Where Evil Triumphed: Penn State’s Child Abuse Scandal

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On Sunday, July 22, 2012, in the early morning hours, the landscape of Pennsylvania State University changed dramatically. The seven-foot, 900 pound bronze statue of Coach Joe Paterno, which was installed outside of Beaver Stadium in 2001 to honor Paterno’s 324th Division I coaching victory, was unceremoniously moved by forklift to an unnamed “secure location.”1 This dramatic step was taken in response to the devastating report issued by former Federal Bureau of Investigations Director Louis J. Freeh on July 12, 2012, which showed four key Penn State employees covered up the actions of a child predator, their co-worker Jerry Sandusky.

To quote Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

To quote the Report2 of the Special Investigative Counsel Regarding the Actions of The Pennsylvania State University Related to the Child Sexual Abuse Committed by Gerald A. Sandusky, “Four of the most powerful people at The Pennsylvania State University – President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno – failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.”3

The report is substantive and disturbing as it unfurls the sordid tale of how Jerry Sandusky, recently found guilty of 45 criminal charges filed against him in Pennsylvania, managed to get away with sexually abusing young boys even though his co-workers knew about it. In light of this report, it is difficult to credit those four men with the title of “good,” but at least in Coach Paterno’s case that was his reputation.

Paterno was the Head Coach of the Nittany Lions for 46 years and, in that time, he won 409 games and led his team to 37 Bowl games, winning 24 of them. He also had the reputation as a coach who cared about not only his players’ performance on the field, but their academic achievements as well. “JoePa,” as he was known in “Happy Valley,” was revered on campus and looked to as a leader.

The Report showed through e-mail exchanges that Coach Paterno knew4 about the 1998 allegation that Jerry Sandusky took a shower with an eleven-year-old boy and gave him a bear hug, pressing the boy’s back to his front,5 in the shower. This section of the report makes it clear that Athletic Director Curley knew all about this incident and implies that he was relaying the information to Coach Paterno.

It is not clear whether Paterno sat in on any meetings. Some people defending Paterno say there is no proof he knew about the incident, but it is hard to believe one of the most powerful men on campus was not kept in the loop.

Imagine finding out one of your co-workers showers naked with young children and touches them. Would you want to continue working with that person? Would you be concerned about the abused children? Would you give that person continued access to the place of abuse and to the children?

Evidently Spanier, Schultz, Curley, and Paterno felt comfortable keeping Sandusky on the job and ignoring the welfare of the children he was abusing. While no charges were brought against Sandusky for the 1998 incident, the jury in June 2012 found him guilty6 of assaulting five more boys in the Penn State facility (Lasch Building) between 1999 and 2001.

Part of the evidence in the 1998 case was a police report that details police officers overhearing Sandusky asking the mother of the victim if he could speak to her son. The mother tells him it is not a good idea and she didn’t want him attending her son’s baseball games anymore either. Sandusky says,7 “I understand. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won’t get it from you. I wish I was dead.” And yet, he was not charged with a crime.

So, back at “Happy Valley,” Sandusky remained a part of the football team until he retired in 1999. As part of his retirement package, he was awarded the “emeritus” rank, which then allowed him complete access to all of Penn State’s recreational facilities.8 In addition, he was given an office in the East Area locker room.9 He utilized these perks to further his “work” with the charity he founded, Second Mile, which helps disadvantaged boys and girls in Pennsylvania. It appears Sandusky used Second Mile as a hunting ground for vulnerable boys.

Sandusky took advantage of his unfettered access to the Penn State facilities and, as mentioned, continued to molest young boys in those buildings. In the fall of 2000, a janitor witnessed Sandusky performing oral sex on a young boy but did not report it, because he was afraid the University would fire him for mentioning it in order to protect the football program. He was quoted as saying, “football runs this University,” and “I know Paterno has so much power, if he wanted to get rid of someone, I would be gone.”10

On February 9, 2001, Michael McQueary, a graduate assistant with the football program, observed Sandusky in an incident of a “sexual nature” with a prepubescent boy in the showers. The description of the assault in the Report is sickening. After speaking with his father, he decided to tell Coach Paterno and did so on February 10. Paterno told him he needed to “tell some people about what you saw” and would let McQueary know what the next step would be. The Report states, “No record or communication indicates that McQueary or Paterno made any effort to determine the identity of the child in the shower or whether the child had been harmed.”11

So, did that incident get reported to any law enforcement authorities? The answer is “no.”

This is the list of the actions they took. Paterno told Curley and Schultz on February 11; Curley and Schultz discussed further on February 12; Curley, Schultz and Spanier met February 25-26 to devise an action plan, which consisted of telling Sandusky he could no longer bring children from his Second Mile charity to Penn State facilities; told the board of Second Mile about the incident and reported the incident to the Department of Welfare. However, Curley changed his mind after talking to Paterno; between February 27-28, Curley suggested he tell Sandusky “we feel there is a problem” and suggest “professional help,” tell him he can no longer bring guests to the facility, offer to work with him to tell Second Mile and, if he didn’t agree to the conditions, tell him they would have to inform the Department of Welfare. On March 5, Curley met with Sandusky to relay the information. On March 19, Curley met with the executive director of Second Mile to relay the information.12 No law enforcement authority was notified.

In August 2001, Sandusky assaulted Victim #5 in the showers at the Penn State facility.13

This brief article cannot begin to cover all of the material in the 267-page Report which uncovers the layers of denial and diversion by the four men. They used their positions of power and influence to cover up the activities of a pedophile in part to protect Sandusky and in part to protect the vaunted Penn State University and its football program.

In the end it has all been exposed and their actions proved futile; Paterno was fired, and Spanier was forced out in November 2011; Curley is on administrative leave, and Schultz retired. Curley and Schultz have been charged with perjury for lying to the grand jury and failing to report child abuse.

On Monday, July 23, 2012, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) handed down a severe ruling against Penn State. It sanctioned the university $60 million dollars to be used to establish a fund to help child abuse victims. It placed a four-year, post-season ban on Penn State, meaning it cannot go to any bowl games, and it will vacate all wins from 1998-2011, which will be noted on Coach Paterno’s record; he will no longer be known as the NCAA’s coach with the most wins.14 The Department of Education has an on-going investigation of the school as well.15

For those on the outside looking in, it is obvious the actions the four men took to protect the football program and Sandusky were egregious and callous. Nowhere in the report does it show them protecting the sexually abused children. They saw evil, and they did nothing to stop it.

End Notes

  1. Don Van Atta, Jr., “Joe Paterno statue taken down,” ESPN.com, July 22, 2012, http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/college/ct-spt-0724-penn-state–20120724,0,6965116.story.
  2. Freeh Sporkin and Sullivan, LLP, Report of the Special Investigative Counsel Regarding the Actions of The Pennsylvania State University Related to the Child Sexual Abuse Committed by Gerald A. Sandusky, July 12, 2012, http://assets.espn.go.com/pdf/2012/0712/psupressrelease.pdf.
  3. Ibid., 14.
  4. Ibid., 48-49.
  5. Ibid., 42.
  6. Ibid., 54
  7. Ibid., 45.
  8. Ibid., 60.
  9. Ibid., 209.
  10. Ibid., 65.
  11. Ibid., 68.
  12. Ibid., 22-25.
  13. Ibid., 25.
  14. Colleen Kane, “Penn State penalties: $60 million fine, 4-year bowl ban,” Chicago Tribune, July 23, 2012, http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/college/ct-spt-0724-penn-state–20120724,0,6965116.story.
  15. Jenna Johnson, “Freeh report places blame on four Penn State leaders: Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz,” The Washington Post, July 13, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/campus-overload/post/freeh-report-places-blame-on-four-penn-state-leaders-paterno-spanier-curley-and-schultz/2012/07/13/gJQAIESshW_blog.html

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