We haven’t heard the end of the story about Jerry Sandusky and Penn State Football, the worst scandal to ever hit sports. The fallout will continue for years to come and the only redeeming factor will be if we as a society learn from this fiasco.
The Freeh Report came out last week which strongly condemned Paterno and other top officials in the school’s administration for concealing Sandusky’s sexual abuse of children in order to avoid bad publicity for the university and the football program. The Paterno family issued a statement vehemently disagreeing with the report and saying, “Mr. Freeh presented his opinions and interpretations as if they were absolute facts.” The Paterno family contends that the report is merely the opinions of one person. They say that they and their lawyers will conduct their own investigation of the scandal.
The Freeh Report
The Freeh Report is hardly the opinion of just one person. It was spearheaded by former FBI Director Louis Freeh in which he and the Special Investigative Counsel conducted over 430 interviews and analyzed over 3.5 million pieces of electronic data and documents. Sports fans, university officials and others may try to put their own spin on the report but nothing can erase the shocking findings stated in the very beginning of the report:
“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….there was no ‘attempt to investigate, to identify Victim 2, or to protect that child or any others from similar conduct except as related to preventing its re-occurrence on University property.’”
The report goes on to name those most senior leaders as 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. The report condemns them by saying they failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.
What happened in plain English
Let’s not gloss over this statement. In everyday language a member of the university’s faculty was raping young boys on university grounds and at university events and the four in-the-know had known about it since at least 1998 when the first incident was reported to them. As you read through the Freeh Report the one recurring theme with the university officials was how were they going to handle this “humanely” for Sandusky? The university police even interviewed him in the Lasch Building so as not to put him “on the defensive.” In other words, they didn’t want to make him feel uncomfortable or intimidated. Did anyone ever think about how the young victims were feeling?
After the ’98 incident Sandusky raped at least two more victims before being caught by student assistant McQueary while raping a third boy in the showers February 2001. How many others might there have been between those times that we don’t know about? Do those “top officials” named in the report understand they could have prevented additional attacks and preserved the innocence of other young boys?
A year after the ’98 incident Sandusky was allowed to retire “not as a child molester but as a valued member of the Penn State football legacy”. According to the Freeh Report this visibility at Penn State allowed him to “groom his victims”. The report says, “school leaders empowered Sandusky to attract potential victims to the campus and football events by allowing him to have continued, unrestricted and unsupervised access to campus and to affiliate with the football program. These actions provided Sandusky with the very currency that enabled him to attract his victims.”
NCAA response—nothing off the table
Throughout this whole event the NCAA has been strangely quiet. The airwaves have been full of people speculating whether or not the NCAA will levy any punishments including the dreaded “death penalty”. Finally Tavis Smiley invited Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, to his PBS show to ask where they stand. Emmert’s answer was very revealing when he said “nothing is off the table.” That means they could be eligible for the death penalty or even worse—banishment from the NCAA. (See A Fate Worse Than Death http://www.athleticscholarships.net/2012/07/16/fate-worse-than-death.htm) . This means that Penn State would lose all rights and privileges of being a member of the NCAA which effectively means an indefinite death penalty for the entire athletic department.
Southern Methodist University (SMU) is the only school to have suffered the death penalty for its football program and some say it took 20 years for them to come back.
Following the Freeh Report NCAA Vice President of Communications Bob Williams issued a statement referring to four key questions outlined in a Nov. 17, 2011 letter to Penn State that still need to be answered pertaining to “compliance with institutional control and ethics policies.”
NCAA letter to Penn State Nov. 17, 2011
I have heard some armchair experts on sports-talk radio say the NCAA won’t do anything because it is out of the realm of their jurisdiction. However, Mark Emmert stated in his Nov. 17, 2011 letter to Penn State President Rodney Erickson:
“Under Article 2.4, the NCAA Constitution requires that “for intercollegiate athletics to promote the character development of participants, to enhance the integrity of higher education and to promote civility in society, student-athletes, coaches, and all others associated with these athletics programs and events should adhere to such fundamental values as respect, fairness, civility, honesty, and responsibility. These values should be manifest not only in athletics participation, but also in the broad spectrum of activities affecting the athletics program.
…it is clear that deceitful and dishonest behavior can be found to be unethical conduct. Surely, the spirit of this bylaw also constrains behavior that endangers young people…Bylaw 126.96.36.199 goes on to state that “it shall be the responsibility of an institution’s head coach to promote an atmosphere for compliance within the program….Under this same bylaw governing the conduct and employment of athletics personnel, it makes clear that “institutional staff members found in violation of NCAA regulations shall be subject to disciplinary or corrective action….
Lastly,…Bylaw 19.01.2 affirmatively states that ‘individuals employed by or associated with member institutions for the administration, the conduct or the coaching of intercollegiate athletics are, in the final analysis, teachers of young people…their own moral values must be so certain and positive that those younger and more pliable will be influenced by a fine example.’”
The death penalty
In my opinion what happened at Penn State is the ultimate tragedy. It is much worse than Ohio State’s Tattoo-gate or any other scandal in which the NCAA has levied punishment. If they do not give Penn State the death penalty or an equivalent punishment then they will have lost their credibility and there is no hope for maintaining high moral grounds for college athletics in the future. Worse, the NCAA will be just as guilty as Penn State officials in turning a blind eye on the event.
What happened is not OK
Then we as a society and sports fans everywhere will not have learned from this horrible event. It is not OK to put coaches and outstanding athletes on pedestals and worship them as gods. It is not OK to allow athletics to become so powerful as to run the university. It is not OK to allow a crime to be overlooked because of the money its department is bringing into the institution. It is not OK for athletics to take precedence over academics. And finally, it is not OK to rape.
NOTE–below are links to the research I did for this blog post. To read the Freeh Report click on the first link and to see the NCAA letter to Penn State click on the second link.
http://www.ncaa.org/wps/wcm/connect/public/ncaa/pdfs/2012/ncaa+statement (NCAA letter to Penn State)
- Sandusky Scandal: Joe Paterno Says He’s Shocked, Saddened By Sex Abuse Charges Rocking Penn State (huffingtonpost.com)
- You: Jerry Sandusky Scandal: The 5 Key Figures in the Penn State Scandal (bleacherreport.com)
- Sandusky Rape Victim Bullied At School For Turning His Molester In (outsidethebeltway.com)
- Ben McGrath: Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky, and Penn State’s reactions. (newyorker.com)
- Ex-FBI boss Freeh to lead Penn State abuse probe (cbsnews.com)