Five months after that night and two-and-a-half months after Paterno’s death from lung cancer at age 85, the Penn State community’s anger at the coach’s dismissal might be less visible but is no less visceral. The story of how the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case escalated into a Penn State scandal and a Joe Paterno scandal before a rapt national audience seems, in retrospect, a deceptively simple narrative: The alleged rape of a young boy, witnessed by a graduate assistant inside the Penn State locker room showers, was not thoroughly investigated by the university after the head coach told his superiors about it.
The untold story, though, is about bare-knuckle Pennsylvania politics, old grudges and perceived slights. It involves a stagnated child sexual abuse investigation that, to some, took a backseat to higher-profile cases and a gubernatorial campaign. It involves a head football coach who knew too little and, still, failed to do enough. It includes a passive school board of trustees that for months ignored a lurking controversy and then, under pressure to preserve Penn State’s reputation, quickly fired its legendary coach without ever talking with him.
Through it all, the central character was [governor Thomas W.] Corbett. “Something not very good happened,” he told reporters on Nov. 9, hours before he urged his fellow trustees to fire Paterno. “We have to … take the bull by the horns and fix it. Quickly.” Publicly, Corbett made it clear that he thought he was the most qualified person to fix Penn State.
A 62-year-old Republican, Corbett is a blunt-spoken former prosecutor whose political career has been built pursuing powerful people who, he has said, “believe they are beyond the law.” And his role in the Penn State scandal, fraught with potential conflicts, placed him in a remarkable position. As Pennsylvania’s attorney general, he investigated Sandusky for nearly two years but failed to make an arrest. But then, as governor, he blamed the university’s leaders for not doing more. One was Paterno, who some board members believed wielded too much power. The other was university president Graham B. Spanier, a 16-year veteran and Corbett rival who had become a vocal opponent of the governor’s efforts to slash higher education funding.
To some, Corbett relished the opportunity and had even planned to play a role in managing the crisis. Eight days before the Sandusky grand jury presentment was released this past November, Corbett’s staff booked hotel rooms in State College. Becoming governor had made Corbett a trustee, and he had decided to attend his first board meeting, after missing the first four. During those days of crisis in State College, he lobbied for the ouster of Paterno and Spanier, ending with that conference call on Nov. 9. And when he was on campus the next day, after Spanier’s resignation and Paterno’s firing, he celebrated the leadership changes. “Throughout this whole process, I felt he had some ulterior motive,” a trustee says of Corbett. “Most trustees felt uncomfortable
[Photo Credit: Washington Post]