Friday, July 13, 2012

Inside Pandora's Box

“It is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid
 the consequences of bad publicity, 
the most powerful leaders at Penn State University... 
concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse 
from the authorities, the Board of Trustees, Penn State community, and the public at large. 
Although concern to treat the child abuser humanely was expressly stated, 
no such sentiments were ever expressed by them for Sandusky’s victims.”

--Louis Freeh

In the wake of Louis Freeh's damning report of  Joe Paterno's complicity in covering up on-going abuses of young boys at Penn State it now falls to the institution and the NCAA to put this sad saga to rest.  But how? Or is it, how much?

In 2010, the NCAA needed to make an example out of USC and smacked the Trojans with a two-year bowl ban, four years’ probation, the loss of 30 scholarships and forfeiture of 14 games - all for improper benefits Reggie Bush took from two upstart sports marketers - dating back to the Trojans’ 2004 national championship season. The men bought hotel stays, a rent-free home for Bush’s parents, a limousine and the suit Bush wore when he accepted the Heisman Trophy in 2005.

The repeated abuse of children in a Penn State locker room is much worse.

These excerpts from the investigation into the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal led by former federal judge and ex-FBI director Louis Freeh in the Huffington Post:
_ "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."
_ "The Board (of Trustees) did not create a `Tone at the Top' environment wherein Sandusky and other senior University officials believed they were accountable to it."
_ "Before May 1998, several staff members and football coaches regularly observed Sandusky showering with young boys in the Lasch Building (now the East Area Locker Building or `Old Lasch'). None of the individuals interviewed notified their superiors of this behavior."
_ "Janitor B explained to the Special Investigative Counsel that reporting the incident (a 2000 encounter during which a colleague saw Sandusky molesting a boy in a school shower) `would have been like going against the President of the United States in my eyes.' `I know Paterno has so much power, if he wanted to get rid of someone, I would have been gone.' He explained `football runs this University,' and said the University would have closed ranks to protect the football program at all costs."
_ "The special investigative counsel found no evidence to indicate that Sandusky's retirement was related to the police investigation of him in 1998."
_ Handwritten note, apparently from Paterno to Sandusky: "If there were no (Second) Mile, then I believe you ... probably could be the next Penn State FB coach. But you wanted the best of two worlds and I probably should have sat down with you six or seven years and said look Jerry, if you want to be head coach at Penn State, give up your association with the (Second) Mile and concentrate on nothing but your family and Penn State. ... You are too deeply involved in both."
_ "A reasonable conclusion from Spanier's email statement (in 2001after a graduate assistant reported seeing Sandusky with a boy in a shower) that `(t)he only downside for us is if the message isn't `heard' and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it,' is that Spanier, Schultz and Curley were agreeing not to report Sandusky's activity."
_ "Neither Spanier nor the University's General Counsel, Cynthia Baldwin, briefed the Board of Trustees about the Grand Jury investigation of Sandusky or the potential risk to the University until the Board's meeting on May 11, 2011 and, then, only at the request of a Trustee who read the March 31, 2011 article" published by The Patriot-News of Harrisburg.
_ "Spanier and (university lawyer Cynthia) Baldwin opposed an independent investigation of the Sandusky issue, with Baldwin stating that `(i)f we do this, we will never get rid of this (outside investigative) group in some shape or form. The Board will think that they should have such a group.' Spanier agreed."
_ "The Board was unprepared to handle the crisis that occurred when Sandusky, Curley and Schultz were charged. This contributed significantly to its poor handling of the firing of Paterno, and the subsequent severe reaction by the Penn State community and the public to the Board's oversight of the University and Paterno's firing."
As a handwritten note from a Penn State Vice President in 1998 seemed to indicate, Paterno was afraid of opening a Pandora's Box of bad publicity if the scandal were revealed - a box that might even include "other children." But as it always seems to go in such cases, the cover up only serves to magnify the original sin.

Strong team sanctions from the NCAA aside, the university now must stake out some moral ground for its future. What does Penn State stand for? How does the institution begin to reclaim itself as a place where students can gain a moral education?

Symbolic perhaps, but nonetheless important,  the university must attend to the removal of the Paterno statue that recalls past glories outside of Beaver Stadium. Plans should already be underway for toppling the statue because it can no longer inspire the Penn State faithful - only remind everyone who sees it of the man who turned his head when some young boys really needed him to live up to his legendary rhetoric.

The institution, Freeh said, was more important than children being abused, to men who could have stopped the abuse long ago. Paterno. School president. School janitors. All of them. Truly, this was like the scandals of the Catholic Church: Protect the institution at all costs, look the other way on the abuser until you no longer can.

By keeping the lid shut on Pandora's Box as long as he did, Paterno turned a man-sized scandal, into an institution-wide crime that has tarnished the university's reputation forever.


Anonymous said...

The president of Penn State failed to lead. He was willing to work with the Penn State Athletic Department to suppress the truth. Unfortunately, this is part of a national pattern. The pattern is usually a variation of abuse and then reform, abuse and then reform. Colleges never seem to learn.

I recommend John Thelin's text "Games Colleges Play" for anyone who wished to understand these scandals, although I might add that Thelin himself could never have envisioned the type of abuse perpetrated by Jerry Sandusky.

On another note, one of the biggest factors, in my view, that led to the resignation of David Roselle in 1989 was the athletic scandal at UK that year. In this case, though, there was a "clean" president and a "corrupt" athletic department.

Anonymous said...

Wonder if Paterno or any of the other PSU "leaders" would have been as worried about bad publicity if it had been their son who had been molested by Sandusky? Ironically, it makes one wonder how many other things were swept under the rug in order to avoid bad PR for an institution and team which held itself up as a model of rule compliance and integrity.

Anonymous said...

As the first contributor notes, how many times have we seen this happen again and again with programs which are given vaulted exceptionality status within the organization or cult of personality forces unwilling to recognize or respond to the most basic and obvious transgressions?

In some way we all hold some degree of both ownership and power regarding these types of moral short comings from those who lead us when we seek to derive individual value in ourselves through the detached and secondary percieved affilation with others and their organizations. There is nothing wrong with enjoying sports as a spectator or participant, but when we allow ourselves to align our own self worth and even personal identity with something as trivial as a sports team, we not only divests ourselves of our individuality but marginalize all which we percieve through the lens of the organization we covet and hold allegiance.

Joe Peterno comes off looking like either a cowardly hypocrite or a selfish egomaniac. I would imagine that if he had learned that his son was being molested by some unknown person, that he would have probably wanted to dole out some old school physical retribution. God only knows that if he would turn a blind eye to a child being molested by one of his own coaches in his team's facility, wonder how much other stuff could have been going on which was never addressed in order to sustain the fantasy of a clean program. Seems like Papa was more concerned about recruiting the big boys for his big program than he was about the little boys who were idealizing the myth.