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A child allegedly told Joe Paterno about sex abuse by Jerry Sandusky in 1976

FILE — In this Aug. 6, 1999, file photo, Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, right, poses with his defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky during NCAA college football media Day at State College, Pa. CREDIT: PAUL VATHIS, AP
FILE — In this Aug. 6, 1999, file photo, Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, right, poses with his defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky during NCAA college football media Day at State College, Pa. CREDIT: PAUL VATHIS, AP

The Penn State cover-up of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s serial molestation of children might have begun far earlier than previously thought.

According to an order by Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Gary Glazer, “in 1976, a child allegedly reported to PSU’s Head Coach Joseph Paterno that he (the child) was sexually molested by Sandusky,” and Paterno “apparently neglected to inform” a supervisor. The order also says that other unnamed assistant coaches at Penn State witnessed “inappropriate contact between Sandusky and unidentified children” in 1987 and 1988.

Sandusky worked as an assistant under Paterno from 1969 to 1999. Even after his retirement, Sandusky remained close to the Penn State football program, maintaining an office there where he ran his Second Mile Foundation, a nonprofit he founded in 1977 to serve at-risk youth in Pennsylvania.

In 2011, Sandusky was arrested and charged with 52 counts of sexual abuse of young boys from 1994 to 2009. In 2012, he was convicted on 45 counts of sexual abuse, and was sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison.

Penn State students rally for Paterno in 2015. CREDIT: Gene J. Puskar, AP
Penn State students rally for Paterno in 2015. CREDIT: Gene J. Puskar, AP

Paterno’s knowledge of Sandusky’s crimes has been a hotly debated topic since the scandal broke five years ago. The coaching legend was fired in 2011, and in 2012, an investigation conducted by former FBI director Louis Freeh concluded that Paterno had been aware of Sandusky’s abuse of young boys and concealed it. He also allegedly used his influence to stop Penn State officials from reporting Sandusky to authorities in 2001.

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But many in the Penn State community still passionately support Paterno, who died from lung cancer complications in early 2012, and believe that he was not aware of Sandusky’s crimes. Last year there was a huge rally in support of Paterno after the NCAA made a settlement deal with the university and reversed its decision to vacate 112 of his wins in the wake of the Freeh report, thus restoring Paterno’s place as the winningest football coach in NCAA history.

Last month, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump professed his support for the coach at a campaign rally in Pittsburgh — which is 140 miles from State College, where Penn State is located, and the home to Penn State’s rival — saying, “How’s Joe Paterno? We’re gonna bring that back? Right? How about that whole deal?”

Initially reporters and onlookers believed that Trump may have forgotten that Paterno had died four years ago, but his campaign later confirmed that he was merely showing his support for bringing back Paterno’s statue outside of the football stadium, which was removed in the wake of the scandal.

This wasn’t merely a case of pandering to voters, though. Trump has relentlessly supported Paterno throughout the scandal, clearly viewing him as a victim in the aftermath rather than a part of the cover-up.

This new information — that Paterno could have known about allegations that Sandusky was a child molester 40 years ago — came out as part of an insurance case for Penn State, which hopes to be reimbursed for the majority of the $60 million it has paid in civil claims in the past few years related to Sandusky’s abuse.

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According to Michael McCann of Sports Illustrated, the case hinges on whether or not Penn State officers, trustees or shareholders — a category that excludes Paterno — knew of Sandusky’s conduct. The judge ultimately decided that while Paterno was told in 1976 and other assistants witnessed inappropriate behavior in the late ’80s, the officers, trustees and shareholders were not aware.

The information that Paterno was told about Sandusky back in ’76 came from a sworn testimony from a deposition of one of Sandusky’s victims. That file is sealed, though Paterno supporters are reportedly trying to get the judge to release more context.

The Paterno family’s attorney has released a statement dismissing the claim.

“Over the past four-and-a-half years Joe Paterno’s conduct has been scrutinized by an endless list of investigators and attorneys,” the Paterno family’s attorney, Wick Sollers, said in a statement.

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“Through all of this review there has never been any evidence of inappropriate conduct by Coach Paterno. To the contrary, the evidence clearly shows he shared information with his superiors as appropriate.

“An allegation now about an alleged event 40 years ago, as represented by a single line in a court document regarding an insurance issue, with no corroborating evidence, does not change the facts. Joe Paterno did not, at any time, cover up conduct by Jerry Sandusky.”