The Chronicle of Higher Education is once again in possession of an email exchange between the late Penn State head football coach, Joe Paterno, and the deposed university president, Graham Spanier. This one is from 2007, and its subject was an off-campus fight involving as many as two dozen football players beating up non-player students.
“…Coach Paterno is also saying THEY will handle this and makes it look like the normal channels will be ignored for football players.” —Vicky Triponey, Penn State Vice President, Student Affairs, April 2007
Although this particular correspondence trail doesn’t have anything at all to do with the Sandusky scandal, it hits at a point that this Turkey, among many others, has been trying to assert: the culture of omerta is alive and well at Penn State and its capo di tutti capi was Joseph V. Paterno.
Where the football program was involved, Joe was intergalactic emperor, holding sway even over the upper reaches of the ivory tower. His titular boss, AD Tim Curley, essentially Joe’s sycophant, and Tim’s boss, president Graham Spanier, seemed to allow Joe to have his way whenever push came to shove. Well, that’s the way it seemed to the outside world. Inside, it was no secret that Joe ran the program with an iron hand and didn’t appreciate incursions by meddling officials — even the State College and University police departments.
Whoever is leaking these emails wants to prove that point badly. In June, previously leaked emails had Curley changing his mind about a plan that VP Gary Schultz and he had concocted after Curley subsequently had a conversation with Joe. Spanier, who had previously given the original plan his stamp of approval, went along with the change, which kept the matter internal, presumably in violation of Pennsylvania reporting laws.
Paterno’s family pooh-poohed his assumed involvement in the aforementioned decision. One of the reasons given was that Mr. Paterno did not use email. Although that seems ludicrous, the conversation referred to by Curley was not via email. Furthermore, the new revelations by the Chronicle include an email sent at Paterno’s behest, albeit by his secretary.
There is a lot of resistance among alumni and stalwart fans to the notion that Paterno had power to trump higher-ups, even though just about everyone is aware of the failed attempt by Spanier and Curley to fire the coach in 2004. I think they’re in denial. This Turkey believes that for many years, Joe Paterno was the most powerful man on campus, and possibly in the whole of State College.
Let’s take a look at the 2007 email exchange about the “Ruckus at the Meridian”. In the aftermath of the incident, Paterno addressed an email to Graham B. Spanier and “Tim” (presumably Curley) via an email account used by Paterno’s assistant, Sandi Segursky:
“I want to make sure everyone understands that the discipline of the players involved will be handled by me as soon as I am comfortable that I know all the facts,” said the April 7, 2007, e-mail, which was signed “Joe.”
“This is my understanding as well,” wrote Mr. Spanier in response.
Vicky Triponey, vice president of student affairs at the time, was copied on the correspondence. Judicial Affairs, responsible for meting out punishment to students in violation of the student code of conduct, was the bailiwick of Ms. Triponey, who wrote the following to Spanier:
“Thanks for sharing. I assume he is talking about discipline relative to TEAM rules (note: he does not say that). Obviously discipline relative to the law is up to the police and the courts, and discipline relative to violations of the student code of conduct is the responsibility of Judicial Affairs.
“This has not always been clear with Coach Paterno so we might want to clarify that and encourage him to work with us to find the truth and handle this collaboratively with the police and the university,” she went on. “The challenge here is that the letter suggests that football should handle this and now Coach Paterno is also saying THEY will handle this and makes it look like the normal channels will be ignored for football players.
“Can you remind them of police and University responsibility?”
Do you note a bit of an edge in Triponey’s tone? She had been through this with Paterno more than once, and was basically tired of having her toes stepped on by the football coach. (Triponey later resigned, citing “philosophical differences”.)
There is no evidence of a return email from Spanier; however, he sent a letter on May 11 to Paterno, stating that players charged in the case would be interviewed by student affairs staff.
“I appreciate your cooperation in this important matter,” Mr. Spanier wrote to Mr. Paterno, “and I trust this comports with your understanding.”
Spanier appears to have been uncomfortable in his role of peacemaker between Paterno and Triponey.
The record shows that police filed charges against six players involved in the ruckus. Two pleaded guilty to misdemeanors. Internally, the university suspended four players, but they did not lose any playing time.
For show, Paterno had the whole team perform 10 hours of community service and also sentenced them to cleaning up the stadium after every home game. That lasted about two games, as this Turkey recalls, before Joe said they had learned their lesson and that was that.
So, back to the point. Joe was in charge. No doubt about that. Curley and Spanier were weak. No doubt about that. But who is it who so desperately wants to rub our noses in it? The Chronicle states only that the documents were acquired from “a source close to the Jerry Sandusky investigation…”.
Who would gain by creating all this folderol? Vicky Triponey? Maybe, if she were the vindictive type. Or Godknowswho, if this is just a fine red herring designed to channel attention away from somewhere else, such as The Second Mile. I’m not making an accusation. I’m just sayin’…