Our Midtown Patch Question of the Day concerns the late Penn State football coach, Joe Paterno following Thursday's release of the Freeh Report.
There’s little doubt that because Paterno concealed information for years that could have stopped a sexual predator, his friend and longtime defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, his legacy has been stained forever.
Nike has already removed Paterno's name from a child development center on its campus in Beaverton, Ore. Paterno, who passed in January at age 85, won 409 games and two national championships during a 46-year head coaching career that was without NCAA rule violations.
He touched countless lives through his many philanthropic acts but in light of the conclusions of former FBI director Louis Freeh, how will you remember this iconic coaching figure?
When Penn State officials learned of disturbing allegations of sexual abuse by Sandusky in the football training building in February 2001, they initially discussed going to state authorities with the information.
But after further discussion—and despite a similar allegation levied against Sandusky three years earlier—the school officials and Paterno instead decided to close ranks and offer him “professional help” while also restricting him from entering school facilities with children.
The cover-up continued for another decade with former Penn State President Graham Spanier even refusing to discuss the situation with school Board of Trustees after Sandusky was charged in November 2011.
The details that emerged from Freeh’s investigation paint a scandalous portrait rising to Penn State’s highest levels that likely led to the abuse of more young men. Paterno and Spanier were fired days after the allegations of abuse broke, while former Athletic Director Tim Curley and former school Vice President Gary Schultz were charged with perjury.
The Freeh Report, , shows that school officials were more worried about protecting the Penn State brand than the young boys Sandusky was molesting on campus. The investigation concludes that Paterno was somewhat involved in the discussions of how to handle the situation.
“The only downside for us is if the message isn’t ‘heard’ and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it,” Spanier wrote in an e-mail in late February 2001. “But that can be assessed down the road. The approach you outline is humane and a reasonable way to proceed.”
When allegations began bubbling up again with the start of the grand jury in early 2010, Spanier continued to deny anything was happening even while news outlets began reporting of the investigation. When one Board of Trustee member emailed Spanier in April 2011 inquiring about a newspaper story, the president brushed it off by saying the law would not allow him to comment.
“I’m not sure it is entirely our place to speak about this when we are only on the periphery of this,” Spanier wrote to the trustee in April 2011.
By October 2011, Sandusky was still allowed on campus and even attended Paterno’s final game at head coach. Sandusky watched the game from Beaver Stadium’s prestigious Nittany Lion Club.
Six days later, the state Attorney General’s office filed charges against Sandusky and arrested him the following day.
Even with charges filed, Spanier refused to brief the Board of Trustees on the situation. Instead, Spanier sent out a press release offering his “unconditional support” for Schultz and Curley, and that “protecting children requires the utmost vigilance.”
, and the Penn State community was left to pick up the pieces from a decade-long cover-up that many have said could have led to the molestation of more young boys.
In the recommendations portion of the report, investigators admitted that while there were numerous individual failings, “it also reveals weaknesses of the university culture, governance, administration, compliance policies and procedures."
The report indicates that a special investigative unit provided several recommendations to the board and university in January suggesting they reform policies and guidelines related to the protection of children.
The university worked on many of those issues—strengthening policies to protect minors, encouraging prompt reporting of incidents of sexual misconduct, conducting abuse-awareness training for all levels of university officials, including top leadership, and increasing compliance with the Jean Clery Disclosure of Campus Security.
“One of the most challenging tasks confronting the university community is an open, honest and thorough examination of the culture that underlies the failure of Penn State’s most powerful leaders to respond appropriately to Sandusky’s crimes,” the recommendations portion of the report stated.
Specific recommendations included:
- To organize a Penn State-led effort to “vigorously examine an understand the Penn State culture in order to reinforce … and promote an environment of increased transparency.”
- To review and evaluate its organizational structure. “In various ways, the university administrative structure, the absence of poor enforcement of policies related to policies related to the protection of children and employee misconduct and the lack of ethic-based action created an environment in which (university leaders) were able to make decisions to avoid bad publicity.
- To realign and refocus the responsibility of the university’s board of directors and operations—improving internal and external practices and strengthening policies and procedures. “The board’s over-confidence in Spanier’s abilities, and its failure to conduct oversight and responsible inquiry of Spanier and senior university officials, hindered the board’s ability to deal properly with the most profound crisis ever confronted by the university.”
- To ensure compliance with laws, regulations and mandates. “The university’s incomplete implementation of the Clery Act was a contributing factor in the failure to report the 2001 child sexual abuse committed by Sandusky," the report indicated.
- To fully involve the university’s athletic department, providing training to ensure compliance with the laws governing a safe environment for children. “For the past several decades, the university’s athletic department was permitted to become a closed community,” the report stated. “There was little personnel turnover or hiring from outside and strong internal loyalty.” The report continued: “The athletic department was perceived in the Penn State community as ‘an island’ where staff members lived by their own rules.”
- To improve oversight of staff members responsible for youth programs, and increase abuse awareness and awareness of policies regarding children and access to the university. “Over the years, university policies for non-student minors were inconsistently implemented through the university,” the report indicated. “Enforcement of those policies was uneven and even uncoordinated and as a result Sandusky was allowed to conduct (events) without any direct oversight by university officials.
To read the entire press release, click on the attached PDF's.
Allegheny County has the largest number of Penn State alumni in the country. Share your thoughts about the Freeh report in comments below.