Saturday, 12 November 2011

Penn State Said to Be Planning Paterno Exit Amid Scandal

STATE COLLEGE, Pa., Nov 12  - Penn State's football team struggled in its final home football game of the year on Saturday after its revered coach was fired amid a child sex abuse and cover-up scandal that has rocked the campus.

On a crisp, sunny autumn day, police monitored roads and patrolled the area from the air and searched fans thoroughly as they entered the 106,000-seat Beaver Stadium following an anonymous bomb threat made Friday on night.

Many fans wore blue -- the color long associated with a "stop child abuse" campaign -- rather than traditional game-day white as they watched their Nittany Lions team go up against the University of Nebraska.

A group of male fans went bare-chested with letters spelling out "FOR THE KIDS" displayed across their chests in blue paint.

The Penn State team walked somberly onto the field, arm in arm, through an honor guard formed by the Blue Band, the university's roughly 300-strong marching band. Both teams then met at midfield to pray for those who have suffered from child abuse.

It is the first game in more than four decades in which Penn State will not be led by Joe Paterno, who has a record 409 victories under his belt since 1966 and is one of the most respected coaches in U.S. college football.

ESPN sports cable channel reported that Paterno had penned a note to the team on Friday, saying he was heartbroken but urged them to focus on the game.

Interim head coach Tom Bradley, part of the team's coaching staff since 1979, said before the game that he had a flood of emotions going through his mind.

With his team, which came into the game with an 8-1 season record, down 10-0 at halftime to the lower ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers, the taciturn Bradley said Penn State needed to "get back to fundamentals."

The firings Wednesday of Paterno, 84, and college president Graham Spanier touched off scattered violence from protesting students.

The Nittany Lions' assistant coach, Mike McQueary, a central figure in the abuse scandal, is also absent after being put on paid administrative leave on Friday.

Mr. Paterno’s day-to-day status with the program could be affected by the state attorney general’s investigation into the sexual abuse allegations. In explaining his actions, Mr. Paterno has publicly said he was not told of the graphic nature of a suspected 2002 assault by Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant, of a young boy in the football building’s showers. Mr. Paterno said the graduate assistant who reported the assault, Mike McQueary, said only that something disturbing had happened that was perhaps sexual in nature.

But on Tuesday, a person with knowledge of Mr. McQueary’s version of events called Mr. Paterno’s claim into question. The person said Mr. McQueary had told those in authority the explicit details of what he saw, including in his face-to-face meeting with Mr. Paterno the day after the incident.

Mr. Paterno’s son Scott, who has acted as a family spokesman, and his lawyer, Joshua D. Lock, did not respond to interview requests Tuesday. Mr. Paterno was to have held a news conference Tuesday, but the university canceled it less than an hour before it was scheduled to begin. Leaving his house on his way to the football team’s practice, he told reporters: “I know you guys have a lot of questions. I was hoping I could answer them today. We’ll try to do it as soon as we can.”

On Tuesday night, the Board of Trustees released a statement saying it was “outraged by the horrifying details” in the grand jury’s report on the case and promised it would take “swift, decisive action.” It said it planned to appoint a special committee to undertake a “full and complete investigation.”

In his 46th season as the Penn State head coach, Mr. Paterno, 84, has had an extraordinary run of success: one that produced tens of millions of dollars and two national football championships for the university and established him as a revered leader in sports, but one that will end with a stunning and humiliating final chapter.

On Monday, law-enforcement officials said that Mr. Paterno had met his legal obligation in alerting his superiors at the university when he learned of the 2002 allegation against Mr. Sandusky. But they suggested he might well have failed a moral test for what to do when confronted with such a disturbing allegation involving a child not even in his teens. No one at the university alerted the police or pursued the matter to determine the well-being of the child involved. The identity of that child remains unknown, according to Linda Kelly, Pennsylvania’s attorney general.

In recent days, Mr. Paterno has lost the support of many board members, according to the two people who have been briefed on their conversations. That development illustrates a decisive shift in the power structure at the university. In 2004, for instance, Mr. Paterno brushed off a request by the university president that he step down.

He still has the support of some fans. Late Tuesday, hundreds gathered outside Mr. Paterno’s home, chanting Paterno’s name and “We are Penn State!”

“Joe’s been here half a century,” said Pam Dorian, 22, a senior from West Chester, Pa. “I feel like if there’s anyone we can trust, it’s him.”

Addressing the crowd alongside family members, Mr. Paterno said: “I’ve lived for this place. I’ve lived for people like you guys and girls. It’s hard for me to say how much this means.

“As you know, the kids that were the victims, I think we ought to say a prayer for them.”

What separated Mr. Paterno from many of his coaching peers was that he had great success, with few questions about how he ran the program. Penn State’s high graduation rates and education-first ideals, known as the Grand Experiment, became as synonymous with the program as its plain uniforms and dominating defenses.

The reputations of the coach and the university have changed abruptly this week in light of the allegations.

On Monday, just hours after Ms. Kelly described at a news conference how university officials were suspected of failing to alert the authorities to multiple allegations of sexual abuse on campus, the university distributed a memo to members of the news media confirming that Mr. Paterno planned to hold his usual Tuesday news conference and emphasizing that he would talk only about the coming game against Nebraska.

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