By Chuck Burton
College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — With the release of the Freeh report, there's no longer any doubt as to what Joe Pa knew about sexual assault of boys in his facilities in his athletic department, and when he knew it.
A portrait emerges of four men – Paterno, athetic director Tim Curley, Vice President Gary Schulz, and University President Graham Spanier — that knew about the victimization of young boys on their athletic premeses, and willfully looked the other way.
It's a story that continues to evolve as the full ramification and analysis of the actions of four men that could have prevented the crimes continue to percolate.
Looking back, it's amazing to think that in the backs of many fans' minds, the instinct was to protect Joe Pa.
From the first bombshell of the detailed, horrific allegations against Gerald A. Sandusky last October to the release of the Freeh report last Thursday, if you talked to anyone who considered themselves a fan of Joe Paterno, they wanted — almost needed, it seemed — to blame just about anyone else for allowing a sexual predator to operate with impunity in the halls on Penn State.
Say it ain't so, Joe, it seemed like people were pleading with the 85-year-old coaching icon that had undoubtedly had a great hand in getting many of his football players the right start in life.
Denial came very easy when the first reports came from the Harrisburg Patriot-News' Sara Ganim, who would ultimately win a Pulitzer Prize for her efforts.
In March of 2011, she reported about a grand jury investigation into the activity of Gerald A. Sandusky, a defensive coordinator for Joe Paterno who had worked with the legendary coach for over thiry years.
According to five people with knowledge of the case, a grand jury meeting in Harrisburg has been hearing testimony for at least 18 months about the allegation, which was made in 2009 by a 15-year-old from Clinton County.
The teen told authorities that Sandusky had inappropriate contact with him over a four-year period, starting when he was 10.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley and retired university Vice President and Treasurer Gary Schultz were among those who appeared before the grand jury in January at the attorney general’s Strawberry Square office complex, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation. Attempts to reach the three for comment were unsuccessful.
Many Penn State fans, predictably, didn't believe her report, with some commenters calling her investigation a "witch hunt" and a barb for her to "stick to reporting the facts".
But not only did she give the first descriptions of incidents that would ultimately end up in the criminal case against Sandusky, she gives chilling hints of a cover up as well, noting that a retired police officer asked 'How did you see that report?' in regards to a police report involving Sandusky.
Her report began the process of revealing not only the prosecution's meticulous, detailed case against Sandusky, but would also lead to the arrest and criminal charges against the convicted pedophile as well.
Once convicted, the subject turned to how something like this could happen at Penn State over such a long period of years.
An internal report commissioned by Penn State seemed, in retrospect, to try to blame anyone but coach Paterno, with state attorney general Linda Kelly saying that a "culture of secrecy" was more to blame under president Spanier.
But the Freeh report chillingly confirms Ganim's original report of a cover-up by Penn State officials from Joe Pa to the University President, a fact that did not escape her last week.
Freeh’s team found emails that the AG’s investigators couldn’t get. Freeh called those emails the “most important pieces of evidence in the case.”
What Freeh says those emails show — and what his team concluded after more than 400 interviews — was that Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz were concerned about preserving the reputation, fundraising ability and overall image of Penn State and its revered football program, and so they actively decided to keep Sandusky’s allegations to themselves.
The Freeh report says there was no evidence of any interference by any university officials in 1998; however, the civil attorney for Victim 6 said Thursday it appeared Sandusky was given preferential treatment by investigators.
None of those questions have been raised by the attorney general. The difference in tone was almost immediately obvious to many.
The world learned that not only did Paterno know that something had happened with Sandusky in the showers back in 1998, he knew there was a criminal investigation centered around him and a "possible sexual assault" of a young boy in the showers of Penn State's athletic facilities.
"Despite their knowledge of the criminal investigation of Sandusky, Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley took no action to limit Sandusky's access to Penn State facilities or took any measure to protect children on their campuses," the Freeh report says.
(Even eight days before his death, Paterno told Washington Post reporter Sally Jenkins that "nobody knew" about the 1998 assault – leading Jenkins to call Paterno a "canny and unfeeling power broker who put protecting his reputation ahead of protecting children.")
Ganim has plenty of questions about this 1998 incident, which is undoubtedly the most damaging piece of information in rergards to Penn State administrators.
"Why was the report mislabeled as something other than a criminal incident? To make it hard to find?" so oh-so-righftully asks. "Why were administrators known for meddling in police investigations? The detective handling that case, Ron Schreffler, told the Freeh group his experience was that Old Main could stick their noses in cases."
Ganim also mentions that one of the victims' attorney's mentioned that law enforcement's treatment of Sandusky was different than that of other suspects in child abuse cases. That certainly seems to be the case: it's hard to imagine that a janitor with the same accusations would have been treated the same way.
But her harshest judgments came for the four administrators when it came to Sandusky's "retirement package" which happened one year after the incident.
If former Penn State President Graham Spanier, Joe Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz all really knew the details of the 1998 police report and the allegations within it, the terms of Sandusky’s retirement a year later are outrageous.
Spanier bent over backward to get Sandusky emeritus status, the Freeh report stated, even though he didn’t have the academic qualifications. That status included an office on campus and keys to the shower, where he would abuse several more boys until he was arrested.
In fact, seven of the 10 boys Sandusky molested were abused after 1999.
“Penn State agreed to provide Jerry Sandusky with a retirement package that specifically included Penn State credentials and access that enabled him to continue to groom and sexually abuse boys,” wrote attorneys Andrew Shubin and Justine Andronici, who represent Victims 7, 10 and 3, along with Matt Sandusky and others who have come forward to police.
The terms of Sandusky's retirement indeed were eye-popping, which included, on top of what Ms. Ganim already mentioned, a six-figure lump sum payment, extra yearly salary to run a "middle school youth football camp", and the expressed desire to have Sandusky to "find ways to continue to work with young people through Penn State".
One of the interesting, unpublicized parts of the report mention Paterno's involvement in attempting to get Sandusky involved in becoming the head football coach at a Division III football program at Penn State-Altoona — an institution an hour away from State College that did not have any apparent demand to start up a football program.
There's another extremely chilling note in the Freeh report lifted directly from Panterno's own notes.
One of the ways that Sandusky wanted to work with Penn State was through his youth charity for at-risk kids called the Second Mile.
Paterno's own files have hand-written notes detail a conversation he either had, or was planning to have, concerning Sandusky's desire to be the next head coach of Penn State.
"We know this isn't easy for you and it isn't easy for Penn State," it reads. "Part of the reason it isn't easy is because I allowed and at times tried to help you with your developing the Second Mile. If there were no Second Mile then I believe you belief [sic] that you probably could be the next Penn State FB Coach. But you wanted the best of two worlds and I probably should have sat down with you six or seven years ago and said look Jerry if you want to be the Head Coach at Penn State, give up your association with the Second Mile and concentrate on nothing but your family and Penn State. Don't worry about the Second Mile — you don't have the luxury of doing both. One will always demand a decision of preference. You are too deeply involved in both."
Taken in isolation, it seems like a discussion about Sandusky's future and a bureaucratic discussion of job responsibilities.
But knowing now that Paterno knew of a criminal investigation against Sandusky in 1998 for a possible sexual assault against a child, it takes on a whole different dimension.
We will never know the exact meaning of his statement, "if you want to be the head coach at Penn State, give up your association with the Second Mile and concentrate on nothing but your family and Penn State."
But it's very clear that Paterno was focused specifically on Sandusky's involvement with the Second Mile when it came to discussions about his future with Penn State.
Isn't that a pretty odd thing to bring up in that context, and to make that the primary reason for denying him the head coaching position?
And if it's indeed an ultimatum — it seems to read in that way now, in retrospect, it opens up a lot more questions.
Did Paterno know even more about Sandusky, the Second Mile, and his activities?
It's worth noting that the administration's denial and lies about Gerald A. Sandusky's conduct not only victimized kids around the State College area, but all throughout the state of Pennsylvania.
With police reports on Sandusky's conduct safely buried, he not only continued to prey on kids through his charity but also fooled countless people across the state.
Some of those people have very deep regrets in their unwitting role in saying good things about a monster.
One of those prople is veteran Sports Illiustrated sportswriter Jack McCallum, whose 1999 puff piece on Penn State inadvertently gave him the nickname "Saint Sandusky" for his apparent decision to retie from the chance to follow Joe Paterno in order to concentrate on the Second Mile.
"Because Sandusky is so respected, as a man and as the dean of Linebacker U, there's the impression that it's just fine with him that he has never been a head coach," his 1999 piece said. "It's not. 'I wouldn't call it devastating,' says Sandusky, choosing his words carefully, 'but I would call it a little disappointing. That was definitely a goal of mine when I started. If I hadn't had the other part of my life—my family and the Second Mile—I would've been a head coach.'
McCallum recently shared the genesis of this piece, which still haunts him.
I had originally gone to State College to write about a 9-0 Penn State team that was challenging for the national title. I show up, and the Nittany Lions lose 24-23 to a not-very-good Minnesota team, scrapping a Penn State story.
"Well, you know, the defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, is retiring so maybe I could get a feature out of that," I told my bosses. "He runs this organization called Second Mile to give at-risk kids a second chance so …"
I have combed through my remaining brain cells to conjure up memories about that story and can't come up with much. I met Sandusky and his wife. The story wasn't long. It was written in a hurry and has a mailed-it-in feel to it. It wasn't very good.
McCallum's biggest chill comes from the fact that at the time, "some of his worst behavior was going on", and Sandusky was in the middle of a campus investigation. "So I wrote a favorable story about a guy who was already a sexual predator."
But McCallum isn't at fault for writing a positive story. At that time, there was just one police report buried deep within the campus police department. The cover-up by school officials was devastatingly effective.
The cover up also allowed Sandusky to do a lot of work with the Second Mile on the road, travelling to different junior and high school camps across the state.
In particular, he would come yearly to the Lehigh Valley to fundraise for the Second Mile, often attracting big-time football celbrities to show up as well.
He made so many appearances and brought so many stars that the Second Mile had a Lehigh Valley chapter.
As a result of these appearances, the local paper, the Allentown Morning Call, would frequently write flattering pieces about Sandusky, reminding people who he was and the story he wanted to world to see.
Sandusky said he had an agreement to become the team's head coach but hedged, and Virginia "went in a different direction." He considered other head-coaching jobs in his career (including those at Marshall, Temple and Maryland) but doesn't regret not taking the step.
"Penn State was a unique situation," Sandusky said. "You're talking about a place secure enough in itself to be able to handle a little diversion of time. It becomes a tradeoff to try to do two things and do them well.
"It's something I wanted to do, but I'm not devastated I didn't. Especially when I start thinking about the headaches."
Jerry Sandusky still works out with the football players — some of whom he even recognizes — and attends games. Coaching, however, is part of his past.
"There may come a time when nobody in the world even knows I coached at Penn State," he said.
He was a big football celebrity, as Keith Groller, a 30-year veteran of the Morning Call told me. Like many of the Call's sportswriting staff, he had done laudatory pieces on Sandusky and his foundation — and was fooled, as were thousands of others.
I did a feature story on him several years ago when he was the main speaker at Lauren's First and Goal one-day clinic at Lafayette, and at that particular time I had heard absolutely nothing bad about him … nothing about the first incident in 1998, nothing.
So, like everyone else, I was impressed that this guy, who everyone thought could have been the next head coach at Penn State, had decided to give up his own football coaching career and devote himself to a worthy cause that helped kids. He was held in awe that day by the campers, his coaching colleagues, everyone there. Here he was, one of the most prominent defensive coordinators in the history of NCAA football and now he was raising thousands of dollars to help kids. He was Saint Sandusky.
To an extent, he was also held in awe by me because I wrote a very positive, upbeat piece about him, saluting him for what I thought was his generous, unselfish contributions to society.
Like McCallum, Groller felt betrayed when he learned the truth about Sandusky, but he's less haunted by it than he is.
"I obviously regret the story," he told me, "and I feel duped by Sandusky and those who shielded his evil. This tragedy should inspire us all to delve a little deeper and to scrutinize more carefully everything and everybody around us. We can't always assume that what you see is what you get. As hard as we try in this business to portray people as they truly are and what they are all about, we are not there all of the time. We don't get to go behind closed doors."
The fact that reporters and the public don't get to go behind closed doors is the reason why the cover up of Sandusky's abuse by people in a position to do something is so awful.
Spanier, Paterno, Curley and Schultz' decisions to cover up the crimes, not to mention the burial of reports by campus police, had reverberations far beyond Penn State.
Much has been written about these four men's enabling of Sandusky's illicit activities at Penn State, but less is said or known about how their silence allowed "Saint Sandusky" to be portrayed as an honorable figure, basking in the glow of Joe Paterno and Penn State as he travelled through the state.
This entire case should not only be about his actions in the locker rooms at Penn State, but the enabling of Sandusky to travel though the state of Pennsylvania and elsewhere, to be seen as a hero, sacrificing a chance at following a legend into head football coaching.
It's not a stretch to imagine that Sandusky could have used such trips to scout for future victims.
These four men allowed this to happen, and said and did nothing then or later about it, which effectively was an endorsement of what he was doing.
This should not be forgotten in the discussion as to what to do about Penn State, Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, or Gary Schultz. And it most certainly should not be forgotten in terms of the legacy of Joe Paterno.