Paterno Cancels Weekly News Conference

Guy Raz speaks with NPR's Mike Pesca about the growing scandal in the Penn State football program. Longtime coach Joe Paterno abruptly canceled his weekly news conference Tuesday, amid reports that members of the school's board are pushing for him to step down.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

Now, to the unfolding sex abuse scandal in the Penn State football program. The controversy has now engulfed legendary head coach Joe Paterno. The university abruptly canceled Paterno's weekly press conference today, and there are reports that the board of trustees is arranging his exit.

Journalists caught up with Paterno on his way to practice today. This is all he had to say.

JOE PATERNO: I know you guys have a lot of questions and I was hoping I was going to be able to answer them today. But we'll try to do it soon, as soon as we can. Can't do it today.

RAZ: NPR's sports correspondent Mike Pesca joins us now for more. And, Mike, let's start by laying out what we do know about these abuse allegations. What do prosecutors say happened and when?

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Well, an assistant coach, a former defensive coordinator for Penn State named Jerry Sandusky, who ran a program reportedly to help troubled youth named the Second Mile, was involved in a number of sexually predatory acts to young boys. And this took place over a long, long time. And when I say an assistant coach, he was the assistant coach. He was the architect of Penn State's legendary defense called Linebacker U. He designed the defense that picked off Vinny Testaverde and the Miami Hurricanes five times to win their last national championship.

Sandusky's reputation was so high that when he retired, Sports Illustrated wrote: If Sandusky did not have such a human side, there would be a temptation to canonize him. St. Sandusky, leader of linebackers, molder of men. That today reads like sick irony because there were allegations in 1998 that the state welfare department investigated that he was showering with young boys. Janitors in 2002 saw him engage in sex acts in the Penn State locker room with young boys. Sorry, janitors in 2000.

And then in 2002, a Penn State assistant coach by the name of Mike McCreary saw this, reported it to Joe Paterno, who reported it to his supervisors, who essentially never looked at the record and did nothing. And this is why charges were brought against the athletic director and Gary Schultz, who's the vice president for finance and business at Penn State.

RAZ: And, Mike, according to prosecutor, Joe Paterno satisfied his legal requirement by informing his boss. But that isn't keeping him out of the storm, is it?

PESCA: That's right. By the letter of the law, Joe Paterno is something like a middle manger and all he has to do is kick it upstairs to his boss, and he didn't follow up. In real life, Joe Paterno is like the king of State College, Pennsylvania. I mean, he's 84 now. As recently as, you know, a decade ago, he was much more powerful than the university president. But he has a lot of power. And, of course, he has a reputation not only for himself but for his entire program.

They say - every program likes to say we stand for something more important than football. Paterno certainly said this. And his abdication of an ethical responsibility is just striking a lot of fans, alumni and students at Penn State as mind-boggling.

RAZ: Did anybody ever think that the legendary Joe Paterno could be on the verge of being forced out at Penn State?

PESCA: This is the thing, even great coaches, you know, afterwards it turns out sometimes they have to give back some of their wins if they are involved in a recruiting scandal or Woody Hayes at Ohio State-Texas students, but never with Joe Paterno; the model of rectitude, a man who funded a library and was into the classics. And even though he directly did not do anything wrong, it just strikes people as an exemplar of morality like Joe Paterno, to do nothing about this is just stunning to some people.

And this is why The New York Times and others are reporting that right now Penn State is working on his removal.

RAZ: Mike, thanks.

PESCA: You're welcome.

RAZ: That's NPR's Mike Pesca.

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