What If Joe Paterno Was Innocent? Hypothetical Dialogues From A Dark Time At Penn StateS

Circumstantially, the Jerry Sandusky case keeps getting worse and worse for Joe Paterno. Circumstantially. This past weekend, CNN described an email that Penn State's now-former athletic director, Tim Curley, allegedly sent to other university officials in 2001, canceling plans to report Sandusky to the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare:

After giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe yesterday, I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps.

It's not clear what Paterno may have said to Curley. As a Paterno family spokesperson said over the weekend, the head coach never used email, so he did not participate in the discussions. All we have is a claim that Paterno said something, and then the officials decided not to report Sandusky, after all.

So it's one more point on a timeline that looks damning to the sainted head coach—but only indirectly damning. If you still want to believe that Joe Paterno did not shelter and enable a serial predator, you can. You just have to imagine some hypothetical alternative narratives.

May 1999: One year after Penn State police investigate allegations of inappropriate behavior by Sandusky, Joe Paterno meets with Sandusky and tells him that, contrary to widespread assumptions, Sandusky will not inherit the head coaching job when Paterno retires. The implication is that Paterno learned about Sandusky's abuse and decided to quietly protect the football team. But what if it was an innocent coincidence?

PATERNO: How ya doin', Jerry? Sit down. Did she get you some coffee? You sure? OK. Look, Jerry. We've worked together for, what, 30 years? I'm gonna be square about this. I've heard some stuff that's really troubling me. I know you've been counting on the head coaching job someday, when my time is over. But with what I now know, I can't have that happen. Not in good conscience. Look at this report, Jerry. [Pauses] Do you understand what this says?

I'll tell you what it says.

It says Shaun King had a passer rating of 183.3 at Tulane, Jerry. Tulane! Tim Rattay had 46 touchdowns at Louisiana Tech. Daunte Culpepper completed 73.6 percent of his passes at Central gosh-darn Florida. These are nothing programs, Jerry, and they're slicing people up with those spread offenses.

The 21st century is going to belong to innovative offensive schemes, Jerry. You can coach the hell out of a 4-3 defense, I know. I've seen you do it. But the next head coach has to be part of the revolution. It's gonna have to be somebody from the other side of the ball. I'm sorry, Jerry. It's not enough to keep points off the board anymore. I know this is gonna seem unfair to you. But I have to look in the mirror and know I've done the right thing for this whole football program.

February 2001: Athletic director Tim Curley tells Paterno that officials intend to report child-abuse allegations against Sandusky to the state Department of Welfare. After their conversation, the plan is abandoned. The implication is that Paterno discouraged the university from acting against Sandusky. But what if it means he had the opposite reaction?

PATERNO: Good! Good! Turn the perverted bastard in! I can't believe the lies he got away with. I'll be the first to testify against this animal. This will destroy the football program, and it will destroy the university, and by God, we deserve it, letting an abomination like this happen, on our watch. I'll tear the stadium apart with my own two hands!

CURLEY: Destroy th—... Uh... Yes, OK, yes, absolutely, Joe. Absolutely. We'll report everything. You're right. We'll email in a report tomorrow, first thing, how about?

PATERNO: I don't understand this email business. Is that how you do stuff like that, these days?

CURLEY: Oh, yeah, it's the best way to do it, nowadays. Don't worry, we'll handle it.

PATERNO: If that's the best way to stop this monster, then get on the emailer. Email on him. I really oughta learn how to use this stuff.

CURLEY: Don't worry, Joe. We got it. We'll email him in.

Summer 2007: Sandusky brings one of his victims to Penn State preseason football practice. The implication is that Paterno stood by and allowed Sandusky to continue his behavior, even after he knew about the abuse allegations. But what if Paterno didn't know what was really happening?

PATERNO: Wait a doggone minute. Who let that deviant out here on the field? And he's got a kid with him!

UNIDENTIFIED PSU OFFICIAL: Oh! Well—

PATERNO: I thought somebody emailed on him! To the cops! Why isn't he in prison? What's he doing on my sideline?

UNIDENTIFIED PSU OFFICIAL: Yeah, that's his... probation officer. Plainclothes.

PATERNO: That kid? He's 12 years old.

UNIDENTIFIED PSU OFFICIAL: He's baby-faced. He used to do liquor raids when he was with the state troopers. Don't let his height fool you.

PATERNO: Well, I'll be. I coulda sworn he was a kid. But what's he doing on just probation, after what he did?

UNIDENTIFIED PSU OFFICIAL: That was how they set it up, because of his charity. The Second Mile. They didn't want to ruin it for all the Second Mile kids, so they kept the whole case all on email. Nothing in the papers. It's still basically house arrest. Don't worry. He's not going to have a chance to hurt anybody ever again. That officer has a gun and a can of mace, if he even looks at a kid cross-eyed.

PATERNO: I never heard of such a thing. It sounds kooky to me. That's how they do it now? House arrest, and the email?

UNIDENTIFIED PSU OFFICIAL: Yeah, that's how they do it.

PATERNO: I still don't like having him on my sideline. Guy like that has no business anywhere around our university and our program.

UNIDENTIFIED PSU OFFICIAL: It's for the kids, you know. In the charity. Penn State football means so much to them. If you separate the Second Mile from the football program, who are these kids going to be able to look up to? What's going to inspire them to be tough and play fair, the Joe Paterno way?

PATERNO: I guess if you put it that way, I can live with it. It still turns my stomach, but if it helps those kids, OK. As long as he's really paying the price. House arrest, huh? All these criminal justice majors, and I never once heard of that. How about that? I'm a simple guy. I guess I better stick to football.

UNIDENTIFIED PSU OFFICIAL: It's what you do best, Mr. Paterno. Football.