Photo: Jeff Swensen/Getty

CNN has obtained a Pennsylvania state police report that suggests that Joe Paterno had knowledge of at least one prior act of sexual abuse committed by Jerry Sandusky when Paterno met with whistleblower Mike McQueary in 2002. This version of events would seriously undermine a long-held belief among Paterno loyalists that the coach was mostly a peripheral figure in a series of university fuck-ups that allowed Sandusky to sexually assault at least 10 boys over the course of decades.

For years the Paterno family and legions of Paterno apologists have maintained that Joe Paterno first learned of assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuses in a meeting with whistleblower Mike McQueary after a shower incident in 2001. This assertion formed the basis of the family’s in-like-a-lion-out-like-a-lamb lawsuit against the NCAA, and makes up a significant part of the ongoing narrative that Paterno was scapegoated by Penn State while the university’s football program was in the midst of an existential crisis.

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The credibility of that timeline has been seriously challenged a few times already—court documents unsealed in an insurance lawsuit in 2016 contain allegations that one Sandusky victim reported his abuse directly to Joe Paterno as early as 1976—but this new CNN report contains the first reported acknowledgement by Paterno of his knowledge of Sandusky’s history of abuse:

The one-page Pennsylvania state police report, obtained from a source and described here for the first time, lays out an account from whistleblower Mike McQueary, who reported to Paterno an incident he had just witnessed in a locker room between Sandusky and a young boy. Paterno allegedly told McQueary in 2001 that the claim against Sandusky “was the second complaint of this nature he had received,” according to the police report, which was written after Sandusky’s arrest 10 years later.

If accurate, this police report would synch with testimony in that insurance lawsuit, indicating that Paterno had personally received at least one prior complaint of Sandusky assaulting children. Paterno famously told Sally Jenkins in 2012 that he had “no inkling” of any deviant behavior prior to the meeting with McQueary in 2002.