When word first came out that former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was being charged with child molestation and we had time to process the gruesome grand jury report, it seemed pretty cut and dry that Joe Paterno and Penn State administrators Gary Schultz, Tim Curley, and Graham Spanier conspired to cover up Sandusky’s heinous crimes. Here’s what I wrote at the time:
Penn State administrators were more concerned with self-preservation than justice for past victims and prevention of future ones.
Telling Sandusky “not to bring any Second Mile children into the football building” sends a clear signal that Curley and Schultz did not care about sexual abuse victims as long as Penn State would not be implicated in them and be held liable.
Considering this callousness and utter lack of responsibility for humanity, it is not a stretch to believe that Curley, Schultz, Spanier, and Paterno chose not to go to the authorities with this matter because they did not want to incur intense scrutiny from the media and general public as to a) why Sandusky wasn’t prosecuted the first time he was investigated despite a mountain of evidence which included a tacit admission, and b) why he was still allowed unfettered access to campus facilities with young boys from his charity when he had been investigated for sexually deviant behavior in the past.
Media coverage wouldn’t have been AS bad as it has been this week if in 2002 Sandusky was turned in to authorities because there would not have been such an egregious cover-up and the internet had not yet evolved into what it is today. However, it would not have been pretty for those in power at Penn State. Couple that with the fact that the Nittany Lions were not winning on the field (they had no bowl appearances from 2000-2002) and Paterno would have had an extremely difficult time keeping his job in a scandal where his long-time defensive coordinator–who had been previously accused–raped an underage boy in the football team’s locker room. Jobs would have been lost and Penn State’s pristine reputation would have been immensely and perhaps irreparably tarnished. Only now, it’s worse.
Still, though, there was a tiny sliver of doubt. Perhaps Joe Paterno, a notorious micromanager whose handpicked bosses existed in title but not practice, could have been ignorant of similar allegations against Sandusky in 1998 of which his “bosses” had been aware. Perhaps, Sandusky did retire in 1999, at the age of 55, on his own volition and not because he was forced out for the crimes he was suspected of but never charged for. While very far-fetched, if anybody deserved this benefit of the doubt, it would have been Paterno, whose integrity, philanthropy, and football success had made him a living legend nationally and a deity locally.
These new emails leaked by CNN, though, confirm what any reasonable person inferred in the immediate wake of the Sandusky indictment: Joe Paterno was a false idol.
In an exchange of messages from February 26 to February 28, 2001, Spanier allegedly acknowledges Penn State could be “vulnerable” for not reporting the incident, according to two sources with knowledge of the case.
“The only downside for us is if the message (to Sandusky) isn’t ‘heard’ and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it,” Spanier purportedly writes.
The alleged e-mails among Spanier, Schultz, 62, and former Athletic Director Tim Curley, 57, never mention Sandusky by name, instead referring to him as “the subject” and “the person.” Children that Sandusky brought on campus –some of whom might have been victims — are referred to as “guests.”
Later, the emails reveal Joe Paterno’s role in the cover-up:
In an alleged e-mail dated February 26, 2001, Schultz writes to Curley that he assumes Curley’s “got the ball” about a three-part plan to “talk with the subject asap regarding the future appropriate use of the University facility,” … “contacting the chair of the charitable organization” and “contacting the Department of Welfare,” according to a source with knowledge of the case. (The “subject” is Sandusky and his Second Mile charity is the “charitable organization,” according to a source with knowledge of the e-mails. Pennsylvania law requires suspected child abuse be reported to outside authorities, including the state’s child welfare agencies).
But then, something changes.
The next evening, February 27, Curley allegedly writes to Spanier; Schultz, who’s out of the office for two weeks, is copied. Curley refers to a meeting scheduled that day with Spanier and indicates they apparently discussed the Sandusky incident two days earlier. Curley indicates he no longer wants to contact child welfare authorities just yet. He refers to a conversation the day before with Paterno. It’s not known what Paterno may have said to Curley.
Curley allegedly writes: “After giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe yesterday, I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps.”
This is a lot to digest so let’s take it bit by bit:
- Graham Spanier says that the “only downside” in not reporting Sandusky to the proper authorities is that silence would make his fellow administrators and him “vulnerable”. That’s certainly been the case but I would argue that justice for past victims and prevention of future ones is an additional downside, perhaps even greater than Spanier’s personal power and prestige.
- Want evidence that Spanier and Curley were deliberately evil? They intentionally neglected to use Sandusky’s name in the email so this thread would be more difficult to trace. In some ways, it’s refreshing to see that at least they were intelligent sociopaths as opposed to brainless bureaucrats.
- Curley was, however, prepared to do the right thing until he was ostensibly talked out of it by Paterno. Coming off a 5-7 season, Paterno had personal vulnerability concerns that were similar to Spanier’s. Doing the right thing would have cost him his job so he conspired to cover for his former assistant and lie about his role in the cover-up for the rest of his life.
The same pillars of success with honor that enabled Paterno to deserve the benefit of the doubt are precisely why he should be condemned for his selfish, cowardly silence. Paterno reveled in the godly image that he cultivated and when he truly had to live up to it, he ran from his responsibility. For 10 years after the second time he was confronted with evidence that Sandusky was a pedophile, Paterno watched his former lieutenant continue to hold an administrative role at The Second Mile and continue to use his access to the Penn State football program–the ultimate metaphorical candy for teenage boys in that community–to lure victims closer to him. The reality of what Paterno was enabling was not as important to him as continuing the fictional narrative of his own legacy.
Paterno is lucky that he died; he’d likely be facing perjury charges after this string of emails came out.
This was not the doddering, aw-shucks old man who lacked awareness of his actions that many thought he was. This was a dictatorial monarch doing whatever it took to hold onto his throne. His fervent supporters from the Penn State community, many of whom continue to delusionally and passionately defend his false image to this day, and of course the legion of teenage boys that were needlessly exposed to the evil monster Jerry Sandusky, deserved far better from their leader.