“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” —Lord Acton
With the Freeh report complete, it is time to take stock of what it revealed, where it leaves us, and where do we go from here. This post will provide this Turkey’s take on the whole sordid mess. It will be long, but I hope not too boring. It is best read slowly, with a glass of your favorite libation, which is how I’m writing it.
“The Joe Paterno we thought we knew is not the Joe Paterno who participated in — or directed — the cover-up.” —TNT
I’ll start with my feelings about the whole thing. I believe that a horrible series of criminal events were perpetrated by Jerry Sandusky, and many of them were enabled by the inaction of his immediate superior, the late Joe Paterno, along with highly placed University officials, particularly President Graham Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary Schultz, and Athletic Director Tim Curley over a 16 year period. This will taint everyone’s image of the university for a long time, as well it should.
Freeh’s report concluded that the desire to avoid bad publicity caused top officials at Penn State to engage in a cover-up of Sandusky’s criminal activities. Further, these same officials not only allowed Sandusky to have access to University facilities even after they were aware of his wrongdoings, but also they gave him a fat lump sum retirement payout and emeritus status. By allowing a monster to exist in their midst with impunity and comfort, they became de facto accessories to his crimes.
The Penn State Board of Trustees was never apprised of the ongoing investigations, and after several inquiries, they were given lame excuses by Spanier as to why he couldn’t answer their questions. This is obnoxiously arrogant behavior, to say the least.
The Joe Paterno we thought we knew is not the Joe Paterno who participated in — or directed — the cover-up. He knew about the 1998 investigation, yet he lied about having that knowledge. He convinced the top administrators to not go outside the University to report the 2001 incident. Beyond that, it was made quite clear in the report that Paterno wielded power beyond that of a mere football head coach, even a head coach of a high profile Big Ten program. He was a force to be reckoned with, and even the University president deferred to him. He knew exactly what was going on, and did nothing to stop it, resulting in additional rapes and endangerment of countless children.
Before his death in January 2012, Paterno told us that with the benefit of hindsight, he wished he had done more. Bullshit! Utter and complete bullshit. It is clear that Paterno’s willful intent was to sweep the entire matter under the rug and afford Sandusky a graceful and lucrative exit — with facility and shower privileges. Detestable!
Penn State released a atatement in reaction to the report, and the board of trustees is meeting today. There will certainly be much discussion of the findings. Although it would be good to see a few trustees resign because of their failure to press the matter further, I doubt that this will happen. On the other hand, Spanier is still tenured and is on administrative leave. The matter of his continued service must be addressed by the board today. His employment should be terminated without benefits. After all, what kind of benefits did Sandusky’s victims get?
One friend of the football program, Nike, has removed Paterno’s name from its child care center. Recall that Nike’s CEO was one of Paterno’s biggest supporters in the early days of this unfolding nightmare. Nike severing ties is a portent of things to come from other sources.
In addition to findings of fault, the Freeh Report gave the University a series of recommendations for improvements in policies and procedures that would reduce the endangerment of children and would enable compliance with established reporting laws. The University responded to the report here.
Should Paterno’s statue come down?
After considerable thought, I have come to the conclusion that the statue should remain, but it should be moved to a less conspicuous place. Reader jd asserted that there are statues of Confederate heroes in a veritable plethora of southern U.S. towns and cities whose honorees represented slavery, yet they’ve been allowed to remain, perhaps as a reminder of our sordid past. Similarly, the Holocaust Museum exists so that we don’t forget the evil of which mankind is capable. I will not compare serial child sexual molestation with slave holding or genocide. That is not my point. Instead, I say that instead of living in denial that something happened here, we should memorialize it (not lionize it) for future generations to understand that good men can do bad things if allowed to accumulate too much power.
I propose that a Paterno Room be created in the All-Sports Museum, where the statue can be a centerpiece in a tableaux of Joe’s achievements as well as his egregious failures. The failures should not be minimized, but should be at the forefront for all to see — such that it can never happen again. However, Paterno’s successes are to be applauded, in spite of his criminal negligence. You can’t just erase Paterno from Penn State history, like Khrushchev did with Stalin. The 60-year gap would be a ludicrous omission.
Joe set NCAA Division I records that will not go away. He led the Penn State football program out of the cow pastures and into the big time. He molded successful men and he gave back a lot of money to benefit the University. These achievements need to be preserved along with the obvious egregious failure.
Warren G. Harding is still acknowledged as a President of the United States, as is Richard Nixon. They both had their scandals, but they had their successes, too. We need to know as much about the former as we do the latter, and vice versa. History should be neither sanitized nor embellished.
Thus, I say keep Paterno’s memory alive, for better or for worse. The “healing process” will not be aided by denial.
Great men are almost always bad men.
Should the NCAA “death penalty” be given?
Should Penn State be made to pay for its sins by shutting down its football program for a period of time? Arguments can be made on both sides of this. I happen to believe that the death penalty is not indicated here. This is not a situation by which the football team unfairly benefited. If anything, the stigma of a dishonored Joe Paterno, who is still a hero to most of the players on the team, punishes the team severely enough for a wrongdoing in which they did not participate.
NBC Sports’ Michael Ventre feels otherwise. He believes that “Now that it’s been found that Joe Paterno and Penn State covered up for Jerry Sandusky, the NCAA should kill PSU football.”
Unlike this Turkey, Ventre believes that the football team did benefit from Paterno’s activities in connection with the Sandusky cover-up.
“If the worst is true, then Paterno and other officials at Penn State covered up Sandusky’s crimes because they wanted to protect the sanctity of the football program and make sure it continued unfettered, winning games and raking in cash,” wrote Ventre.
Surely, unfettered raking in of cash was one of the objectives of the cover-up, but the fund raising that would have been jeopardized by exposure of the crimes would affect the entire university, not just the football program.
Meanwhile, Adam Jacobi, lead blogger for the Big Ten believes that there is no reason for the NCAA to impose the death penalty. “Not unless we’re willing to completely redefine not only the NCAA’s bylaws, but the entire scope of what the NCAA even oversees to begin with.”
Bob Williams, vice president of communications for the NCAA, issued the following statement:
“Like everyone else, we are reviewing the final report for the first time today. As President Emmert wrote in his November 17th letter to Penn State President Rodney Erickson and reiterated this week, the university has four key questions, concerning compliance with institutional control and ethics policies, to which it now needs to respond. Penn State’s response to the letter will inform our next steps, including whether or not to take further action. We expect Penn State’s continued cooperation in our examination of these issues.”
Penn State’s response is forthcoming, no doubt.
The rules are different here
I’ll once again mention what I’ve been saying all along in previous posts. A culture of secrecy exists in many, if not most universities, both public and private, in this country, in which potential sources of bad publicity are not allowed to escape the ivy covered walls, lest funding sources dry up. While Penn State is certainly an egregious example of what can occur when the ivory tower assumes the arrogant stance that it can make its own rules, even if they are in defiance of federal, state, and local laws, many, many other colleges and universities are guilty of similar, albeit much lesser offenses.
I don’t write this with the intent of in any way exonerating Penn State for its transgressions or even mitigating them. Instead, I believe that we need to closely examine how universities operate beneath the finely finished veneer they create for the public. No one wants bad publicity; however, universities seem particularly paranoid about negative words getting out. Once its reputation is tarnished, depending on the severity of the blemish, funding can take a big, deep hit for a long, long time.
You don’t hear about the low profile issues. They don’t involve legendary head football coaches with 61 years of tenure, high profile, deplorable crimes against humanity such as child molestation, and long term cover-ups of repeated offenses. Thus, they don’t tend to attract the attention of ambitious investigative reporters. (Sara Ganim of the Centre Daily Times and later, the Harrisburg Patriot News won a Pulitzer Prize for her reporting of the Sandusky affair.) When the typical university scandal is uncovered—if it is uncovered—it makes Page 27 of the book review section in a single paragraph with no by-line.
This huge morass should send a warning shot over the bows of other institutions who sweep their dirt under the rug. Let’s hope so, anyway. Although the typical “little” offenses such as kiting of grant funds by principal investigators or unethical sexual relations between professors and students in a position to be rewarded or penalized by the professor seem minor compared to the Sandusky episode, in the aggregate, they’re abominable nonetheless.
Let’s end this culture of “What happens in the university stays in the university.” This ain’t Las Vegas.
What Freeh found
The report cites absence of responsible leadership from the board of trustees, President Graham Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary Schultz, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and Head Football Coach Joe Paterno. Each of these administrators was in a position to have knowledge of Sandusky’s activities, and each would have been able to prevent Sandusky from continuing his predatory practices. Yet no one acted. They exhibited more concern for Sandusky than for his victims, who were not even an afterthought during the cover-up.
Curley and Schultz, represented by counsel due to the pending charges against them, asserted that they were “good people trying to do their best to make the right decisions.” This, of course, is utter and complete, unfettered, attorney filtered bullshit. They knew what their responsibilities were.
In his own defense Paterno said, “I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was. 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.” So, Joe tried to blame it on
his employees Spanier, Schultz, and Curley. Handle it, boys!
Spanier, during his interview with the Freeh committee, said that he never heard a report from anyone that Sandusky was engaged in any sexual abuse of children. He also said that if he had known or suspected that Sandusky was abusing children, he would have been the first to intervene. More bullshit! Spanier demonstrated his weakness as the titular leader of the university throughout this mess. He and Curley were firmly under Paterno’s thumb, for one thing, but at any time, he could have taken charge, demanding answers and corrective action. That never happened.
Meanwhile, Spanier stonewalled the board of trustees when he was asked about the possibility that there was criminal wrongdoing. Giving excuses such as “it wouldn’t be proper to talk while a grand jury investigation is in progress” and similar childish deflections at other points along the way, Spanier repeatedly hid facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the Board, from the public, and from the media.
The primary conclusion by the investigation was that the cover-up and the concomitant failure to protect child victims was perpetrated in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity. Additional findings included (quoted verbatim):
- A striking lack of empathy for child abuse victims by the most senior leaders of the University.
- A failure by the Board to exercise its oversight functions in 1998 and 2001 by not having regular reporting procedures or committee structures in place to ensure disclosure to the Board of major risks to the University.
- A failure by the Board to make reasonable inquiry in 2011 by not demanding details from Spanier and the General Counsel about the nature and direction of the grand jury investigation and the University’s response to the investigation.
- A President who discouraged discussion and dissent.
- A lack of awareness of child abuse issues, the Clery Act, and whistleblower policies and protections.
- A decision by Spanier, Schultz, Paterno, and Curley to allow Sandusky to retire in 1999, not as a suspected child predator, but as a valued member of the Penn State football legacy, with future “visibility” at Penn State and ways “to continue to work with young people through Penn State,” essentially granting him license to bring boys to campus facilities for “grooming” as targets for his assaults. Sandusky retained unlimited access to University facilities until November 2011.
- A football program that did not fully participate in, or opted out, of some University programs, including Clery Act compliance. Like the rest of the University, the football program staff had not been trained in their Clery Act responsibilities and most had never heard of the Clery Act.
- A culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus community.
The genesis of a cover-up, 1998
Prior to May 1998, several staff members and coaches recounted that seeing Sandusky showering with young boys was a regular occurrence, but none reported the behavior. When the shower incident of May 3, 1998 occurred, police and DPW responded and began an investigation. PSU officials including Spanier, Schultz, Curley, and Paterno were kept apprised of the investigation’s progress.
Schultz kept copious notes. His May 5, 1998 notes include the rhetorical question, “Is this the opening of Pandora’s box? Other children?” Allowing the investigation to run its course, Schultz emailed Spanier and Curley on June 9, 1998, stating, “I think the matter has been appropriately investigated and I hope it is now behind us.”
At that time, detectives interviewed Sandusky, advising him not to shower with any child. Sandusky said he wouldn’t. We know now that no charges were ever filed. We also know that no one in a position of authority at the university did another damn thing about Sandusky. Spanier, Schultz, Curley, and Paterno did not even talk with him about it, let alone taking any action to prevent recurrence of the shower episode. Furthermore, Spanier and Schultz did not report the investigation to the Board of Trustees.
And so the culture of secrecy exhibited by the behavior of these senior leaders can be held directly responsible for the assaults against young boys that took place through the years subsequent to the conclusion of the 1998 investigation.
Other assaults had occurred from 1995 through 1998. Those were obviously just the beginning.
Since the prosecutor assigned to the case and whose office decided not to prosecute Sandusky declined to be interviewed, many of the nuances behind the decision not to prosecute might never be released to the public.
Many of us have speculated about the “unusual” timing of Jerry Sandusky’s retirement, finding it difficult to justify the sudden departure of a successful defensive coordinator without something having happened behind the scenes. Naturally, some of us would like to associate it with Sandusky’s nefarious activities and perhaps with a desire by the University to shove Sandusky aside. However, Freeh could find no evidence to support this conjecture.
Instead, it finds that Sandusky was distraught after finding that Paterno had decided that he was not going to be selected to be his successor as head coach. More Paterno chutzpah! Paterno told Sandusky that he was too deeply involved with Second Mile to be head coach, to which he would have to devote full time. He could not have his cake and eat it, too.
So, Curley discussed the possibility of a step upstairs to the role of assistant athletic director, which Sandusky didn’t want.
Instead, he wanted his pension plus an additional annual amount, along with continued involvement with the university to run youth football camps and other programs involving young people. Spanier approved a one-time lump sum payment of $168,000, which was unprecedented at Penn State. While the retirement agreement was being worked out, Curley got approval to re-employ Sandusky for the 1999 season.
Sandusky was awarded “emeritus” rank along with special privileges including access to the locker room complex. Emeritus rank is typically awarded to a full professor with long tenure and significant contributions to the university upon retirement. It is a lifetime appointment that retains faculty privileges without associated responsibilities, other than to observe appropriate codes of ethics and conduct. Sandusky was of a low faculty rank that is not typically awarded emeritus status and indeed, did not meet Penn State’s requirements for the honor. Yet Spanier had promised it to Sandusky, and it was eventually awarded over the objections of the Provost and other University administrators.
In the end, Freeh found no connection between Sandusky’s retirement and the police investigation in 1998.
It still seems miiiiiiighty fishy to this Turkey, though. With all those special privileges and the huge lump sum payment, you’d think it was Sandusky who saw Spanier engaging in unlawful sexual acts.
Joe flip-flopped on McQueary
When Mike McQueary reported the 2001 shower incident, he called Paterno on a Saturday morning to tell him he needed to come to see the head coach to discuss something very important. McQueary recalled that Paterno said he did not have a job for McQueary, so “if that’s what it’s about, don’t bother coming over.” Interesting, ain’t it? McQueary wound up getting that job after all. Who knew?
I believe that we’ve all been through the McQueary story many times, so I won’t be going through all the “horsing around” stuff here.
If I make this thing any longer, I’ll drive people away in droves. AS has returned and she and I want to go out to look at tandem kayaks this afternoon, with the intent of purchasing one soon.
I sincerely appreciate all comments: pro, con, or otherwise.