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Everything You Need To Know About Joe Paterno And The Penn State Abuse Scandal Before The New HBO Movie

Al Pacino plays the embatteled Penn State coach as he falls from grace and power.

By Jon Silman

It was the scandal that took down one of the winningest coaches in college football history - a "fall from grace" tale for the ages.

Joe Paterno, beloved coach of the Penn State Littany Lions from 1966 to 2011, lost his job and his legacy over his part in the actions of his assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

Now, there's a movie coming out on HBO Friday that chronicles those pivotal days before, during and after those momentous events, when the conversation centered around whether Paterno knew about the events, and what was going to happen to his job and legacy.

Oscar and Emmy winner Al Pacino plays Paterno, and nails the likeness, down to the coach's burdened gait. 

"Paterno is a film about falling apart," Pacino says in a behind the scenes video for the film. "The fall from power. There's a journey that's interesting to take for an actor, an artist. People derive identity from their work sometimes and with Joe it was who he was."

The film is a study of contrasts - the jubilation of victory, the sodden disappointment of losing a legacy, and an examination — along with the implications — of not doing enough to correct the wrongs hovering around you.

"Levinson’s film isn’t merely a condemnation of complicit inaction," writes Ben Travers from Indiewire. "but also of our instinctual reactions to fallen heroes. That makes it timely, while the filmmaking makes it intense."

Curious to know what really happened? Here’s our refresher:

The Shower Incident

On March 2, 2002, a graduate assistant named Mike McQueary went to Paterno and told him he saw former assistant coach (1969 to 1999) Jerry Sandusky sexually abusing a 10-year-old boy in the Lasch Building Showers, according to CNN. Paterno reported the incident to then athletic director Tim Curley. McQueary met with Curley and another man named Gary Schultz and told them he saw Sandusky sodomizing the boy. Later, the men testify that they were not told of any such allegation. No law enforcement investigation was launched.

The Sentencing

Sandusky, 74, is effectively serving a life sentence after he was convicted June 22, 2012 of 45 counts of sexual abuse. He groomed his victims through a children's charity he founded in 1977 called the Second Mile. The charity started as a group foster home for troubled boys, CNN reported, but grew into a robust non-profit organization that "helps young people to achieve their potential as individuals and community members." At one point it was providing services to more than 100,000 kids all over Pennsylvania.

When It Started

The chronicled abuse started in 1994, when Sandusky allegedly engaged in unsavory activities with boys as young as 7. In 1998, he admits to showering naked with a boy and says it was wrong and he'd never do it again. No charges were filed. In 2000, he allegedly showers naked with a boy again and tries to get the boy to touch his genitals, according to the testimony of the now older man during Sandusky’s trial in 2011.

Also in 2000, a janitor tells his supervisor he saw Sandusky abusing a boy in the Lasch Building Showers. No one reports the incident. The allegations come to a climax when Sandusky befriends a boy from the Second Mile charity and performs oral sex on him more than 20 times, and showers the boy with gifts and trips to football games. The boy's allegations form the basis of the ensuing investigation, CNN reported.

Paterno’s Involvement

For Paterno, it was a question of whether he knew about the abuse and didn't do anything about it. 

On Oct. 29, 2011, Paterno became the all time winningest Division 1 coach, with 409 victories. On Nov. 9 of that same year, just a few days after Sandusky was indicted and arrested, Paterno was fired by the university's board of trustees. They cited the failure to go to police after the allegation of child abuse in 2002, according to the San Antonio Express-News. On Nov. 18, it was revealed the Paterno was fighting lung cancer. He died on January 22, 2012 of complications from the disease, just two months after he was fired.

The Washington Post interviewed Paterno shortly before his death, and asked him why he didn't do more about the allegations. How could Sandusky have evaded detection for so long?

“I wish I knew,” Paterno told the paper. “I don’t know the answer to that. It’s hard.” 

He was also asked why he didn't follow up on the 2002 incident more aggressively.

“I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was,” he told the Post. “So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”

[Photo: HBO]