At its last 2011 home football game, Penn State remembers child sex abuse victims

A candlelight vigil was held on the Penn State campus Friday night in support of the victims of child sex abuse, drawing thousands of students and alumni in advance of today's final home game for the Nittany Lions.

By , Staff writer

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    A fan carries a sign as she hands out material at Penn State's Beaver Stadium before their game with the University of Nebraska Saturday in State College, Pa. Penn State is playing for the first time in decades without former head coach Joe Paterno, after he was fired in the wake of a child sex abuse scandal involving a former assistant coach.
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(UPDATE: The Associated Press reports that capping the worst week in school history, No. 12 Penn State couldn't overcome a 17-point deficit and was stopped short on a 4th-and-1 late in a 17-14 loss Saturday to No. 19 Nebraska.)

Unrest at Penn State University over the firing of a collegiate-football icon appears to have yielded to a concern for the victims of alleged pedophile and former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, whose arrest Nov. 5 also toppled Penn State University's legendary coach Joe Paterno.

A candlelight vigil on campus Friday night in support of the victims, drawing thousands of students and alumni, and the brisk sale of blue T-shirts in advance of today's final home game for the Nittany Lions were aimed at offsetting images earlier in the week of unruly crowds torching a TV van and toppling street lamps in State College, Pa., in protest of Mr. Paterno's dismissal.

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Yet even as students strove to express their collective support for the victims, others were emphasizing the critical role individuals play in promptly reporting instances of sex abuse with children.

During halftime at Friday's "Carrier Classic" collegiate basketball game aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson at the US Navy's base at Coronado Island in San Diego Bay, President Obama noted that "it's a good time for the entire country to do some soul-searching…. You can't just rely on bureaucracy and systems in these kinds of situations. People have to step forward … we don't leave it to somebody else to take responsibility."

Even then, however, the system can break down.

The grand jury report that led to Mr. Sandusky's indictment, as well as the arrest of two university officials for failing to report to police what they had been told about one of the incidents, describes the testimony of one victim whose mother did report the incident to university police.

The encounter occurred in 1998, according to the report. At the time, the county district attorney declined to press criminal charges, the report said, while one of two State College detectives investigating the incident essentially issued a warning to Sandusky.

Today's game takes place in an atmosphere of heightened security. The university reported that it had received a bomb threat overnight involving the football stadium. Repeated checks by local police have found no explosives.

And assistant coach Mike McQueary, who testified to the grand jury that he witnessed one incident in 2002 involving Sandusky and a young boy in the showers at the university's football facility, was put on administrative leave and under protective custody Friday after receiving threats for not immediately reporting the incident to police, although a day or so later he did report the incident to Paterno.

While Penn State's team battles Nebraska on the football field Saturday, analysts who specialize in sports law are examining the potential legal battles Paterno and the university could face.

State Attorney General Linda Kelly has been quoted as saying that her team won't charge the former head coach with failing to report the allegations of child sexual abuse Mr. McQueary presented to him.

But in a blog post earlier this week at Sports Illustrated's SI.com, Michael McMann, who heads the Sports Law Institute at the University of Vermont, noted that Paterno could still be vulnerable to several other criminal charges, including perjury, obstruction of justice, or concealing evidence.

In addition, adds CBS Radio's legal-issues analyst Andrew Cohen, Paterno and the university remain vulnerable to civil suits. Because the Fifth Amendment's right to remain silent applies only to criminal cases, any civil suits that may emerge from the scandal could tell a more fulsome story than a criminal trial would about how the university handled reports of Sandusky's alleged behavior.

Paterno reportedly has retained prominent Washington, D.C., attorney Sedwick Sollers.

In a blog post for theatlantic.com, Mr. Cohen writes, "If Paterno and Penn State are sued for monetary damages, all of the relevant actors will be required to answer questions in sworn depositions and then later at trial."

Questions from attorneys during those processes, he concludes, would make any questions from the media look mild in comparison.

Donations for two child-abuse prevention organizations were being accepted at the stadium gates Saturday, the Associated Press reports, and a sign on the scoreboard let fans know how they could continue to help.

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