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Joe Paterno Announces Retirement, as Penn State Child Abuse Scandal Grows

Nov 9, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP

Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno is on his way out.  The venerated coach announced his retirement today, saying in a statement that his 46-year tenure as the Nittany Lions' head football coach would end at the close of this coming season

According to The New York Times, the Penn State University Board of Trustees was already planning Paterno's exit within days or weeks, after the Nittany Lions coach came under scathing criticism for his handling of child sexual abuse allegations against former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky.

In his statement, Paterno appeared to be pleading with the board to allow him to stay on as head coach until the end of the 2011 season.

"At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can," the statement read.

Sandusky, who left his position as an assistant coach with Penn State at the end of the 1999 season, but maintained an office at the university's main campus until 2007, was indicted last week for allegedly abusing 8 boys over a period of 15 years.  Sandusky came into contact with the children through his Second Mile Foundation charity, and according to the report, some of the alleged abuse incidents occurred on the Penn State campus.

According to a grand jury report released by Pennsylvania investigators earlier this week, Paterno, 84, heard a graphic retelling in 2002 from a then-graduate assistant coach of an alleged incident of child sexual abuse committed by Sandusky in the shower of the Penn State football building.  Though Paterno reported the allegation to his superiors, he did not pursue the matter further.  Those superiors spoke to Sandusky, and banned him from bringing children onto the Penn State main campus (though Sandusky himself was not banned from campus, and he was also allowed to run a youth football camp at a satellite campus for another six years).

Two Penn State officials, athletic director Tim Curley, and  Gary Schultz, PSU's senior vice president for finance and business, were arrested this week and charged with perjury and failure to report to authorities what they knew of the allegations, as required by state law in Pennsylvania.  Both have resigned their positions with the university.

Earlier this week, Pennsylvania state law enforcement officials said that while Paterno had met his legal obligation in alerting his superiors, he failed on a moral level by not doing more.  The same officials also charged that inaction on the part of Penn State University allowed more children to become victims of abuse at the hands of Sandusky.

Calls have been increasing for both Paterno, and Penn State University President Graham Spanier, to either resign or be fired.  Last night, the Penn State University Board of Trustees held an emergency conference call that went late into the night, and later issued a statement saying it was "outraged by the horrifying details” in the grand jury’s report.  The board promised “swift, decisive action, and will appoint a special committee during its regular meeting to conduct an investigation into the incident. 

Paterno, the winningest coach in college football, has served as Nittany Lion's head coach for 46 years, and is practically worshipped at Penn State.  Part of this, ironically, is because he is also regarded as one of the sports most ethical coaches, and the Nittany Lions football program has never been accused of committing any recruiting violations or cheating in any way during his tenure.

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