the investigation, but was told in 2002 of an incident involving Sandusky and a minor. He has been criticized, along with other top officials at the prestigious university in central Pennsylvania, for not doing more to intervene.
The New York Times reported that Paterno’s 45-year tenure as Penn State coach could end in days or weeks, citing people briefed on conversations among the university’s top officials.
Some members of the board of trustees are pushing for an independent investigation before making any decisions, a person familiar with the discussions told Reuters.
Paterno’s current three-year contract extension ends after this season. The legendary coach makes a reported $ 1 million per year.
Paterno’s son said his father, who has hip replacement surgery and has coached at times this year from the press box, not the sidelines, has not been asked to leave.
“No one has asked him to step down,” Scott Paterno told reporters gathered outside the coach’s home near campus.
A bright, sunny autumn day in State College failed to mask the air of crisis that engulfs Paterno, a grandfatherly figure who has coached the Nittany Lions to two national championships. Nicknamed “JoePa,” Paterno is known for graduating a high percentage of players and sending many to the National Football League.
The university canceled Paterno’s news conference minutes before he was due to face hundreds of reporters in the press room in the bowels of the school’s 106,000-seat Beaver Stadium. The athletic department statement cited “the ongoing legal circumstances” for the action.
Before the cancellation, the school said Paterno would respond only to questions regarding football and the Nittany Lions’ game on Saturday against the University of Nebraska.
As he left his house to attend practice, Paterno told reporters: “I know you guys have a lot of questions. And I was hoping I was going to be able to answer them today.”
Later, hundreds of students congregated outside Paterno’s house to support the coach, chanting “We are Penn State!” After returning from practice, Paterno weaved his way through the crowd and then thanked the students through his front window.
SAD TIMES IN HAPPY VALLEY
Sandusky is alleged to have sexually abused eight young boys over more than a decade, both before and after his retirement from the team in 1999. At least one incident was witnessed first hand and reported to Paterno and other athletic department officials.
Two former university officials — athletic director Tim Curley and finance official Gary Schultz — were charged on Monday with failing to alert police after they were told that Sandusky had been seen sodomizing a young boy in the football locker room shower in 2002.
They also are charged with perjury in their statements to a grand jury.
Lawyers for Curley and Schultz said on Monday that their clients denied the charges.
A preliminary hearing for Sandusky, 67, set for Wednesday has been postponed to a date yet to be determined. Sandusky, through attorney Joe Amendola, has denied the charges.
Sandusky allegedly recruited his victims from a charity he founded to help underprivileged children, called “The Second Mile.” The alleged abuse of boys as young as 10 occurred both in his home and in the team’s facilities, authorities have said.
The grand jury report on Sandusky tells of an escalating series of predatory activities, starting with Sandusky crawling into bed with boys to rub their backs, and moving into sexual contact of various kinds.
The Patriot-News in Harrisburg reported on Tuesday that a ninth potential victim, a man now in his 20s, had come forward after hearing media reports.
Paterno told a grand jury investigation that when told in 2002 of the incident in the shower, he passed the information up the chain of command, to the university’s athletic director.
“I did what I was supposed to do with the one charge brought to my attention,” Paterno said in a statement released on Sunday.
But Paterno, the winningest coach in big-time college football, has been criticized for not calling the police himself, following up or doing more to address the allegations.
Pennsylvania state police Commissioner Frank Noonan said Monday that Paterno fulfilled his legal requirement when he told his superior of the 2002 assault. But Noonan questioned whether Paterno and the others who learned of the incident had a moral responsibility to do more.
The scandal also brought calls for Spanier, the president, to resign.
“In the light of the reputed severe harm done to the children under the auspices of the university, I believe it is in the best interest of the university that the president as well as others consider stepping down,” Gary King, a professor at Penn State, whose work has focused in part on child maltreatment.
Spanier canceled a class he was scheduled to teach on Tuesday night, and a dinner on Wednesday night at which he and his wife were to be honored was postponed.
“Our attention is so heavily focused right now on the troubling charges by the Attorney General,” Spanier said in a statement.
In “Paternoville,” a tent city outside the stadium where students have for years camped out to get the best seats to Nittany Lions home games, students preparing for Saturday’s game were keeping the faith.
“He’s a god. I think Joe’s a pretty genuine guy. I find it hard to believe that he knew pertinent information,” said James Swanson, a 21-year-old Penn State student.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson, Edith Honan and Kristina Cooke, writing by Ros Krasny; Editing by Philip Barbara)
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