That’s why I’m writing this column. From my on-line conversations with some other people, I know it won’t be popular. I’m going to write it anyway.
What happened at Penn State is an absolute disgrace. There’s no question that university officials should have reported the 2001 case to both the police and the Department of Public Welfare (DPW).
The report by former FBI director Louis Freeh’s firm also leaves little doubt that the culture at Penn State did not encourage reporting crimes of sexual abuse. Janitors who witnessed Jerry Sandusky with young boys were afraid to report it because they thought they’d lose their jobs. Mike McQueary, then a graduate assistant coach, had to think about what to do after witnessing the infamous incident involving Sandusky and a boy in the shower in February of 2001. He told Paterno about it the next morning. Penn State president Graham Spanier did not inform the Board of Trustees about the Sandusky incidents in 1998 or 2001, although his motives may be different than those of McQueary or the janitors.
The Freeh report also makes it clear that Sandusky was allowed to continue his sexual exploitation of young boys because a failure of leadership existed at Penn State. That failure involved Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley, vice president of business and finance Gary Schultz and, yes, Paterno.
Freeh’s report confirmed my initial reaction in the wake of the Sandusky charges last November was that Curley and Schultz were in dire straits for not reporting the February 2001 incident to the police and DPW. I thought Spanier’s statement of “unconditional support” for Curley and Schultz would cost him his job, and it did.
Spanier will be fortunate if he does not eventually face criminal charges, just as Curley and Schultz do now. The Freeh report has numerous emails and meeting notes indicating that Curley, Schultz and Spanier made a conscious decision not to report Sandusky’s activities to the police and DPW.
Equally as disturbing is that they notified the Second Mile charity that Sandusky was not to bring boys on campus any longer. The message seemed to be that the university didn’t want the possibility of Sandusky molesting minors in their facilities. The message should have been that the university wouldn’t stand for Sandusky molesting minors anywhere!
But PhillyPhanatics.com is a sports Web site. As we’ve seen on sports Web sites and television stations, few people seem to care about Spanier, Schultz and Curley. The only name most people seem to care about is Paterno.
The truth is that, compared to Spanier, Schultz and Curley, there is relatively little about Paterno in the Freeh report. Paterno is most prominently mentioned when grouped in with the other three when Freeh speaks about failure of leadership. I believe Freeh intentionally doesn’t distinguish between the individuals because, as is evident in his report, he views the problem as a failure of collective leadership at Penn State, not of one individual.
When it comes to evidence against individuals, however, there isn’t nearly as much solid evidence against Paterno as the other three. I’ve read the report. I read the first 130 pages, which deal with the charges rather than recommendations for the future, very carefully. The following summarizes the evidence against Paterno.
The evidence, consisting mostly emails by Schultz and Curley, shows that Paterno was aware of the 1998 allegations against Sandusky. This is damaging because Paterno, if he didn’t quite outright deny it, certainly implied to the grand jury that he was only vaguely aware of the 1998 investigation into Sandusky’s conduct in the shower with an 11-year-old boy.
There is not, however, any evidence that Paterno or anyone else behaved inappropriately in 1998. The Freeh Report concludes that the case was turned over promptly to the police and DPW. The accusation, which expanded to an allegation of similar activity with another boy, was investigated. No charges were filed.
Due to the suspicious disappearance of district attorney Ray Gricar, all sorts of conspiracy theories about the 1998 incident exist. But one of the main reasons there was a decision not to press charges was the conclusion of a psychologist from Centre County Youth Services that nothing of a sexual nature took place and that Sandusky “does not fit the profile of a pedophile.”
Columnists have harped on the 1998 case as part of a cover-up, but the only cover-up was that Spanier failed to notify the Board of Trustees (although it seems difficult to believe that at least a few of them weren’t aware of a police investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct by the football team’s defensive coordinator). Everything else was apparently done by the book.
Far more damaging to Paterno are the details concerning the response to the incident in February of 2001. When McQueary came to Paterno on a Saturday morning and told him what he witnessed – McQueary testified that he did not provide graphic details or tell Paterno in involved some type of intercourse, but said he thought Sandusky’s behavior was “way over the line” – Paterno waited until the next day to inform Curley.
The report also concludes that Schultz, Curley and Spanier changed course after Curley spoke with Paterno again two weeks later. This conclusion is based on an email from Curley to Spanier and Schultz that reads, “After giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe yesterday, I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps. I am having trouble with going to everyone but the person involved.”
The Freeh report cites the conversation with Paterno as the only intervening act, so it concludes that the conversation with Paterno is what must have caused the decision not to report the allegation to the police and DPW.
I have several problems with this conclusion. First, we don’t know the content of Curley’s conversation with Paterno, either from Curley or Paterno. Second, the conclusion requires inferences that are not necessarily supported by facts.
Based on emails cited in the Freeh Report, Schultz, Spanier and Curley discussed the option of not reporting the February 2001 accusation to the DPW “unless he (Sandusky) confesses to having a problem” two weeks before the “intervening” conversation between Curley and Paterno took place. Second, on the date on which the three administrators supposedly agreed on three steps, including contacting DPW, Spanier testified before the grand jury that Schultz wasn’t at that meeting and there wasn’t any mention of the Department of Public Welfare. Third, Curley’s email indicates that Paterno believes they should contact Sandusky, not that they shouldn’t contact the police or DPW.
The inferences required to conclude that Paterno’s conversation with Curley caused the decision not to contact DPW would be torn apart by even a second-rate defense attorney.
We must also remember that Freeh’s report is similar to a prosecutor’s case. We haven’t heard from the defense.
Because they are facing criminal charges, Curley and Schultz did not cooperate with the investigation. Paterno died before he could answer questions, although the authors of the report wrote, “We believe that he was willing to speak with us and would have done so, but for his serious, deteriorating health. We were able to review and evaluate his grand jury testimony, his public statements, and notes and papers from his files that were provided to us by his attorney.”
Perhaps Paterno would have presented a different narrative of the events in question. Perhaps he could have told investigators specifically what he and Curley spoke about. We’ll never know.
My purpose here is not to absolve Paterno of responsibility and blame. His behavior in the Sandusky case is shameful.
Paterno certainly knew more about the 1998 incident than he indicated to the grand jury. Although, according to the Freeh Report, there was no wrongdoing in the handling of the 1998 incident, Paterno’s knowledge of this incident should have provoked a more urgent and serious response when McQueary told him of the 2001 incident.
Paterno shares full responsibility for what Freeh described as “the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders of Penn State University for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims.” Regardless of one’s interpretation of the meaning of the 2001 emails and meeting notes, there is no denying that nobody made an effort to figure out who the boy was – we still don’t know – and inquire about his welfare.
The focus of the senior leadership, including Paterno, was on how Sandusky should be handled. There wasn’t any concern expressed for the victim. That is beyond shameful.
For his actions and inaction in the Sandusky case, Paterno’s formerly stellar reputation is forever tarnished. This isn’t the first time Paterno has been publicly criticized. But it is, by far, the worst.
As I wrote at the beginning of this column, Paterno believed in doing what is right instead of what is popular. When Penn State quarterback Rashard Casey was charged with assault after a fight involving an off-duty police officer outside a Hoboken, N.J., bar, Paterno was vilified for not suspending Casey for his senior season. The charges were later dismissed. In fact, Casey received a settlement from the Hoboken Police Department. Paterno did what was right, not what was popular.
When defensive back Anwar Phillips was accused of sexual assault, Paterno let him play in a bowl game. He was criticized not only by the media, but by Spanier. The following August (2003), it took the jury less than an hour to decide Phillips was not guilty. Allowing Phillips to play was not popular, but, based on Paterno’s conversations with Phillips, he believed it was the right thing to do.
These anecdotes illustrate why it is so difficult to believe that Paterno didn’t do the right thing in the wake of the 2001 allegation against Sandusky. It is why, after the charges were made public last November, Paterno said he wished he had done more.
Paterno died knowing that his inaction had allowed a sexual predator to continue to abuse young men, both on Penn State’s campus and in Sandusky’s own home. In hindsight, that knowledge may have been what hastened his death due to lung cancer, not being fired.
Even if you don’t believe Paterno actively covered up Sandusky’s activities, his failure to follow up, citing his legal obligation to report it to his superiors while failing for fulfill his moral obligations, is inexcusable.
After reading the Freeh Report, I have changed my opinion about something I wrote last year. Paterno should have resigned when Sandusky was charged. Actually, Paterno should have resigned as soon as he became aware that Sandusky was accused of molesting and raping other boys.
But the accusations against Paterno have gone far beyond what is in the Freeh Report. He was not a monster, as some have written. He was a flawed man – more flawed than any of us imagined.
I still don’t believe Paterno knew Sandusky continued to molest and rape young men. I’m still not convinced that Paterno actively participated in a cover-up of the February 2001 allegation.
Even offering a partial defense of Paterno, however, is not very popular these days. But, after reading both the Freeh Report and the vociferous attacks in numerous columns, I believe it is the right thing to do.