Penn State tries to pick up pieces in abuse fallout

By Ian Simpson and Ernest Scheyder

STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Penn State University struggled to stem the damage on Thursday from a sex abuse scandal that ended the 46-year career of football coach Joe Paterno, one of the most revered U.S. sports figures.

Paterno, 84, was fired late on Wednesday after it was revealed he was told in 2002 that his former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky engaged in allegedly sexually inappropriate behavior with a young boy in a campus locker room. While Paterno told his boss, he did not call the police.

NBC News, citing sources, reported on Thursday night that Paterno had hired prominent Washington criminal defense lawyer J. Sedgwick Sollers. Paterno has not been charged with any crimes in the Sandusky case.

A spokesman for Sollers' firm, King and Spalding, could not confirm the report. But Scott Paterno, one of Paterno's sons, tweeted: "No lawyer has been retained."

Separately, the university's athletic department said that Mike McQueary, one of the football team's coaches and a central figure in the sex abuse scandal, would not take part in Saturday's game against the University of Nebraska. It cited "multiple threats" against him.

McQueary was a graduate assistant in 2002 when he saw Sandusky allegedly raping a young boy in the locker room showers. He reported the incident to his supervisors, including Paterno, but not to the police.

Sandusky was charged on Saturday with sexually abusing eight young boys over more than a decade and former Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and former finance official Gary Schultz, were charged with failing to report an incident.

Sandusky, Curley and Schultz have all denied the charges.

Along with Paterno, Penn State University President Graham Spanier was also fired on Wednesday after 16 years in the job.

In a statement hours before he was sacked on Wednesday, Paterno announced he would resign and said, "With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

He met his legal obligation by reporting the abuse allegation to Curley, legal experts said.

But he stands accused of moral failings for not calling police.

Paterno's fall from grace, weeks after becoming the winningest all-time coach in major U.S. college football, is taking various forms.

On Thursday, Pennsylvania's two U.S. senators, Republican Pat Toomey and Democratic Bob Casey, reversed their nomination for Paterno to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- the nation's highest civilian honor.

"We hope the proper authorities will move forward with their investigation without delay," Toomey and Casey said in a joint statement.

Penn State's board of trustees will meet on Friday to appoint a special committee to investigate the events that lead up to the charges against Sandusky outlined by a grand jury. A press briefing is expected in the afternoon.

A ninth possible victim, now in his 20s, has since come forward and Pennsylvania police have set up a telephone hotline to receive information about the sexual abuse allegations.

"I'm still a big Penn State fan, but I wholeheartedly agree with the firing," said Paul Brosky, 40, of Horsham, Pennsylvania, wearing a Penn State shirt. He said Paterno should have reported the incident once he saw nothing was being done.

The interim university president, Rodney Erickson, said on Thursday there would be a full investigation "to determine what failures occurred, who is responsible, and what measures are necessary to insure that this never happens at our University again and that those responsible are held fully accountable."

The scandal has rocked the sprawling campus of about 45,000 students in State College, the flagship of about two dozen Penn State campuses across the state.


Severin Laskowski, 19, who works in a local restaurant, worried about Saturday's final home game against Nebraska.

"It will probably be pretty violent. I think there will be another riot," Laskowski said. "I think a lot of people feel really bad and others are pissed off."

State College Police Department Captain John Gardner said he planned to have every available officer working the game and warned students not to take to the streets, describing the crowds who protested on Wednesday evening as a "riotous mob."

"If you truly support Coach Joe or Penn State, this is not the way," Gardner told a news conference. "Stay off the street. The behavior of last night will not be tolerated."

Many intend to show solidarity on Saturday with the victims of the alleged abuse. Fans have been urged to wear blue to the game -- the color associated with a "stop child abuse" campaign -- rather than traditional white.

Corbett, an ex-officio member of Penn State's board who was state attorney general when authorities started to investigate Sandusky, said he supported the firing of Paterno and Spanier.

"When it comes to the safety of children, there can be no margin of error," Corbett told a news conference. He said he was "disappointed" in the two men for their lack of oversight.

College football is hugely popular in the United States, drawing massive television audiences every Saturday in the late summer and autumn and filling huge stadiums. Penn State's Beaver Stadium, which seats about 106,000, is one of the largest.

Sports experts said Penn State's football program would struggle since potential players now had to decide if they wanted to play for a school clouded by scandal and without their famed coach, who was known for pushing students to be the best they could be on the playing field and in the classroom.

"I think the fallout on recruiting and the team will be extremely long-lived. Joe Paterno is Penn State football," said Josh Helmholdt, Midwest football recruiting analyst at "Other schools are already trying to phone Penn State's recruits."

Teams generate million of dollars in revenue and successful ones raise the profile of their universities. Questions have been raised whether the controversy could harm the university's $2 billion capital campaign.

The university urged donors not to reconsider pledges and assured supporters no funds or philanthropic resources would be used for legal expenses for the university employees charged. (Additional reporting by Edith Honan in State College, Mark Shade in Harrisburg, Ros Krasny in Boston and Dave Warner in Philadelphia; Writing by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Mark Egan, Vicki Allen, Peter Cooney and Paul Simao)