As a graduate of Penn State University, and as a sports fan who has taken pride in my alma mater’s football success and how it was achieved, I confess that the newly released investigative report on the Jerry Sandusky scandal comes across as harsh. (Text available here.)
Unfortunately, it also comes across as utterly truthful and damning. It allows for no excuses and no claim of extenuating circumstances. It relates a tale of badly twisted institutional and personal priorities in which protecting reputations became more important than protecting helpless children. In a larger sense, it also testifies to the remarkable human capability to rationalize behavior that in any other context you would immediately recognize as wrong.
AJC sportswriter Dave O’Brien wrapped up the report’s verdict on Coach Joe Paterno in a tweet, quoting Voltaire: “Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.” I think that’s exactly right. In Paterno’s case, the good he did not do is a lot.
Here’s a portion of the report’s summary, edited a bit for brevity:
“The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims….
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. These men concealed Sandusky’s activities from the Board of Trustees, the university community and authorities. They exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims….
Taking into account the available witness statements and evidence, the Special Investigative Counsel finds that it is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the University -– Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley –- repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the University’s Board of Trustees, the Penn State community, and the public at large.
The avoidance of the consequences of bad publicity is the most significant, but not the only, cause for this failure to protect child victims and report to authorities. The investigation also revealed:
– A striking lack of empathy for child abuse victims by the most senior leaders of the University.
– A failure by the Board to make reasonable inquiry in 2011 by not demanding details from Spanier and the General Counsel about the nature and direction of the grand jury investigation and the University’s response to the investigation.
– A President who discouraged discussion and dissent.
– A decision by Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley to allow Sandusky to retire in 1999, not as a suspected child predator, but as a valued member of the Penn State football legacy, with future “visibility” at Penn State and ways “to continue to work with young people through Penn State,” essentially granting him license to bring boys to campus facilities for “grooming” as targets for his assaults. Sandusky retained unlimited access to University facilities until November 2011.
– A culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus community.
Sandusky’s victims have a lot to overcome. Penn State leadership, which conspired with and enabled Sandusky, also has its own demons with which to wrestle. But if the lessons and warnings taught by this tragedy do not also extend beyond the university to the culture at large, a great opportunity will have been lost.
– Jay Bookman