The news from the Penn State football program is as horrible a story as we have heard in college athletics, and that is truly saying something. For a scandal to stand out against the NCAA’s miasma of academic, financial, and sex scandals, it must be truly beyond the pale, and the news handed down in State College, Pa., on Saturday truly was. Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant coach who had maintained offices at the university even after retiring in 1999, was indicted on 40 counts of criminal sexual abuse of eight minors, all under the age of 16, at least one as young as eight. He had been investigated in 1999, the year he — perhaps not coincidentally — decided to leave coaching, but no charges were filed against him at that time. An investigation only began in earnest in 2009, leading to his indictment Saturday.
That would be awful, truly awful. But it would not, perhaps, have reflected poorly on Penn State; had they not known about Sandusky’s actions, or better, had they known and done something, the sins would be his and his alone.
But Penn State did know about the allegations against Sandusky. Indeed, one of the acts of abuse took place in 2002, in the Penn State locker room, and was witnessed by a graduate assistant:
At approximately 9:30 p.m. on March 1, 2002, a Penn State graduate assistant entered what should have been an empty football locker room. He was surprised to hear the showers running and noises he thought sounded like sexual activity, according to a Pennsylvania grand jury “finding of fact” released Saturday.
When he looked in the shower he saw what he estimated to be a 10-year-old boy, hands pressed up against the wall, “being subjected to anal intercourse,” by Jerry Sandusky, then 58 and Penn State’s former defensive coordinator. The grad assistant said both the boy and the coach saw him before he fled to his office where, distraught and stunned, the grad assistant telephoned his father, who instructed his son to flee the building.
The next day, a Saturday, the grad assistant went to the home of head coach Joe Paterno and told him what he had seen. The day after that, Paterno called Penn State athletic director Tim Curley to his home to report that the grad assistant had told him he had witnessed “Jerry Sandusky in the Lasch Building showers fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy.”
A week-and-a-half later, according to the grand jury report, the grad assistant was called to a meeting with Curley and Gary Schultz, the school’s senior vice president for finance and business, where he retold his story.
This would be beyond disturbing news, but the actions that Curley and Schultz (and, probably, Paterno) were to take were clear. Penn State is a school, and officials at schools are mandated reporters. They have to report incidents of possible child abuse to the appropriate authorities.
They did not.
Curley did not notify university police or have the graduate assistant further questioned involving the incident. No other legal or university entity investigated the case.
Merely alerting police would’ve been significant since they investigated Sandusky in 1998 for “incidents with children in football building showers.” Curley never asked for a background check on Sandusky.
Curley instead took it upon himself to inform the director of “Second Mile” about the charge, although it didn’t concern potential sodomy of a minor.
Curley told the grand jury he was merely told that Sandusky was “horsing around” with the boy. The grand jury did not find that credible in part because Schultz said he had gotten the impression “Sandusky might have inappropriately grabbed the young boys’ genitals while wrestling around.” Both Curley and Schultz are charged with perjury for claiming the grad assistant didn’t inform them of “sexual activity.”
Curley later met with Sandusky and told him he was no longer allowed to bring children onto the Penn State campus. He forwarded the report on to university president Graham Spanier, who approved of Sandusky’s ban from bringing children onto campus and himself never reported the incident to police.
And so Jerry Sandusky was truly punished. He couldn’t rape kids on Penn State’s campus any more. He’d have to rape them somewhere else.
Sandusky was not reported to authorities. He himself was not banned from campus. The school didn’t even have the decency to try to find the identity of the child.
You can’t tell me that Curley and Schmidt were clueless, either. Even the cover story — that Sandusky was showering nude with a 10-year-old, alone, and that they were “horsing around” — rings so many alarm bells that it’s sickening. That alone would warrant an investigation. That alone would warrant serious questions. That alone would be wandering up to the line of criminality, if not crossing it clearly. It certainly would cause anyone who cared more about kids than their program’s reputation to call the police and suggest that they look into the matter.
But Curley and Schmidt actively swept the incident under the rug. And for that, and for lying to a grand jury, they’ve ended up indicted on two felonies each. Joe Paterno, the eternally-tenured coach of the Nittany Lions, managed to avoid criminal prosecution, because he at least reported the incident to Curley. But given that Curley works for Paterno as much as Paterno works for Curley, it’s hard to say that Paterno walks away from the incident with his reputation intact. Nothing prevented him from calling the cops himself.
No, Curley, Schmidt, and Paterno all chose to put the Penn State football program above abused kids, to let things die quietly — and to let Sandusky keep abusing kids — in order to keep things out of the media.
And the school is still trying to pretend that it didn’t fail on a massive scale. Even with two of his subordinates indicted, and amid allegations of a child rape occurring on his campus, Penn State University President Graham Spanier issued a statement that truly defies any standard of decency. I’m reprinting it in its entirety, because it must be read in full for its callousness to be understood:
The allegations about a former coach are troubling, and it is appropriate that they be investigated thoroughly. Protecting children requires the utmost vigilance.
With regard to the other presentments, I wish to say that Tim Curley and Gary Schultz have my unconditional support. I have known and worked daily with Tim and Gary for more than 16 years. I have complete confidence in how they have handled the allegations about a former University employee.
Tim Curley and Gary Schultz operate at the highest levels of honesty, integrity and compassion. I am confident the record will show that these charges are groundless and that they conducted themselves professionally and appropriately.
This is sickening. First, note what Spanier doesn’t express: any shred of concern for Sandusky’s victims. Second, Spanier somehow manages to claim that Curley and Schultz possess “the highest levels of honesty, integrity, and compassion.” But by their own admission, they chose not to report what was at best a very troubling, credible, and serious criminal allegation to authorities, as they were required to do by law. That’s not showing integrity. They gave conflicting statements to the grand jury. That’s not honesty. And compassion? They never asked the boy’s name.
They had no compassion for him. They didn’t care whether he was raped. Didn’t care whether he lived or died, frankly. They just covered their own asses, and Sandusky’s to boot.
Even if the facts are exactly as Curley and Schultz claim, they should be fired for their incredible lack of judgment. Paterno likely deserves to go as well — an ignominious end, to be sure, but he made his choice no less than the others. As for Spanier, well, any school official who could be so cavalier about allegations of criminal activity on his own campus is ipso facto unfit to lead. He should be dismissed immediately, and frankly, given his statement, I believe investigators should look into what he knew about this incident, and when he knew it.
The saddest part of the story is that it isn’t all that surprising. The alleged crimes of Sandusky were monstrous, to be sure. But they are only different by degree from the star athlete who rapes someone, only to have the school administration pressure her to keep things quiet, to not make waves, to not wreck the boy’s life. Faced with a horrific and undeniable act of sexual abuse by a man who had been accused of similar behavior in the past, the Penn State administration and coaches chose to obfuscate, to deny, and to ultimately short-circuit any criminal investigation. It makes me wonder how many other times they’ve covered up malfeasance, and how many more victims’ scars went ignored.