Tue Nov 08 07:54pm EST
Joe Paterno didn't get a chance to defend himself Tuesday after Penn State pulled the plug on his regular Tuesday press conference, leaving the embattled 84-year-old coach and his son to fend off a mob of reporters on his way to practice – one of the few reminders that the Nittany Lions still have a crucial Big Ten game to play this weekend against Nebraska. But Paterno did get in a few words Tuesday night when several hundred students rallied outside his home in a show of support, at the end of a day that began with bold calls for his dismissal and saw the rest of the world begin to brace for his departure.
Paterno initially met the crowd at his front door, where he gave a brief pep talk, promising the crowd "we're always gonna be Penn State, regardless of what happens to certain people," and asking them to support the team on Saturday. A few minutes later, he emerged from the house to talk directly to the cameras that followed the rally to his front lawn.
"It's hard for me to tell you how much this means to me. You guys live for the place, and I've lived for people like you guys and girls," Paterno said. "The kids who were victims, whatever they want to say, I think we need to say a prayer for them. It's a tough life when people do certain things to you."
In this case, "certain things" includes dozens of instances of alleged sexual abuse against underage males by Paterno's longtime defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, who is facing 25 felony counts of deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, unlawful contact with a minor, endangering the welfare of a child and indecent assault against at least eight victims over more than a decade. New reports Tuesday night suggest that number may now be as high as 20 victims and growing as the publicity of the case generates new accusations.
On at least two occasions — once in 1998, when Sandusky was the subject of an investigation by university police, and again in 2002, when Paterno was informed directly by a graduate assistant who said he saw Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in a locker room shower — Paterno and other administrators had reason to at least suspect Sandusky was not only engaging in violent criminal behavior, but engaging in it on Penn State's campus. Still, Paterno only passed the 2002 charge up the chain to the athletic director, Tim Curley, and left it at that.
Sandusky was neither disciplined nor reported to authorities, and (thanks to his "emeritus" status) continued to maintain an office in the football building and enjoy access to the locker room and other campus facilities as recently as last week. For their part, Curley and another administrator were indicted for perjury and failing to report Sandusky to authorities, and have lost their jobs. Paterno is not facing legal action from prosectors.
According to a new report by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the charity for at-risk youth which allegedly supplied Sandusky with his victims was aware of investigations in both 1998 and 2002, but didn't sever ties with him until new accusations surfaced a decade later, in 2008. Three years later, the number of alleged victims continues to grow.
Given the increasing outrage everywhere else, the scene outside Paterno's home Tuesday night may be the warmest respite of his final weeks as Penn State's coach, aside from gameday itself. After Saturday – almost certainly his last on the sideline of Beaver Stadium, or in the press box – he could be in for a chillier ending than anyone could have dreamed just a few days ago.