Some reminders are in order, given all the shameful hand-wringing about the soiled reputations of Penn State and its football coach Joe Paterno following Thursday’s damning report by former FBI director Louis Freeh on the university’s mishandling of the Jerry Sandusky case.
At least 10 children were sexually abused over 15 years by Sandusky, while he was employed by Penn State or had access to its facilities. The 10 are the ones for which Sandusky, a former assistant football coach, was convicted on 45 counts of molesting. There could be more.
But the numbers don’t tell the true horror. For that, you have to hear from the victims. If you want to sympathize with anyone, sympathize with them. Listen to the words of Victim 9 as he testified at Sandusky’s trial, which ended three weeks ago.
The 18-year-old said that for four years Sandusky would rape him and force him to perform oral sex in Sandusky’s basement. “He [made] me touch his penis and stuff… He made me give him a, suck his penis is how you’d put it. He came in my room, pulled his pants down, laid on top of me, and kind of forced it in. … Sometimes (I’d) scream, sometimes tell him to get off me, but other than that, who was there? ” The rape was brutal enough that he bled.
If you had a difficult time reading that testimony, imagine what it was like for a 12-year-old, the age the molestation began for Victim 9, to experience it. Then think of that happening to nine other boys – at least nine other boys.
But here’s the most sickening thing from the Freeh report – and there’s lots that’s sickening – Victim 9 could have been spared Sandusky’s torment. If the Penn State leaders had acted aggressively when the first reports of Sandusky’s inappropriate behavior with children were made in 1998, or even the one in 2001, Sandusky would probably not have been in a position to abuse Victim 9.
Instead, as detailed in Freeh’s report commissioned by the university, Penn State’s leaders not only failed to take appropriate action but “repeatedly concealed critical facts” in order to, according to Freeh, “avoid bad publicity.”
“Our most saddening… finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State,” Freeh said. “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps… to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”
The report, based on 430 interviews and analysis of 3.5 million pieces of information, points an unerring finger at four people: Then university president Graham Spanier, Paterno, former Athletic Director Tim Curley and retired Vice President Gary Schultz. Spanier and Paterno were forced out of their jobs after Sandusky was arrested last fall. Curley and Schultz are awaiting trial on charges of perjury and failing to report the abuse to outside officials.
“The evidence shows that these four men knew about a 1998 criminal investigation of Sandusky relating to suspected sexual misconduct with a young boy in a Penn State football locker room shower,” the report says. As shameful, the report says officials had planned on reporting to law enforcement allegations against Sandusky when a graduate assistant went to Paterno in 2001 saying he had seen Sandusky engaging in what he thought was a sex act with a boy. But after Curley consulted with Paterno, they did not.
The report calls the board of trustees to task too, and rightfully so, noting that it had failed in its oversight duties. It also criticized the football program for keeping Sandusky, despite allegations, in a position where he could harm more victims.
And the report lambasted the Penn State culture that had even the janitors failing to report child abuse they saw. “These are the employees who clean and maintain the locker rooms where rapes are occurring. One was a Korean War vet and he said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like that. It makes me sick.’ … What did they do? They said they can’t report this because they’d be fired,” Freeh said.
So, what’s to be done now? Freeh says the school violated federal law about reporting charges of sex abuse. If so, Penn State and the officials involved must answer for that. The NCAA is looking at report for ethics and other violations. It must not be tepid in sending a message that preserving the reputation of an athletics program does not trump the safety and well-being of children.
That same message is one all of us – especially the apologists for Penn State, Joe Paterno and others who stood by while children were tortured by a smiling monster – need to heed as well. When any of us turns a blind eye to such horror, we become monsters too – despite all the good we’ve done before.