Damning Penn State Report: Everyone Knew

5 years ago

A report released on Thursday by Louis Freeh, the former head of the FBI who was hired by Penn State to conduct an eight-month investigation, confirmed what most of us already suspected. The school's top leaders failed to protect young boys who spent time on campus with Jerry Sandusky. The former coach was convicted on 45 counts of child sex abuse in June and is awaiting sentencing. If you don't have time to review the full 267-page report, here's the gist: Everyone knew. And no one, including the venerable coach Joe Paterno, did anything about it.

Credit Image: © Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.com

Ken Belson in the New York TimesAbuse Inquiry Faults Paterno and Others at Penn State:

The most senior officials at Penn State University failed for more than a decade to take any steps to protect the children victimized by Jerry Sandusky, the longtime lieutenant to head football coach Joe Paterno, according to an independent investigation of the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the university last fall.

"Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims," said Freeh. "The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized."

Freeh's investigation — which took seven months and involved more than 400 interviews and the review of more than 3.5 million documents — accuses Paterno, the university's former president and others of deliberately hiding facts about Sandusky's sexually predatory behavior over the years.

Internal investigations into university scandals often result in long reports that present timelines, documents and facts, but stop short of placing blame on individual leaders. Not so in this case.

"In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders of Penn State University, repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse from the authorities, the board of trustees, the Penn State community and the public at large."

While the internal investigation has concluded, others continue: Criminal charges against administrators continue to work their way through the legal system. The NCAA is investigating if there is unethical conduct at Penn State. And the Department of Education is investigating whether Penn State violated a federal law mandating the reporting of crimes on campus.

During a press conference following the release of the report, Penn State President Rodney Erickson said: “I think we should be careful that we don’t paint the entire football program over a long period of time with the same brush” adding that football has been an “important part” of Penn State’s academic and student life missions.

And that is the problem. The Freeh report revealed Penn State had a football-worshipping culture where employees, even janitors, were afraid to report crimes or ask questions. The bottom line is that Paterno was the university’s culture.

WaPost columnist Sally Jenkins wrote, Joe Paterno, at the end, showed more interest in his legacy than Jerry Sandusky’s victims.

He was the self-appointed arbiter of character and justice in State College. He had decided Sandusky was “a good man” in 1998, and he simply found it too hard to admit he made a fatal misjudgment and gave a child molester the office nearest to his. He was more interested in protecting a cardboard cutout legacy than the flesh and blood of young men.

The only explanation I can find for this “striking lack of empathy” is self-absorption. In asking how a paragon of virtue could have behaved like such a thoroughly bad guy, the only available answer is that Paterno fell prey to the single most corrosive sin in sports: the belief that winning on the field makes you better and more important than other people.

So what happens now? Some suggest that Penn State suspend it's football program. Others want the Paterno statue on the campus taken down.  The NCAA will surely have to respond to the report. The president of Nike has said the company will remove Paterno's name from its child care center at its world headquarters in Oregon. We can’t un-molest the victims. We can’t remove them from the showers and take them back from the hands of the vile Sandusky. But we can acknowledge the atrocities and promise never to allow a group of individuals to dictate a culture that allows such a blatent disregard for victims. That should be the Penn State legacy.


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