The report of an independent investigation released last week makes clear that top officials at Penn State University, including its president and its renowned football coach Joe Paterno, covered up the serial sexual abuse of young boys in an attempt to preserve the school’s reputation and its money-making football program.
That effort is in ruins. The university’s reputation is in tatters as it faces the possibility of devastating sanctions. University president Graham Spanier has resigned in disgrace. Paterno’s legacy rightly has been reduced to ashes. Two Penn State officials, former Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz, face criminal charges of perjury and failure to report child abuse.
The investigation by former FBI Director Louis Freeh found that top officials at Penn State knew about the sexual abuse of 10 young boys over 15 years by assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky as early as 1998. Sandusky, 68, was convicted in June of 45 counts of child sexual abuse. He faces a maximum sentence of 442 years in prison
Freeh’s investigation found a “total disregard” among senior leaders at Penn State for the well-being of Sandusky’s victims.
“The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized,” Freeh said.
After a 1998 incident in which Sandusky and a boy were in a shower together and again after a similar incident in 2001, Penn State officials failed to report the abuse to child welfare authorities, fearing for the impact on the school’s reputation.
Freeh’s report noted that, after the 2001 incident, Spanier, Schultz and Curley were prepared to go to the authorities, only to be talked out of the move by Paterno.
Their failure to act empowered Sandusky, who used the allure of the Penn State football program to attract and groom troubled boys for his abuse.
Football ran Penn State University, not the reverse. School leaders made decisions based on what they believed was good for the football program, not the school as a whole, the community or even its children. Why? Because big-time college football means money, and lots of it, for a major university like Penn State.
Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz orchestrated their reprehensible cover-up because they feared losing the money and glory the football program provided to the university.
They lost it all in any case. And because of their enabling of Sandusky, innocent children suffered horrific abuse.
About the only thing to say in credit to Penn State is that the university cooperated fully and gave complete access to Freeh in his investigation.
Too little, too late.
Too late to save Penn State’s reputation. In the Sandusky affair, the university was run more in the fashion of a criminal enterprise than a respected university.
Too late to save Joe Paterno’s legacy. The late football coach was revered on the Penn State campus as everyone’s kindly old grandpa. The reality is that, in enabling Sandusky’s predatory behavior, Paterno valued football over children’s lives.
And most importantly, Penn State’s cooperation comes too late to spare the children the lifelong pain they will suffer from Sandusky’s predations.
Having been caught knee-deep in one of the worst child abuse scandals, Penn State officials are now contrite and cooperative.
Too late, Penn State. Too late by far.