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Paterno Asked to Step Down

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- A leader from the women's rights group NOW has asked Joe Paterno to resign over comments the Penn State football coach made about an alleged sexual assault.



Joanne Tosti-Vasey, president of the National Organization for Women in Pennsylvania, said Sunday that she was "appalled" by Paterno's comments last week and that they represent an institutional insensitivity that endangers women.



Paterno's remarks came a day before the Orange Bowl, when a reporter asked about Florida State linebacker A.J. Nicholson, who was accused of sexual assault and sent home before Tuesday's game.



Paterno replied by talking about past suspensions of Penn State players. He then added: "There's some tough -- there's so many people gravitating to these kids. He may not have even known what he was getting into, Nicholson. They knock on the door; somebody may knock on the door; a cute girl knocks on the door. What do you do?"



"Geez. I hope -- thank God they don't knock on my door because I'd refer them to a couple of other rooms," Paterno continued. "But that's too bad. You hate to see that. I really do. You like to see a kid end up his football career. He's a heck of a football player, by the way; he's a really good football player. And it's just too bad."



Tosti-Vasey issued a news release calling for Paterno to apologize and step down from the post he has held for 40 years. She sent an e-mail to Paterno and the university president the next day, but said Sunday she has not heard back from either.



"Allegations of sexual assault should never be taken lightly," the statement reads. "Making light of sexual assault sends the message that rape is something to be expected and accepted."



Penn State spokesman Bill Mahon said Sunday that Paterno's comments were taken out of context. A spokeswoman at the NOW headquarters in Washington said the organization's president, Kim Gandy, supports the call for Paterno's resignation.



Guido D'Elia, communications director for Penn State football, said Paterno made his remarks in the larger context of distractions in the bowl-game environment. Nor, he said, did Paterno intend to make light of the assault allegations.



"I think if you were present, you understood he meant no malice," D'Elia said Saturday. "If you heard his tone, he really thought it was too bad for everybody. He was concerned for everybody."



No charges have been filed against Nicholson, although police in Florida said the matter remains open.



Tosti-Vasey said Sunday that Paterno's comments are the latest in a series of insensitive actions by the university's athletic department. The Pennsylvania NOW branch criticized the university in 2003 after a football player accused of sexual assault was allowed to play in a bowl game.



Last year, former Penn State women's basketball player Jennifer Harris started a discrimination complaint against coach Rene Portland, claiming that she was harassed by the coach to change her appearance because she was not "feminine enough."

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