Jerry Sandusky, the Penn State as- sistant football coach who used his position to prey on adolescent boys, has been found guilty on multiple counts, and justice is being served. Sandusky will likely spend the rest of his days in a Pennsylvania penitentiary.
But those who thought that Sandusky’s trial and the guilty verdicts would mark the beginning of the healing process face a new reality. The reputation of the university and some of its top officials, including its legendary coach, Joe Paterno, is on trial anew in the court of public opinion.
An interesting sidelight is the role that email is playing as the drama unfolds. Email was the undoing of another coach, Jim Tressel, at The Ohio State University. In his case, emails showed that Tressel was aware that some of his players had traded or sold their championship memorabilia in violation of NCAA rules. He was duty bound to report those transgressions and see the players and football program suffer the consequences. He didn’t, and the eventual consequences were even greater for the football program and Tressel himself.
What went on at Penn State for years may or may not have violated NCAA rules, but it was an affront to the law and to human decency.
Paterno’s family says he never used email, but others at the university certainly used it in talking about him. And those emails that have become public cast doubt on Paterno’s contention, which was warmly embraced by his supporters, that he did what he should have done in the Sandusky case. The story is that Paterno reported Sandusky’s alleged assault of a boy in an athletic department shower to his superiors and then waited for them to do their duty.
What has always been troubling about that scenario is that it didn’t explain why at some point Paterno would not have questioned what the athletic director and university president did or did not do about Sandusky’s behavior.
Last fall, the public could read the 23-page findings of fact released by the grand jury that indicted Sandusky on multiple charges of child molestation over a 15-year period.
That report noted that after a graduate assistant reported in 2002 that he witnessed Sandusky engaging in the rape of a boy estimated to be 10 years old in a shower, no police report was made as required by law. The grand jury stated, “nor was there any attempt to investigate, to identify ‘Victim 2’ or to protect that child or any others from similar conduct, except as related to preventing its reoccurrence on university property.”
In recent weeks, specific charges were spelled out in gut-wrenching detail by victims testifying against Sandusky during the trial. Sandusky was convicted on 45 of 48 counts related to 10 victims and awaits sentencing, although the identity of “Victim 2” remains a mystery.
Recently released emails appear to show that former university President Graham Spanier and then-administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz were first inclined to report Sandusky to police. But Curley then wrote, apparently referring to Paterno, “After giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe yesterday, I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps. I am having trouble with going to everyone but the person involved. I would be more comfortable meeting with the person and tell them about the information we received and tell them we are aware of the first situation.” The “them” in that sentence appears to be Sandusky.
Will further emails show when and how they confronted Sandusky and what he said that dissuaded them from going to the police? It’s difficult to imagine any reasonable explanation for their inaction.
Awaiting Freeh’s report
Also looming is the release of a report by an investigative team hired by the university and led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh.
The Paterno family, saying that the selective release of emails is damaging to the coach’s reputation, has called for the release of the full report. “The public should not have to try and piece together a story from a few records that have been selected in a calculated way to manipulate public opinion,” said a statement released by the family.
On that we can agree. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Release the full report, so that the public can make a determination of which officials acted honorably, and which acted less so, and possibly illegally.
Anything that doesn’t come out now is going to come out in the inevitable civil suits brought by the victims. Better now than later.