Pennsylvania State University President Eric Barron released an open letter to counteract reports that the school’s late football coach Joe Paterno first heard of sexual abuse allegations against his defensive coordinator in 1976.
“None of these allegations about the supposed knowledge of University employees has been substantiated in a court of law or in any other process to test their veracity,” Barron writes in an open letter to the university community. “I want you to know I am appalled by the rumor, innuendo and rush to judgment that have accompanied the media stories surrounding these allegations. All too often in our society, people are convicted in the court of public opinion, only to find a different outcome when all the facts are presented.”
A court order last week noted that an accuser claimed of informing Paterno of his assistant’s activities as a child molester 35 years before Jerry Sandusky’s arrest on charges relating to sex with minors. The initial scandal resulted in Paterno’s firing, the removal of a statue of him from State College, and the NCAA vacating more than 100 wins. But in the aftermath of the once-beloved coach’s 2012 death, a public reassessment resulted in restoring the statue and the wins. The latest charge, coming as part of a legal dispute between Penn State and insurance companies looking to get off the hook for $60 million or so that the school paid to Sandusky’s victims, threatens to once again sully the reputation of the coach with the most wins in college football history.
First, the allegations related to Penn State are simply not established fact. The two allegations related to knowledge by Coach Paterno are unsubstantiated and unsupported by any evidence other than a claim by an alleged victim. They date from the 1970s. Coach Paterno is not alive to refute them. His family has denied them.
Second, we cannot find any evidence, related to a settlement or otherwise, that an alleged early assault was communicated to Coach Paterno. This raises considerable credibility issues as to this press report. Others cite assistant coaches that were witnesses or had knowledge – stating it as fact in headlines and text – even in the face of a denial and clear failure to corroborate from the individuals allegedly involved. Other stories are clearly incredulous, and should be difficult for any reasonable person to believe. We should not be rendering judgments about the actions of Coach Paterno or any other former employees of Penn State based on incomplete, sensationalized media accounts.
Barron assumed office at Penn State more than two years after Joe Paterno’s death. His predecessor, Rodney Erickson, left the post less three years after his tenure, which began by firing Paterno.