What The Penn State University Report Reveals
NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Shocking and callous disregard for victims, repeatedly concealed critical facts, failure to protect the children created a dangerous situation for unsuspecting boys lured and victimized repeatedly.
After an eight-month investigation, the report from the former FBI Director Louis Freeh condemns Penn State's former president, its famous football coach and two other senior officials, and it goes on to charge the board of trustees as a rubber stamp that declined to hold officials accountable, allowed the athletics department to operate under its own rules and failed to understand its legal obligation to report crimes.
After conviction on dozens of charges, Jerry Sandusky is in prison. Coach Joe Paterno died of cancer. Former athletic director Timothy Curley and senior vice president Gary Schultz face criminal charges. Graham Spanier lost his job as president but remains at Penn State as a tenured faculty member.
After today's report, have your questions been answered? 800-989-8255 is our phone number. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Later in the program, John Scalzi's sci-fi comedy "Redshirts." But first, NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us from his office in Portland. Tom, always good to have you on the program today.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Sports, right, Neal.
CONAN: Yeah, yeah, exactly. So what did we learn from this report that we did not know already?
GOLDMAN: You know, that's a really good question. I'm not sure if we learned that much. You know, we learned the depth of it. We got a lot of evidence, and this connects a lot of dots. But, you know, there was talk back when this scandal broke late last year that there was enabling, that there were turned heads, that there were people protecting Jerry Sandusky and bad behavior by powerful people at Penn State.
CONAN: And Louis Freeh and his investigative team, after more than 430 interviews and 3.5 million emails and other documents analyzed, have provided, you know, have, as I said, connected those dots.
And some of those emails were leaked a couple of weeks ago. They are particularly damning. It seemingly does not allow any of those four officials that were named to say they did not know about the allegations in 2001, and Freeh comes to the conclusion they also knew about the incident in 1998.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, that's right, you know, and, you know, the Paterno family was on a bit of an offensive this week and came out saying these leaks were awful, and they never got a chance to respond. Certainly Joe Paterno didn't because, as you said, he died in January. And they said these emails were taken out of context.
But Louis Freeh kind of put that to rest. He said, you know, there were these - this email traffic between Tim Curley and Gary Schultz and Graham Spanier and Joe Paterno about the 2001 incident witnessed by Mike McQueary, then a graduate assistant, and then he became a football assistant.
And there were these emails, and there was discussion what to do, and they were ready to take it to authorities. And apparently, and this is, you know, completely damning to Joe Paterno, and I'll quote what Mr. Freeh said: "Based on the evidence, the only known intervening factor between the decision made on February 25th, 2001 by Spanier, Curley and Schultz to report the incident to the Department of Public Welfare and then agreeing not to do so on February 27th was Mr. Paterno's February 26th conversation with Mr. Curley."
CONAN: And there is also the conclusion that by failing to do anything about Sandusky, by allowing him to retire and become a professor emeritus and still have access to the athletic department, to the facilities there and also, of course, to the football program, they gave him the currency, as they described it in this report, to continue to lure other boys to be victims.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, yeah. You know, it was 14 years, as Mr. Freeh said. It was from '98 to 2011, the inaction, the - you know, the concealing of information, the not going to authorities that made it possible for Jerry Sandusky to continue.
CONAN: There is also the broader questions. Those are those four individuals. Then there are broader questions about the university itself, notes a football program that did not fully participate in or opted out of some university programs, including Clery Act compliance. This is a federal law that requires colleges and universities to collect data on campus crime and to report crimes to police.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, in fact on the day Sandusky was arrested, Penn State's Clery Act implementation plan was still in draft form. And Graham Spanier said that he and the board of trustees never had a discussion about the Clery Act until November 2011.
So yes, even though it was rather an odd moment. I mentioned the offensive by the Paterno family, they released a letter yesterday or actually an op-ed that he had penned just a month before he had died, defending the football program and saying, you know, we were not a football factory, and we did not run amuck, and all the good that I've done over 50 years, and we can't forget that.
Well, you know, it appears the football program and looking away and officials, did happen - and that may be something that the NCAA has to look at now.
CONAN: We'll have to see about that. The Clery Act, by the way, passed in 1990. It's not as if this was a recent thing. There is also a culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus community. And that gets back to this idea that the trustees, Penn State University, allowed this athletics department - meaning, primarily, its football program - to run as a separate fiefdom under its own rules.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the fascinating things that Mr. Freeh pointed out today in his press conference was what he said about the janitor who witnessed what Freeh called probably the most despicable, the harshest - I can't remember the term exactly that he used - rape by Jerry Sandusky of a young boy in the football facilities in 2000 and didn't report it.
And he didn't report it because he was afraid he'd be fired. And he talked about, you know, how they will circle around Sandusky the way they circle around the president of the United States. And Mr. Freeh said, with all due respect to janitors, if that's the culture at the bottom, imagine what was going on at the top.
CONAN: You mention the Paterno family, they issued a statement today. In part it reads: Joe Paterno wasn't perfect, he made mistakes, and he regretted them. He's still the only leader to step forward and say that with the benefit of hindsight he wished he'd done more.
To think, however, that he would have protected Jerry Sandusky to avoid bad publicity is simply not realistic. It goes on to say Joe Paterno never interfered with any investigation. He immediately and accurately reported the incident he was told about in 2001.
To make that statement in - and after this report suggests they did not read the report. I mean, that's directly contradicted by Louis Freeh's report.
GOLDMAN: It is, yeah. I mean, they're saying that they, you know, believe that the report's recounting of the events or how they, the family, see them. You know, they're still clinging to a belief, a strong belief, about Joe Paterno and what he did and didn't know about Jerry Sandusky.
And they said: We have said from the beginning that Joe Paterno did not know Jerry Sandusky was a child predator. Joe Paterno's grand jury testimony, which hasn't been publicly talked about that much, contradicts that. Joe Paterno said to a grand jury, when he was talking about the Mike McQueary witnessed incident, he said that Mike McQueary told him, Joe Paterno, that Sandusky was doing something with a youngster - it was a sexual nature.
So that right there says Joe Paterno had to know something that was going on with Jerry Sandusky as a child predator.
CONAN: There is now the recommendations, also, within this lengthy report after this eight-month investigation, and a lot of people have called for Penn State to clean house. That doesn't come up.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, I mean, you know, kind of the closest they get to that is, and I'm quoting here, "to deeply examine the Penn State to reinforced university commitment to protect children, create accountability, transparency." They're going to - you know, one of the recommendations, "review organizational structure to make more efficient the roles of the president and the senior VP" and so on.
Yeah, I mean, Neal, it's still early. This thing was released hours ago. The board of trustees, as a matter of fact, is going to be speaking in about 15 minutes reacting to it. So there's still a lot of reacting. There's still a lot to plow through, a 267-page report, and for people to react and for things to actually change, and for broken things within Penn State to be fixed.
CONAN: As we mentioned, two of those officials named continue to face charges. Their case has not gone to trial as yet. But there is an allegation that the others may have been involved in violations of the Clery Act, which is a federal law. There's also requirements under Pennsylvania state law to report crimes against children.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, and questions whether Graham Spanier will be charged, now, with crimes, as well.
CONAN: And so as this moves forward, clearly it seems that there's also going to be civil cases, as the victims in this horrible story - try to go to civil court to get compensation.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, certainly you're hearing - you know, you're hearing the victims' lawyers react very strongly, and whether that's, you know...
CONAN: And we'll hear from one of them in a few minutes.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, a preemptive fire an indication of these civil cases, but that has been talked about a lot, yeah. This report today is not good news for a number of people.
CONAN: And it's important to say this was a report commissioned by the university. This is their in-house report. This is their internal finding.
GOLDMAN: By the board of trustees and commissioned by the board of trustees, and it was going to be interesting to see how Mr. Freeh responded to that and what he had to say about the board of trustees. You know, he didn't come down on them like he came down on those four power figures that we talked about, and he said that the board of trustees did not know about the incidents in 1998 and 2001 the way those four men did.
But he said, you know, the board of trustees was involved in creating a culture where this kind of stuff could happen, could go on. And so, you know, it's still early. As I said, the board of trustees is going to be speaking publicly for the first time. So we still don't know how they're going to be - how they're going to forward, whether heads will roll.
CONAN: And as you mentioned, the NCAA, which always talks about lack of institutional control, this sounds like the definition of lack of institutional control.
GOLDMAN: It certainly does, and the NCAA constitution includes a provision that members adhere to ethical conduct at all times. And so if the NCAA takes some sort of action, it probably would be along those lines. Institutional control often has to do with, you know, recruiting violations and so on. This I think will focus on that whole idea of ethical conduct.
CONAN: We're talking about the results of the internal Penn State investigation into the Sandusky sex scandal. After today's report, have your questions been answered? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. The email address is email@example.com. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is with us. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. We're talking about the results of an internal investigation into what went wrong at Penn State during at least 14 years of sexual child abuse by Jerry Sandusky. Today's report was scathing. As we heard, the internal investigation blames former head coach Joe Paterno and several top officials of covering up allegations in an attempt to avoid bad publicity.
As you can imagine, reaction has been fierce and deeply divided. On Penn State's Facebook page, Joey Schwartz(ph) wrote: It makes no sense discussing what happened in the past and what emails were sent. Complaining about the past does not make for a strong future.
Sean MacPharlan(ph) disagreed: Time to swallow your pride and recognize that Jo-Pa made very grave mistakes, and even he probably didn't understand the gravity of them at the time. This is undeniable proof that not only did he fail to act, but he influenced the decision to report Sandusky to the authorities.
More reaction in a moment. We'll also talk with a lawyer of the victims, as well as a Penn State alum. Tom Goldman is our guest, NPR sports correspondent. He's been poring over the pages of the report all morning. After today's report, have your questions been answered? 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Jeff Anderson is a trial lawyer who represents two men who claim sexual abuse by Jerry Sandusky. They were not part of the criminal trial. One of those men, known as John Doe A, has filed a civil suit against Sandusky. Jeff Anderson joins us from the studios of Minnesota Public Radio, and good of you to be with us today.
JEFF ANDERSON: Good to be with you.
CONAN: And does this report answer your questions?
ANDERSON: Well, it certainly reveals to all of us in some much greater detail how excruciatingly ugly the scenario has been at Penn State. And anybody that reads it already knew a lot about it, but already know this now, gives us much more detail.
The problem with it, however, as good as Freeh's investigation was, is that the board empowered him only to investigate it after 1998. And we already know there were serious lapses from 1977 to 1998. So we're deeply disappointed that the board did not empower a broader and a deeper report than what has been presented.
CONAN: So we - the first incident reported at Penn State to the authorities that they were aware of, at least according to the Freeh report, was 1998. You're saying there were earlier allegations that they should have known about, too?
ANDERSON: We sure have indications that there were knowledge of Sandusky's inappropriate relationships long before '98, and we're disappointed we didn't get more about that because this report deals with 1998 to 2011.
CONAN: Have you spoken with your clients today?
ANDERSON: We have, and it's a mixed feeling. They feel like there's some validation in their courage in having come forward that now the truth is known. But there's also a sense of disappointment that more of it isn't being known and told. And so for that, I think it's a mixed set of feelings that they are feeling.
But every day, more is known about how the kids were failed to be protected in the past and that they know they've done something about that. I think they are empowered, and the healing has really been assisted by that.
CONAN: There is one of your clients who has filed a civil suit. What's the status of that?
ANDERSON: He did. He filed last year, and as soon as the suit got filed, the courts put the case on hold and prevented us from moving forward with our investigation and discovery until after the Sandusky criminal trial. Now that that has concluded, we're seeking to start that back up, and it's our hope and intention to get into our investigation, put these witnesses under oath and dig deeper than Louis Freeh was able to dig and dig wider than he was given the power to do.
CONAN: And is the suit filed against Penn State? Is it filed against the estate of Joe Paterno?
ANDERSON: The suit is filed against Penn State, Second Mile and Sandusky himself.
CONAN: Second Mile was the foundation that Jerry Sandusky started.
ANDERSON: That's right. He started it in 1977 and used it as a vehicle to access many kids and his position as that icon at Penn State.
CONAN: And you've represented victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, as well. I wonder: Do you see similarities?
ANDERSON: Well, I've been working with survivors involved in abuse by clerics across the country. And what we see in this report and at Penn State mirrors, identically, the culture of arrogance and denial that we've seen in the diocese across the country now for over 29 years.
And sadly so, it is really, strikingly similar.
CONAN: Jeff Anderson, thanks very much for your time today, we appreciate it.
ANDERSON: You're very welcome.
CONAN: Jeff Anderson, a lawyer who represents two of Sandusky's alleged victims who were not part of the criminal trial, one of whom has filed a civil suit. He joined us from Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul.
Tom Goldman is still with us. Let's see if we can get a caller in on the conversation. This is Rick(ph), and Rick's with us from Sarasota in Florida.
RICK: Hey, how's it going?
CONAN: Good, thanks.
RICK: Thanks for taking my call. My primary point is I am really surprised Graham Spanier is a paid member of the faculty at Penn State still, and I think he ought to be sacked immediately. I graduated there in 1990. My brother went there. I'm from Western Pennsylvania. We all go there. And this in no way reflects the nature of people of Western Pennsylvania, which makes it all the more disturbing because the fact that - we all go there. Everybody goes to Penn State - almost everybody.
And for this to have happened in our school is so - it - you know, I'm disgusted. I'm disgusted that it happened, I'm disgusted to have - you know, that Graham Spanier's still there; that Joe Paterno, who these people - I'm not a big sports fan, but who - you know, when I was there, they were cutting programs and combining majors to build an $86 million basketball facility, and they justified that because the money came from PepsiCo.
You know, but they've become too much of a money machine like so many universities, and they're so preoccupied with their finances and with the things they think they can sell, which football was primary - is maybe still a primary example, that academics fall aside, and the safety of the kids of the region apparently fall aside, too.
And if there's any reason to get that money out of those campuses, and, you know, they don't need the money if they don't have those big programs. If you don't have big multi-million-dollar sports programs all over the place, you don't need the money to pay for them. So why don't we just get rid of both? That's my opinion.
CONAN: Rick, thanks very much for the phone call, appreciate it.
CONAN: Mr. Spanier, again, lost his job as president. He's a tenured professor at Penn State University so continues as a faculty member. And he's not teaching currently at Penn State, but Tom Goldman, Rick opens up a big question about the role of big-time sports programs, and it's certainly not just at Penn State.
GOLDMAN: Boy oh boy. Throw a rock or throw a stone anywhere in the country, and you see the primacy of sport, and certainly of football. So many universities, now obviously we're not going to start accusing people of having, you know, a sordid situation like what happened at Penn State, but you can certainly see, in that kind of environment, the deification of coaches.
And, you know, the coaches often are the highest paid people on campus, a lot of these big universities with big programs. And so, you know, I think that's kind of a - one of the global messages that can come out of this, that can come out of this for all people and for even the people who aren't - who weren't directly involved.
You know, think about your reverence for your teams and your programs; and think about, you know, all the alums out there who would do anything for old State U kind of thing. I think, you know, this is a very sobering thing, and it probably should prompt a lot of introspection at all levels.
CONAN: Let's go next to Jay(ph), and Jay's on the line with us from Jacksonville.
JAY: Good afternoon.
JAY: I wanted to talk about the culture of silence that exists to protect these types of institutions. Something similar happened to FAMU, where people were reporting about violence that was happening to young people, and instead of going to the police, they just stopped going to the person ahead of them.
And that's a disturbing trend.
CONAN: That's Florida A&M University, the hazing incident where the marching band member was beaten to death.
JAY: Yeah, and I think it's a very similar thing that the culture, this allows them to develop at those schools. It's a challenge, and people don't feel the need to go beyond just saying something to their boss. You know, if I see a child being hurt, I'm going to the police.
CONAN: And the marching band, it should be pointed out, at Florida A&M, is a major institution there, and Tom Goldman, in a way a program that was like the Penn State football program - almost bigger than the university.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, and, you know, I think we can even go even farther, beyond sports programs and schools. Corporations, you know, this whole idea of acting in the best interest of the thing rather than remembering that the thing is made up of human beings and fallible human beings and, you know, people do so much to uphold the goodness, the saintliness of that corporation, of that school. You know, Mr. Freeh, today, talked about - someone asked him, why? Why did these guys do this? Why if there was this, you know, concealing of information that people are calling a cover-up? Why?
And he said, they were worried about bad publicity. And bad publicity, you know, it's a - that's a powerful thing to try and avoid that, and it applies at all levels. And so, you know, it seems like, my God, that's an absurd reason to let all these things happen. But it's very important when the thing gets so big and there's so much money involved.
CONAN: Jay, thanks very much for the call.
JAY: Thank you.
CONAN: Gary Levitt's a graduate of Penn State. He's spokesperson for Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, a group of Penn State alumni and students calling for the resignation of the Penn State board of trustees, and he joins us now by phone from Delray Beach in Florida. And good of you to be with us today.
GARY LEVITT: Oh, thank you. Thank you for having me.
CONAN: And I know your organization put out a checklist of issues you wanted addressed by Louis Freeh in his report. Were your questions answered?
LEVITT: No. We are very, very disappointed in the Freeh report. It's heavy on supposition and opinion, but very light on facts and evidence. We had hoped that this would be a kind of in-depth review of the whole situation that would put things to rest. But they never interviewed key people, including Coach Paterno, who was available and eager to talk with him.
And, you know, according to the report itself, Dr. Spanier and the board of trustees had never even discussed implementation of the 1990 Clery Act, the federal law regarding child abuse. Twenty-one years later after the act took effect, Penn State's implementation of that plan was still in draft form. And, you know, it's clear who should be blamed for that: the board of trustees who are responsible for oversight and the president.
But Coach Paterno, I knew - I've known Coach Paterno since he was an assistant coach. Coach Paterno ran a program for 46 years, by the rule book. That was his nature, and that was his commitment. And the - when he was faced with something that was outside of his purview - it didn't involve one of his players. It was not an existing coach, but a tenured professor who used to be a coach.
He didn't know - he said, I didn't know exactly how to handle it, and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was. So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn't work out that way. And with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I would have done more.
CONAN: I hear that, but Joe Paterno, as you know, was more than just an employee at Penn State. He was the face of that university. He was the best known and most important man on that campus.
LEVITT: As I also know about Joe Paterno, is that the idea that he would do anything to avoid bad publicity for his program is laughable to people who knew him. He's famously quoted as saying publicity is only a poison if you swallow it. He had no concern whatsoever with that. He was far, far more concerned with turning out - turning student athletes into successful human beings, successful people. He was a teacher first.
And he always put the university ahead of the football program. That's one of the big misconceptions that keeps getting repeated here. And Judge Freeh said, you know, they did this to avoid bad publicity. That - I don't know about Graham Spanier. I don't know Tim Curley that well. I know Coach Paterno, and that's just nonsense.
CONAN: This is Gary Levitt, spokesperson for Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And again, going back to the - Coach Paterno's grand jury testimony that Tom Goldman mentioned earlier, that he was told in 2001 that this was an incident of a sexual nature.
LEVITT: Yes. He was told vaguely, apparently, both according to Mike McQueary and to himself, that this was - he was told a very, very vague and brief description. He responded by saying, you have to take this to the people who run this place. And he called them, and he turned it over to them, and he assumed that it would be handled properly.
Don't forget, with the benefit of hindsight, knowing what Jerry Sandusky was all about, you know, you can say, well, he should have known that. But Jerry Sandusky was a revered figure in Centre County, Pennsylvania. His reputation among many people was greater than Joe Paterno's. His charity was a national example. George Walker Bush, you know, named him one of the 1,000 lights of...
CONAN: Points of Light, yeah.
LEVITT: Yeah. You know, in hindsight, when you look back on this and you say, well, you had a predator there and you didn't do anything about it. But Jerry Sandusky wasn't considered a predator until we all found out about it when he was arrested and Sara Ganim over at the Harrisburg paper had written some things on it.
GOLDMAN: Can I ask Gary a question, Neal?
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
GOLDMAN: Hi, Gary.
GOLDMAN: Tom Goldman here. If you're testifying to a grand jury, if you know that someone is doing something with a youngster, in a shower, of a sexual nature, you know, doesn't that tell you something? You ask anyone, any kind of - any person, and certainly a strong person like the Joe Paterno you're describing, you know, who molded men over a half century...
GOLDMAN: ...a phone call? I mean...
LEVITT: Well, listen...
CONAN: And allow that person access to that shower for another 10 years.
LEVITT: Well, that was his decision. But in any case, he did not - keep in mind, Joe Paterno did not see anything. He was told by a graduate assistant that the graduate assistant had seen something of some kind of nature and he did - listen, I teach in middle school. I've got a procedure to follow. If somebody tells me something, that a child's being abused or whatever, I know exactly who to call and what to do, and there's a procedure.
I am not supposed to go immediately to the police and say, well, he said this about that. Joe Paterno didn't see anything. He was told something. And if he wanted to cover it up for any possible reason, he could have done that right then and there.
CONAN: Gary Levitt, you will disagree with Louis Free and the report that was issued today, but thank you for your time today.
LEVITT: I surely do disagree with him.
CONAN: Gary Levitt, the spokesperson for Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, with us from Delray Beach in Florida. Our thanks also go to Tom Goldman, NPR's sports correspondent in Portland Oregon. Tom, thank you very much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Neal.
CONAN: Up next: The rebellion of the doomed extras on a starship's away team. John Scalzi joins us to talk about his new bestseller "Redshirts." This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.