PSU’s Unjust Punishment


On November 5, 2011 Jerry Sandusky, a former Pennsylvania State University (PSU) defensive coordinator for the football team, was arrested. The Pennsylvania State Attorney’s Office was charging him with 40 criminal counts of sexually abusing young boys. The crimes were alleged to have been committed over an extended period. Also arrested were PSU athletic director, Tim Curly and Gary Schultz, the school’s vice president for finance and business. Both men were charged with perjury and failing to report what they knew about the allegations. PSU’s legendary coach, Joe Paterno, was not charged with any crime. Coincidentally the PSU football was not in action that weekend so the campus was rather subdued.

The arrests put the football program under the public microscope for its moral values and social responsibility to the community. The commentators and pundits immediately began discussing how the culture of big time collegiate sports created an atmosphere at PSU that allowed Mr. Sandusky to abuse children at will. It was suggested that the University was more concerned about bad publicity and not protecting young children from a known pedophile. How PSU and its vaunted football program would come out of mess was and always has been the question on everyone’s mind.

Sandusky had his proverbial day in court to contest the charges. The trial judge refused to allow the live broadcasting of any of the proceedings. During the breaks in the trial and at the conclusion of the daily proceedings summaries and updates became available from the reporters who were inside the courtroom. Their reports only galvanized the view that something was seriously wrong at PSU. The victims, some now adults, testified in graphic and horrific terms how Mr. Sandusky had repeatedly sexually abused them. The State Attorneys presented an overwhelming case against Sandusky. Some of the abuse took place on PSU property, in particular, facilities used by the football team. It was no surprise to anyone that Sandusky declined to testify in his own behalf. The jury took less than 20 hours to convict Sandusky of 45 of the 48 counts of the indictment. Sandusky has yet to be sentence but it is believed that he will spend the rest of his life in jail.

The conviction served as fresh ammunition for those who believed that the PSU had lost intuitional control of its football program. Worst yet were the accusations that the institution simply refused to challenge Joe Paterno’s running of the football program. The Board of Trustees at PSU realized that the Sandusky scandal required that the university thoroughly investigate the entire affair. The investigation had to be professionally undertaken, comprehensive and transparent to prevent any claim of a cover-up.

In order to guide the University through the maze of legal and moral problems it was facing the Board of Trustees commissioned former federal judge and FBI director Louie Freeh and his law firm to investigate and report on the Sandusky scandal. Judge Freeh took 8 months to complete his report. His office interviewed countless witnesses and reviewed more than a million e-mails. The 250+ page written report was long enough to be thorough and short enough not to be weighed down by detail. The entire report is available online.

Once the report was made public the Board of Trustees realized that Freeh’s work, which they had commissioned, constituted an indictment of the University’s football program and PSU as an institution of higher education. According to the Freeh report PSU football had become a de facto entity unto itself. It seemed to operated separately and beyond PSU’s institutional grip. The written report damaged the prestige and reputation of PSU. Yet it was Judge Freeh’s very public press conference that shattered any hope that PSU had of salvaging something from the scandal.  At his press conference Judge Freeh clearly laid out, in terms that everyone could comprehend, the case that Penn State officials participated in a cover-up of Sandusky’s pedophilic tendencies. In particular Judge Freeh stated the following:

“The evidence shows that these four men also knew about a 1998 criminal investigation of Sandusky relating to suspected sexual misconduct with a young boy in a Penn State football locker room shower.  Again, they showed no concern about that victim.  The evidence shows that Mr. Paterno was made aware of the 1998  investigation of Sandusky, followed it closely, but failed to take any action, even though Sandusky had been a key member of his coaching staff for almost 30 years, and had an office just steps away from Mr. Paterno’s.  At the very least, Mr. Paterno could have alerted the entire football staff, in order to prevent Sandusky from bringing another child into the Lasch Building.  Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley also failed to alert the Board of Trustees about the 1998 investigation or take any further action against Mr. Sandusky.  None of them even spoke to Sandusky about his conduct.  In short, nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity” pg. 5 of the press release

In my opinion the Board of Trustees should have received the Freeh report in confidence. The Board then could have deliberated behind closed doors on its use. Clearly Judge Freeh would not have held the press conference if the Board had not granted him their approval to do so. It seems to me that the Board might have over reacted to public pressure and its claim of a cover-up.

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