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‘Shock’ Continues Over Penn State Scandal, Paterno’s Scarred Legacy

November 10, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Thursday was the first day of the post-Joe Paterno era at Penn State, after a whirlwind of events that stemmed from sexual abuse charges against a former football coach. Jeffrey Brown discusses the continuing fallout.
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JEFFREY BROWN: At Penn State University, this was day one of the post-Paterno era. It followed a whirlwind of events Wednesday night that stemmed from child molesting charges.

MAN: Please join me in welcoming our interim head football coach, Mr. Tom Bradley.

JEFFREY BROWN: For the first time in nearly half-a-century, the man at the helm of Penn State’s Nittany Lions football team today wasn’t Joe Paterno.

TOM BRADLEY, Penn State head football coach: Coach Paterno has meant more to me than anybody except my father.

JEFFREY BROWN: Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley will run the team on an interim basis. He was tapped amid a child sex abuse scandal that tarnished the storied program and finally led to Paterno’s dismissal.

JOHN SURMA, Penn State Board of Trustees: Joe Paterno is no longer the head football coach, effective immediately.

Penn State has always strived for honesty, integrity and the highest moral standards in all of our activities. We promise you that we are committed to restoring public trust to our university.

JEFFREY BROWN: The 84-year-old coaching legend was fired last night by unanimous vote of the university’s trustees.

School president Graham Spanier was also dismissed. Both men were criticized fiercely for not doing enough to stop Jerry Sandusky. The former Penn State defensive coach was charged Saturday with 40 counts relating to the sexual abuse of eight children.

Paterno had announced his end-of-season retirement yesterday, but the trustees refused to wait that long. The decision triggered tumult last night in the university’s home, State College, Pa. Thousands of enraged students stormed into the streets.

MAN: JoePa’s not the one who should be taking the fall for this. Save JoePa!

JEFFREY BROWN: Violence erupted, and a hundred or more helmeted police battled back. Pepper spray, rocks and bottles filled the air. Lampposts were torn down, car windows smashed.

And a television live truck was flipped on its side. But amid the mayhem, there were also distinctly different and less forgiving views of Paterno.

MAN: JoePa could have done more. It’s sad. It’s a terrible — it’s a terrible situation, but he should have done more. There’s a lot more that could have been done about the situation. It’s terrible.

QUESTION: How common is that feeling here on campus?

MAN: Not common. I’m in a strong minority. Look at what we’re surrounded by. It’s disgusting.

JEFFREY BROWN: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett weighed in late today.

GOV. TOM CORBETT, R-Pa.: Please, please, behave and demonstrate your pride in Penn State. I believe in your right to assemble and your right to express your opinions. I do not believe, nor I do think anybody believes, in your right to violence.

JEFFREY BROWN: A quieter crowd greeted Joe Paterno outside his home last night.

JOE PATERNO, former Penn State head football coach: I’m out of it maybe now. I got a phone call that put me out of it. But we will go from here, OK?

Get a good night’s sleep. All right? Study.

One thing. Thanks. And pray a little bit for those victims.

JEFFREY BROWN: The eight victims cited in the indictment were allegedly abused over 15 years. A then-graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, has said he witnessed one victim’s rape by Sandusky in 2002. McQueary told Paterno, who in turn reported it to Athletic Director Tim Curley. None of the men called police. Curley and a Penn State vice president are now charged with perjury and failure to report the abuse.

Paterno wasn’t charged and Mike McQueary, another focus of criticism, is now a Penn State assistant coach. Interim head coach Bradley said today there are no plans to change his status for now.

As for where Joe Paterno will be this Saturday, for the first time since 1949, it won’t be on Penn State’s sideline.

And we get two perspectives on this now.

Jeanette Krebs is the editorial page editor for the Harrisburg Patriot-News. On Tuesday, the paper issued a front-page editorial calling for the departure of both Paterno and Spanier. And John Feinstein is an author and sportswriter. He’s long covered college football. His latest book, “One on One,” will be published next month.

Jeanette Krebs, I will start with you.

How much of a trauma is this for people up there? Help us understand the currents of emotion there.

JEANETTE KREBS, The Patriot-News: It’s been a very traumatic week for us here in Central Pennsylvania and for Penn State fans.

I think people were just wrapping their heads around the idea of Jerry Sandusky and the charges against him, and then last night, when the president and Joe — Joe Paterno were fired, people are still in shock by that.

I think that there are really three camps of people. There are people who feel that Joe Paterno is being scapegoated in some respects, and that he wasn’t found guilty of anything by the grand jury, so why should he be fired.

But I have to say, from what we’re hearing, that’s really the minority. And a lot of people believe that the charges are just so appalling, if you read the grand jury presentment, it’s horrifying what happened. They — a lot of people believe that he and the president needed to step down.

And then there are people who are just really afraid of what this means for Penn State, how this might tarnish the university.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Jeanette, to that point, just explain for context the role of football and Joe Paterno at Penn State.

JEANETTE KREBS: Well, Penn State is known for a lot of things. It’s a great research institution. Agriculture is a big force there.

But football — nothing is like football at Penn State. And certainly around the country, that’s what people know about Penn State. And Joe Paterno is the college football coach. I think that a lot of people feel that Penn State has always had — its football team has been above the fray. There’s never been any big scandal here before.

Joe Paterno is very well-respected for the kind of team that he coaches. A lot of his students graduate. And so I think because of that as well, this comes as such a shock to everyone.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, John Feinstein, you can put this in a national perspective, Joe Paterno, Penn State in the history of college football.

JOHN FEINSTEIN, sportswriter/author: Well, Jeanette is right about the importance of Joe Paterno.

I would say there have been two figures in collegiate athletics over the last 50 years who stood out above all others. One is Dean Smith, the former basketball coach at North Carolina. The other is Joe Paterno. And it’s for similar reasons, because they did more than win games. Both were great winners. Joe Paterno is the all-time winningest coach at the highest level of college football.

But, as Jeanette mentioned, most of his players graduated. There was never any speck of controversy around his program through the years in terms of NCAA rules violations. Joe Paterno was held up as a paragon in a profession where there weren’t very many.

And for him to fall this way, so precipitously and in such a — in a humiliating way because of what he did, or, specifically, what he didn’t do, it’s a blow not just to Penn State, but to all of collegiate athletics.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, how do you explain, from a distance, of course? But is it an isolated sense of his position at the school? I mean, when you are looking at this, how do you — without scandal in the past, what do you see now?

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Right.

Well, I think there are two things involved here, Jeff. One is that clearly there was a failure to realize, and I don’t know how, but the need to get Jerry Sandusky off the streets, if he was, in fact, doing the things he’s accused of, back in 2002, when Paterno became aware of it.

But beyond that, to use a cliché, absolute power corrupts absolutely. And I think Paterno believed that — and for nine years he was right — that if he didn’t do anything, there was no one at Penn State who was ever going to do anything to him if he failed to go forward with any kind of investigation, because, remember, this is a guy who in 2004, when the president of the university went to his house to suggest he might want to think about retiring, he basically threw him out of the house.

JEFFREY BROWN: Right.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: That is how powerful he was.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, Jeanette Krebs, your paper, your editorial, as we said, called for him and the president to step aside. Tell us about that decision and the reaction that you have gotten.

JEANETTE KREBS: Well, when our editorial board met on Monday, we knew that we had to come out with a really strong editorial, because Penn State is such a powerful institution in our community, in our state.

And, again, because of the charges in the grand jury presentment, we decided that not only did we want to make a strong statement with our words, but the placement of the editorial also was going to send a message to people. And to all of our knowledge, we can’t think of another time when the newspaper has run an editorial on the front page, let alone made it the only thing on the front page that day.

You know, the reaction was really surprising to me. Whenever we run an editorial about something controversial, as you can imagine, I hear from people on both sides of the issue. But I — I, largely — I heard very little from people who didn’t support it.

I actually was out and went to a couple places in the Harrisburg area that day. And people literally stopped me to talk to me about the editorial. They thought that we really hit the right note with it. And they were in agreement.

And, really, for the people who disagreed with it, it was more the idea that we ran the editorial on the front page, and they didn’t think that that was a good idea. It wasn’t so much that they believed that Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier should keep their jobs.

JEFFREY BROWN: John, we saw in our piece John Surma of the Penn State board last night making that announcement. Another thing he said in that was, “The university is much larger than its athletic teams.”

Now, that sounds right, right? But that has been an issue in college sports for a long time.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Forever.

I mean, this isn’t anything new. Years ago, the president of Oklahoma said that he hoped to build a university worthy of the football team. Remember last March when the controversy broke out at Ohio State involving Jim Tressel, and the president of Penn State (sic), Gordon Gee — it was said, “Do you think you’re going to fire him?”

He said: “Fire him? I hope he doesn’t fire me.”

That was kidding on the square.

JEFFREY BROWN: Right.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: And the power of these iconic coaches, particularly in football, where you have got 110,000 people in that stadium every Saturday that Penn State plays, has been going on for years, and particularly at Penn State, where Paterno has been there for 46 years.

I mean, imagine. It’s been since 1949 that he wasn’t on the coaching staff. And you saw that even until yesterday, Jeff, when he issued that statement saying, I’m going to retire at the end of the year, and now the Board of Trustees should go back and not pay any attention to me, and basically telling them, leave me alone.

And the board had to act.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so — and, briefly, so, do you think that this is — this is a very much more serious scandal…

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Exactly.

JEFFREY BROWN: … that you have been talking about here…

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Right.

JEFFREY BROWN: … and the nature of the victims and all. Do you think this is a moment when the universities might review their oversight of college sports?

JOHN FEINSTEIN: There’s never been a scandal like this in college athletics, because, as you say, the nature of the crimes committed and the tragedy of what has gone on with these children.

So I would hope so. Having said that, the past says that in the end, the universities come back to wanting to win games and make money. The bottom line always seems to be the bottom line.

JEFFREY BROWN: And games go on Saturday.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Saturday at noon.

JEFFREY BROWN: John Feinstein and Jeanette Krebs, thank you both very much.

JEANETTE KREBS: Thank you.