The Jerry Sandusky indictment is SO horrible, with details about the rape of children, that I kind of think it trips a circuit breaker in our heads—obscuring the fact that Penn State football has a deep familiarity with rape of all kinds.
Four years after Penn State head coach Joe Paterno was told that his longtime defensive coordinator had allegedly sexually abused a child in the team showers, it appeared that the legendary coach still did not think that sexual assault was such a big deal.
In 2006, on the eve of the Orange Bowl, Paterno had this to say about a Florida State linebacker named A. J. Nicholson who had been accused of sexually assaulting a woman: “There’s so many people gravitating to these kids. He may not have even known what he was getting into, Nicholson. They knock on the door; somebody may knock on the door; a cute girl knocks on the door. What do you do?”
Paterno continued to a group of reporters: “Geez. I hope—thank God they don’t knock on my door, because I’d refer them to a couple of other rooms.”
After Paterno’s comments became public, the National Organization for Women called for his resignation.
“I’m not going to say anything about it,” Paterno told ESPN a few days later. “Most people know me. I am what I am.”
Paterno earned much of his lustrous reputation for insisting on high standards of discipline from his players—benching them for skipping class or earning poor grades. He was fired this week after the publication of a grand-jury report described how he did not go to the police in 2002, after a graduate assistant in the football program told him what he saw in the team showers: Jerry Sandusky, Paterno’s former defensive coach, sexually abusing a 10-year-old boy. Sandusky has been charged with preying on young boys over a 15-year period.
To many, Paterno’s fall from grace has come as a sudden and stunning shock. But in recent years, the football regime over which he presided like a god had begun to show signs of ethical decay. A search of media and court records by the Daily Beast reveals a program at Penn State marred by allegations of sexual aggression. At times those incidents met with apparent indulgence by Paterno and college authorities. Paterno’s failure to report Sandusky’s alleged assault was not the only time the head coach appeared to have an ambiguous approach toward members of his program accused of sexual misconduct.
In late 2002, Penn State cornerback Anwar Phillips was accused by a classmate of sexual assault, and the university suspended him for two semesters. But before his suspension began, the Nittany Lions were to play Auburn in the Capital One Bowl. Paterno put Phillips in uniform.