The just issued Freeh report paints on extremely ugly picture in how top executives at Penn State handled allegations of sexual misconduct by Jerry Sandusky. From Graham Spanier to Joe Paterno, the failures are epic. However, the report does not adequately explain the why – how men of such sterling character could fail so miserably.
Before the allegations surrounding Jerry Sandusky broke last fall, Spanier and Paterno (for the most part) were seen as beacons of integrity. Looking at their backgrounds and life work, it is inconceivable that they would knowingly look the other way as Jerry preyed on unsuspecting children but this is what happened. How can this be reconciled?
Part of the answer is that these two men and many others in the Penn State Community were living in denial; conduct that should have been seen as grooming children for sexual abuse was brushed off as Jerry being Jerry. He only had a boundaries issue when it when it came to his dealings with children, nothing devious, get him some help and all will be right. As we now know, this assumption was disastrously wrong. However, to complete the equation, we need to know why they came to this conclusion and for that we need to look at motive.
Much of the thought as to the why is that they were protecting Joe’s beloved football program and all the money and glory that it brought to Penn State. Yes, the football program is important but their failure to act when required goes beyond this. Their conduct was designed to protect the University and the surrounding environs. Money and prestige came from many different sources; it was not limited to football. There were federal and state grants, researching money and the like. The local economy would have been hit hard if funds dried up because of a scandal of epic proportions. And make no mistake, if this story broke a decade ago, there would have been a scandal like the one we are seeing today.
Additionally, the harm done to the area would have personally affected them along with many of the local elite. The intermingling of personal interest along with business interests in the State College area is staggering. As in well-known, Penn State is deeply intertwined with the Second Mile and that scenario is true for just about every major business in the State College area. Everything is connected to Penn State in some manner.
Interconnection is not just related to the businesses but to the people who run them. Look behind the façade of each business and you will see a familiar cast of characters. The town is built on a house of cards and if one card is pulled, State College collapses.
Despite all this, if Spanier and Paterno knew Mr. Sandusky was a pedophile they would have done the right thing, but they didn’t. Again, how do we reconcile this? To answer this riddle, we need to look at the final piece of this puzzle and that is the internal investigation conducted into the 2001 allegation.
The main problem with the 2001 investigation conducted by Penn State is that Penn State conducted this investigation. A truly independent entity was required to review the facts. When one has a vested interest in the outcome of an investigation, one will tend to view the facts in a light most favorable to your position. So for those looking at Jerry’s conduct, it was determined to be horseplay instead of what it actually was – child sex abuse. Also, Penn State is not the first institution to fail in this regard; all it needed to do was to ask the Catholic Church what the likely outcome would be from conducting an in-house investigation to realize the folly of its task.
What is the real lesson from this debacle? When one has a vested interest in an outcome of an investigation, one cannot conduct said investigation.