Penn State Rocked by Investigation of Abuse Scandal

One of the nation’s most respected college football programs, Penn State, was rocked this year by allegations against and the eventual conviction of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky on multiple counts of sexual activity (including assault) with minors. In addition to Sandusky, two high-ranking university officials were charged with failing to report allegations of child abuse that were made against Sandusky — Timothy M. Curley, the university’s athletic director, and Gary C. Schultz, the university’s senior vice president of finance and business. Both are still awaiting trial.

In the wake of these charges, Penn State’s Board of Trustees hired former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s law firm (Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan LLP) to perform a “no one is above scrutiny” investigation of the issue. Freeh’s report was issued, and made public, today and can be found here:

The findings in the executive summary begin with this:

The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders and Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims. As the Grand Jury similarly noted in its presentment, there was no “attempt to investigate, to identify Victim 2, or to protect that child or any others from similar conduct except as related to preventing its re-occurrence on University property.”

The report further states that in addition to Curley and Shultz who were charged, University President Graham Spanier and the legendary Coach Joe Paterno also failed to protect children from a sexual predator for over a decade:

They exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims by failing to inquire of the child who Sandusky assaulted in the Lasche Building in 2001. Further, they exposed this child to additional harm by alerting Sandusky who was the only one who knew the child’s identity, of what McQueary saw in the shower on the night of February 9, 2001 [emphasis added].

Michael McQueary was a graduate assistant who in 2001 reported to Paterno that he saw Sandusky engaging in sexual activity with a boy in the coach’s shower room. Sandusky was involved in a youth program that put him in contact with boys, and it was one of these boys whom McQueary saw. Paterno told McQueary that McQueary had done what he had to do by reporting it, and to leave the handling of the incident to him.

Paterno did report to his superiors, but from then on Penn State’s reaction was a casebook example of cover-up. Curley told Sandusky not to clean up his act, not to get psychiatric help, not to turn himself in to authorities, but merely to “never bring youth into the showers.”

Why not just tell him: “We’ll rent you a motel room, but just keep your sexual assault of kids off university property?” In fact, Sandusky was taking boys to his home basement, so losing “shower room” privileges didn’t slow him down.

Why should we care about this incident? Tragically, children are sexually abused every day, and heaven knows it’s not news for college sports to be a breeding ground for illegal activity. But it is rare to see the institutional decay so clearly and at such high levels as we do in this report.

Do we believe Penn State is the only school where a university president would allow heinous crimes to continue in order to avoid bad press? Is Penn State the aberration, or the school that got caught?

Certainly, in releasing the report, the Board of Trustees took a courageous step towards pouring some bleach on the mold. And the majority of youth sports programs and the adults who lead them take their duties as guides and role models seriously.

We should note this story because it hurts us all when we realize the emperor has no clothes. It doesn’t matter if the scandal is an aberration or not — we should note it points out how close we all can be to moral failure. We should care because Penn State and the almost saintly Joe Paterno were so high in the college sports stratosphere they were almost “too big to fail.” And we should care when institutions are no longer accountable for their actions or mismanagement.

Hopefully the Freeh report will bring about some needed changes both at Penn State and in youth football as a whole. But whether it does or not, it’s a fascinating and very candid look at an institutional cover-up.

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