Penn State’s Biggest Loss: Child Abuse Scandal
The media is in a frenzy over the rapidly unfolding sexual abuse scandal involving the hallowed Penn State University football program. Nittany Lions assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who retired in 1999, allegedly assaulted eight boys during a 15-year span.
Two current Penn State officials have also been charged with participating in a cover up of those charges. Athletic Director Tim Curley and Interim Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz have both been indicted on state charges of perjury and failing to report a felony.
Curley has been placed on administrative leave and Schultz has returned to retirement. It should be noted that all three individuals have, through their attorneys, stated their innocence and intent to fight the charges.
Even more troubling are the roles played by legendary Penn State head coach Joe Paterno and one of his assistant coaches, Mike McCreary. McCreary testified before the grand jury that handed down the indictments that in March 2002, while working as a graduate assistant, he observed Sandusky in a shower area of the team locker room with a young boy. McCreary reported that Sandusky was engaged in what McCreary believed was anal intercourse with the child who was described as looking about 10-years-old.
McCreary went to Paterno’s house the next day and told him what he observed. There is some confusion over exactly how much detail he went into, but Paterno was clearly troubled because the next day, a Sunday, he went to Curley and relayed the information.
At that point, nothing more apparently happened. It is known that at some point Curley told Schultz about the conversation with Paterno. It is unclear if and when anyone notified Penn State President Graham Spanier about the incident.
What is known is that for almost nine years Sandusky continued to maintain an office as a Professor Emeritus in the School of Physical Education at Penn State—a building located across the street from the football building. He also continued to have a key and access to the football building, although a claim has surfaced that he was told to stop going into the shower area. He was seen in the building as recently as November 4. He also continued to use facilities at three PSU satellite campuses to conduct summer youth football camps, including one in summer 2011.
Sandusky had leveraged his position with Penn State, where he coached for almost 30 years, to establish a non-profit foundation called The Second Mile It runs programs for at-risk children. Sandusky allegedly engaged is the sexual abuse of at least eight boys in that program between 1994 and 2009.
Sandusky was Paterno’s top assistant for several years and at one point was believed to be the chosen successor when the venerable coach retired. That plan changed in early 1999 and after being told this by Paterno, Sandusky retired. His retirement agreement granted him the office and continued access to Penn State facilities.
What is interesting about this scandal is the narrow, legalistic defense of his actions put forth by Paterno. In a statement given by one of his sons following the breaking story on Nov. 4, Paterno admitted that he testified before the grand jury a few months ago. He said that he told the grand jury that when he spoke with McCreary back in 2002, he took steps to report the matter to his boss. Once he discharged what he described as his legal duty, he did nothing more and apparently never even followed up to see what was being done.
The head of the Pennsylvania state police has stated that Paterno is not a target of the legal investigation. He did, however, say that there is a clear difference between a person’s LEGAL obligations and a person’s MORAL obligations, especially when the welfare of children is at stake.
That is apparently among the things troubling the Penn State Board of Trustees. They met in emergency meetings over the weekend and have announced that a special committee is being appointed to quickly investigate matters. The announcement stated that all individuals found to have responsibility for not following through on the initial reports will be dealt with severely. Several media outlets have reported that anonymous sources have stated that support for both Paterno and Spanier is rapidly eroding among trustees.
Another troubling aspect of this ordeal is information that in 1998 a mother of a young boy who Sandusky was working with told her of an incident where Sandusky and her son had taken a shower together nude. She reported this to local police who filed a report and presumably took some other steps, however, nothing ever happened. It was reported that Sandusky told police that he knew he had used poor judgment in the matter and that it would not happen again. This took place a year or so before he retired as a coach at Penn State.
Finally, we have the role of ESPN, CBS and other media outlets. During the many hours of telecasting college football games over the weekend and during the numerous shows analyzing those games little time was spent on the scandal other than briefly noting that a story was developing. It was as though the networks did not want to detract from the games and the ratings generated by contests such as LSU-Alabama. ESPN’s Game Day telecast, which originated in Tuscaloosa, Ala., made almost no reference to the story. It begs the question whether broadcast networks are news organizations or simply public relations firms working for the schools they cover?
The legal process will play itself out over the next several months. The three persons charged so far are in fact innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Let’s be clear here. There is a great difference between what is legal and what is moral or ethical. Anyone in a position of authority has a higher duty of care, particularly when the welfare of children is involved. Anyone in this situation who failed to follow through quickly is guilty at the very least of using incredibly poor judgment. Should a coaching legend be held to less of an ethical standard than the director of a local park and recreation program?
Readers can click on the links found below to read four informative stories published so far on this developing scandal.
Story about limited response in 2002 by Paterno and AD Tim Curley and Interim Senior VP for Finance and Business Gary Schultz:
Early response by media over the weekend and failure to highlight this story initially:
Pennsylvania newspaper article talks about the roles of then-graduate assistant Mike McCreary and Penn State President Graham Spanier:
SI.com article about actions being taken by the Penn State Board of Trustees:
Students at the United States Sports Academy deal with legal, moral and ethical issues facing sport administrators and coaches. The Academy was founded on the belief that those involved in leadership positions in sport must be educated and held to higher standards than ordinary persons. For more information on Academy programs go to http://ussa.edu.