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CBSSports.com Senior College Football Columnist

Biggest question in Happy Valley: Who watched out for the kids?


Mike McQueary (left) reportedly told Paterno about the locker room incident involving Sandusky in 2002. (AP)  
Mike McQueary (left) reportedly told Paterno about the locker room incident involving Sandusky in 2002. (AP)  

When? When should Joe Paterno have gone above his athletic director? That's the question the legal community and college football fans and media try to wrap their heads around in assessing the despicable allegations coming out of Happy Valley.

But for eight young adults, their question would have been far more urgent and desperate as Jerry Sandusky allegedly robbed them of their innocence, one by one: When is somebody going to put an end to this?

On Sunday, Paterno issued a 265-word statement that attempted to offer perspective in the wake of a sexual abuse scandal that is gutting Penn State. The most troubling part of the statement, crafted by Paterno and his son, Scott, an attorney, is this line: "I understand that people are upset and angry, but let’s be fair and let the legal process unfold."

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Here's the problem: The legal process doesn't seem as if it ever had much chance to unfold almost 10 years ago. It could've. It should've. But it didn't. And how many more children became victims in the years after that Saturday morning in 2002 when Paterno, the most powerful man in Happy Valley, first was informed that Sandusky, a former assistant, a man in his late 50s, was caught in a shower on a Friday night inside the Nittany Lions football offices with a young boy?

Truth be told, Paterno's statement did provide a perspective. Just as Penn State president Graham Spanier did some 24 hours earlier when he issued his statement saying that the university's athletic director and a school VP, who had been charged with perjury as it related to the investigation, have his "unconditional support."

This may be a story involving people in athletics, but at the same time, it is also much bigger than just a sports story -- powerful men in positions of leadership standing together while no one seems to be looking out for all the children who became victims over the past decade.

On Friday, Sandusky, the 67-year-old famed architect of the Penn State defense under Paterno, was indicted on 40 charges of sex crimes against boys. Saturday, the attorney general's office charged athletic director Tim Curley and vice president for business and finance Gary Schultz with perjury and failure to report a crime as it related to the Sandusky investigation.

What is alleged to have happened in Happy Valley is potentially much more damning and disgraceful than any story we've seen linked to college football in decades. Those other "scandals" involving free tattoos and junkets to vacation spots are mild compared to what is alleged to have been done to these boys.

Those charged are innocent until proven guilty, but the charges are extremely serious. Curley and Schultz stepped down late Sunday night amid the allegations of the scandal and coverup. Both appeared in court Monday, and bail was set at $75,000.

Anyone who has read even parts of the grand jury presentment will come away from it nauseous. You also have a proud, powerhouse program at the center of it, led by its iconic 84-year-old head man, a legendary figure whose reputation was built on doing things the right way.

Some of the allegations in the presentment:

 That on a Saturday morning in March 2002, a Penn State graduate assistant, identified by the Harrisburg Patriot-News as Mike McQueary, visited the home of his boss, Joe Paterno. The night before McQueary had entered the Lasch Football Building on the Penn State campus and was startled to hear the "sounds of sexual activity." According to a 23-page grand jury presentment, he told Paterno he'd witnessed Sandusky in a university locker room shower, having sex with a boy.

 The day after McQueary visited Paterno at his home, the Penn State coach reported the conversation to his athletic director, Curley.

 Curley, a former walk-on football player for Paterno in the early '70s, did not alert the police about what McQueary had described. Curley testified that he was not told about anything of a sexual nature, terming the former coach's conduct as "horsing around."

 McQueary, a current Nittany Lions assistant, was never questioned by university police, and no other entity conducted an investigation until he testified in grand jury in December 2010, more than eight years after he witnessed the incident in the showers that Friday night. Curley and Schultz did inform Sandusky that he was banned from bringing any children from the charitable organization he had founded over to the football building.

 In all, the charges involve sexual assaults or inappropriate behavior on eight boys from 1994 to 2009, according to the Pennsylvania Attorney General. All of the alleged victims had met Sandusky through the Second Mile program, his foundation that held camps on the Penn State campus.

The allegations detail a gruesome series of events where numerous children were victimized. The number, which may have included as many as eight young boys but could possibly include many more -- research tells us victims of these kinds of crimes often are too scarred, too embarrassed, too devastated to ever come forward. And how many of those children perhaps became victims in the weeks and years after McQueary first told what he had witnessed to Joe Paterno.

That last question is one that no doubt makes many around Happy Valley cringe. Or it should.

Beyond that come more uncomfortable questions considering the severity of the circumstances: Knowing what McQueary said he witnessed, and the fact that Sandusky was still around in the community, associating with young boys, should Paterno have been troubled enough to contact a child-abuse hotline? Should McQueary, 28 at the time, have done that?

Right now, the things the leaders at Penn State have done and said only have raised many more questions. Such as this, also from Paterno's statement: "In the meantime I would ask all Penn Staters to continue to trust in what that name represents, continue to pursue their lives every day with high ideals and not let these events shake their beliefs nor who they are."

Trust, Coach? High ideals? What ideals are those?

During a news conference Monday detailing the alleged crimes, Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan, previously the chief of investigations at the attorney general's office, called it, "a case about children who have had their innocence stolen from them and a culture that did nothing to stop it or prevent it from happening to others."

"I don't think I've ever seen something like that before."

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for CBSSports.com and college football commentator for CBS Sports Network. He is a New York Times Bestselling author, who has written books including Swing Your Sword, Meat Market and Cane Mutiny. Prior to joining CBS, Feldman spent 17 years at ESPN.

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