8 months ago, Penn State University asked former FBI director and federal judge Louis Freeh to do an investigation of who knew about Jerry Sandusky’s rape of children and what they did about it. Freeh’s report is now out and PSU probably isn’t going to like the answers. The report concludes that nearly everyone at Penn State, including Joe Paterno and the PSU leadership, engaged in a 14 year cover up of those crimes.
Joe Paterno and other top Penn State officials hushed up child sex abuse allegation against Jerry Sandusky more than a decade ago for fear of bad publicity, allowing Sandusky to prey on other youngsters, according to a scathing internal report issued today on the scandal.
“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State,” said former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who was hired by university trustees to look into what has become one of sports’ biggest scandals. “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”
After an eight-month inquiry, Freeh’s firm produced a 267-page report that concluded that Hall of Fame coach Paterno, President Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz “failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.”
Freeh called the officials’ disregard for child victims “callous and shocking.”
“In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the university — Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley — repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse,” the report said. Paterno “was an integral part of this active decision to conceal,” Freeh said at a news conference.
School leaders “empowered Sandusky to attract potential victims to the campus and football events by allowing him to have continued, unrestricted and unsupervised access” to campus and his affiliation with the football program, the report said. The access, the report states, “provided Sandusky with the very currency that enabled him to attract his victims.”
This is not just a story about football. It raises a number of important issues that need to be addressed:
1. The inordinate power of prominent sports coaches at many universities. Paterno was a legendary figure, not only at Penn State but in sports itself, and his power and influence at Penn State was extraordinary. It’s now clear that he was the one who stopped the university from reporting Sandusky to the police. The original plan was to inform the police, but the athletic director explicitly said in an email that after a discussion with Paterno, he had changed his mind. Sandusky was never reported and went on to molest many more children after that fateful decision. But this could happen at many other universities as well, especially where there are powerful coaches that everyone is afraid to cross. There’s huge money at stake, which makes attempts to protect that money inevitable.
2. The Catholic Church. The law requires those Penn State officials to report child abuse to the police, which they failed to do here. But the churches are exempted from such laws. This exact same scenario happened hundreds of times in the Catholic Church for decades, with bishops and cardinals — including the current pope — deliberately covering up the same crimes when committed by priests, refusing to report them to the police and keeping them in positions where they could find more victims instead. Yet only once, in just the last few weeks, has even one person in such a position been charged with a crime. That needs to be changed. Cardinal Law and many others should be facing criminal charges of aiding and abetting.
3. The absurdity of hero worship. When all of this started, hundreds, maybe thousands, of people gathered around Penn State and expressed their outrage at the vicious, dishonest attacks on Joe Paterno’s integrity. But they were wrong. Flagrantly wrong. They were supporting a man who helped Sandusky rape dozens of children, even if he wasn’t directly involved in it. They should feel pretty ashamed right now, but I bet a lot of them don’t. They let their hero worship override both their logical faculties and their moral values. And they’re hardly the only ones to do so. This is not only common but absolutely routine, especially in politics. We need to learn from that.