Paterno E-Mail Shows Coach's Influence on Disciplinary Matters

Gene Puskar, AP Images

Penn State's president at the time, Graham B. Spanier (left), and Joe Paterno are shown chatting before a football game last fall.
July 05, 2012

Newly obtained e-mails between Joe Paterno, the former Penn State coach, and the university's former president illustrate the scope of the coach's control over top administrators' decisions on disciplinary matters.

The documents, which The Chronicle acquired from a source close to the Jerry Sandusky investigation, contradict comments made in recent days by Mr. Paterno's representatives suggesting that the coach never used e-mail or played a role in influencing university investigations.

The e-mails, from 2007, concern the handling of football players accused of beating up fellow students and suggest a pattern of Mr. Paterno's influence in disciplinary cases. Those e-mails have been turned over to officials investigating the Sandusky scandal.

Mr. Paterno's role in the university's 2001 Sandusky investigation has come into question following a CNN report last week. That report described how top Penn State administrators apparently changed their decision to notify child-welfare authorities about Mr. Sandusky in response to a conversation between Mr. Paterno and Tim Curley, the university's athletic director.

Mr. Paterno, who died in January, had insisted that he did his job by reporting accusations about Mr. Sandusky to his superiors. After that, he said, he was not involved in the investigation. Mr. Sandusky was convicted last month on 45 counts of sexual abuse against children.

The 2007 disciplinary case stemmed from an off-campus fight involving as many as two dozen football players. After the incident, Mr. Paterno wrote to Graham B. Spanier, the university's president, and "Tim"—presumably Mr. Curley—through an e-mail account used by the coach's assistant, Sandi Segursky.

"I want to make sure everyone understands that the discipline of the players involved will be handled by me as soon as I am comfortable that I know all the facts," said the April 7, 2007, e-mail, which was signed "Joe."

"This is my understanding as well," wrote Mr. Spanier in response.

Vicky Triponey, a former vice president of student affairs whose department was investigating the alleged attack by players, was copied on the correspondence between Mr. Paterno and Mr. Spanier.

She wrote back to the president, saying, "Thanks for sharing. I assume he is talking about discipline relative to TEAM rules (note: he does not say that). Obviously discipline relative to the law is up to the police and the courts, and discipline relative to violations of the student code of conduct is the responsibility of Judicial Affairs.

"This has not always been clear with Coach Paterno so we might want to clarify that and encourage him to work with us to find the truth and handle this collaboratively with the police and the university," she went on. "The challenge here is that the letter suggests that football should handle this and now Coach Paterno is also saying THEY will handle this and makes it look like the normal channels will be ignored for football players.

"Can you remind them of police and University responsibility?"

Mr. Spanier did not appear to respond in writing to those concerns. But in a May 11 letter to Coach Paterno, the president described steps he had taken to facilitate interviews for the players charged in the case. In the letter, Mr. Spanier said he had arranged for student-affairs staff to do those interviews in the Lasch football building.

"I appreciate your cooperation in this important matter," Mr. Spanier wrote to Mr. Paterno, "and I trust this comports with your understanding."

The police eventually filed criminal charges against six football players involved in the fight, and two pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal last year. Following an internal inquiry, the university suspended four players, but they did not miss any games.

Coach Paterno added his own punishment, requiring the whole team to perform 10 hours of community service and spend two hours cleaning up the stadium after every home game that fall.