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Penn State: A Lack of Institutional Conscience & Control

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The only way the Freeh Report on the Penn State scandal could’ve been any worse for those involved is if it discovered they acted as their former pedophile football coach’s pimps by helping him actually procure the young boys he abused.

Aside from that, if the 267-page Freeh Report is to be believed, “the most powerful men at Penn State University” – President Graham Spanier, Vice President Gary Schultz, Athletics Director Tim Curley, and Head Coach Joe Paterno – aided and abetted a child rapist for over a decade through their unwillingness to put the safety of innocent children ahead of their football brand.

Paterno was a legend and a well-known devout Catholic, so you think he might have learned a thing or two from the sex abuse scandal/cover-up that devastated the Catholic Church a decade ago. But according to the Freeh Report, Paterno willfully engaged in a similar sinister cover-up that leaves the legacy of college football’s winningest coach in ruins, and also demands a powerful message be sent deterring future institutions from repeating this tragedy.

Louis Freeh, who served as FBI Director under both Democrat and Republican presidents, conducted the investigation that was commissioned by the Pennsylvania Board of Trustees, which oversees Penn State University. His report utilizes testimony and evidence from the Jerry Sandusky trial, as well as over 400 interviews conducted by his own investigators, to chronicle in vivid detail the events that culminated in a conspiracy to shield Sandusky (and thus Penn State football) from scrutiny.

According to the report we learned:

Spanier, Schultz, Curley, and Paterno were aware of a 1998 investigation into Sandusky molesting a boy, and not only took no action but allowed him to coach one final season in 1999 when Sandusky was named the top assistant coach in college football. The report says by allowing Sandusky to retire “not as a suspected child predator but as a valued member of the Penn State football legacy,” Paterno and his associates in the Penn State administration allowed Sandusky to use his Penn State connections to procure future victims.

More allegations emerged in 2001 and some at Penn State wanted to go to the authorities, but decided against it after consulting directly with Paterno.

In March of 2002 former Penn State quarterback and assistant coach Mike McQueary witnessed Sandusky sodomizing a boy in the showers inside the team locker room. He reports the incident to Paterno, who passes it along to his superior (who is also one of his fellow cover-up conspirators), but the police are never notified. Sandusky remains a fixture in the community for years to come. McQueary remains an assistant coach at Penn State until 2011, concealing the rape incident from the public, alumni, fans, recruits, and the victims’ families for nine years.

Penn State violated federal law (the Clery Act) by following Paterno’s lead and failing to report on the crimes Sandusky committed. Instead of reporting Sandusky to the police, they tried to get him professional help, which Schultz described in an email as a “humane” solution. In that same email exchange, Schultz admitted that he knew Penn State could be “vulnerable for not having reported” the abuse.

These findings, as well as Sandusky’s conviction earlier this year on 45 criminal counts of sexual abuse, prompted Freeh to come to the following conclusions:

Paterno “was an integral part of this active decision to conceal” Sandusky’s activities as a pedophile serial rapist.

“The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any action for 14 years to protect the children Sandusky victimized.”

Penn State officials’ disregard for the rape victims was “callous and shocking.”

Penn State “empowered Sandusky to attract potential victims to the campus and football events by allowing him to have continued, unrestricted and unsupervised access” to the campus and the football program.

Some of the rapes might have been prevented if Paterno and his co-conspirators had taken action to restrict Sandusky’s access to the program and the campus after the first allegation in 1998, but no such action was taken until after the rape McQueary witnessed a few years later.

“These (four) men (including Paterno) exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims.”

"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.”

It is that last conclusion that explains all of this.

The Penn State football program entered the Big Ten in 1993, and was expected to dominate after winning two national championships in the 1980s. However, Penn State won only one Big Ten title in its first 12 years in the league. By comparison, tiny Northwestern won three. 1999 was supposed to be a breakthrough year. The Nittany Lions were ranked #1 in the nation for much of the season, but lost their last three games to finish 9-3.

Then Sandusky retired.

The following season Paterno suffered just his second losing season since 1966. In fact, over the next five seasons Penn State never finished better than fourth in the Big Ten, and has four losing seasons. Fans begin calling for Paterno’s dismissal, believing the game has passed him by. ESPN reports that from 2002-2008, 46 Penn State football players are charged with 163 criminal counts, and 27 Penn State players plead guilty to 45 criminal accounts.

Translation: the nation’s former top law enforcement official concludes that at a time when Paterno’s legacy is more threatened than ever before, and he’s chasing Florida State’s Bobby Bowden to become college football’s all-time winningest coach, Paterno conspires with other members of the Penn State administration to conceal a serial pedophile’s presence on campus, because allowing that information to surface while the football team was floundering could’ve brought down the entire program.

If that is not just a lack of institutional control, as well as a lack of institutional conscience, I don’t know what is.

The argument now is whether or not the NCAA should step in and penalize Penn State. Many are saying this is a criminal matter and outside the NCAA’s jurisdiction, but I couldn’t disagree more strongly.

The reality is the only motive for Paterno and company not to come forward with the Sandusky information was to protect the program, which means they gained a competitive edge. From 2005-2011, Penn State rebounded to average 10 wins a season and win two Big Ten championships. Does anybody really believe the program would’ve been able to achieve that level of success once the Sandusky saga became known?

Look how hard it was for Penn State to find a successor to Paterno after he was fired in the wake of this scandal and then died of lung cancer. Penn State had to settle for a NFL assistant coach who has never been a head coach before, and had no previous Penn State ties. Would top-flight assistant coaches have flocked to Happy Valley to recruit players to the same locker room Sandusky sodomized a child in? Would top-flight recruits have been eager to dress and shower in the same locker room where Sandusky raped children? How many moms would want their baby boys hanging out at a serial rapist’s old haunt?

Earlier this year Ohio State lost one of the top linebacker recruits in the country after a convicted sex offender posted a picture online of himself and the young man standing next to each other during his on-campus visit. How many former Penn State players and former recruits interacted on campus with Sandusky the years his pedophilia was being concealed by Paterno and his co-conspirators? Is it reasonable to assume any of those players would’ve transferred from or refused to sign with Penn State during that time had they known what Sandusky was? And if they had, would Penn State had averaged 10 wins per season?

Penn State’s concealing of Sandusky’s sexual abuse was done to maintain the football program’s image and to gain a competitive edge. Occam’s Razor always remains in effect. There is no other rational explanation for this miscarriage of justice. If that doesn’t fit the NCAA enforcement division’s definition of “a lack of institutional control” then there’s no reason for the NCAA to even exist any longer.

So how should Penn State be punished?

I don’t believe in punitively punishing the fans or the current players and coaches who had nothing to do with this tragedy. Another consideration is the plethora of civil suits coming Penn State’s way, and the potential for Pennsylvania taxpayers to be on the hook to foot some of those bills since Penn State is a publicly funded institution.

Nevertheless, the NCAA needs to send a strong message. Paterno and Penn State remained silent for 14 years, even while Sandusky was publishing an autobiography titled – get this – Touched in 2001. The day the Freeh Report was announced, on-campus television suddenly went blank and the channel was changed from the Freeh Report press conference to a discussion of the state budget. In the days prior to the report’s release Penn State was touting its record fundraising haul.

It appears some people in Happy Valley still lack the remorse and repentance that demonstrates they’re aware of how tragic this truly is. That lack of remorse means they and other big-name football programs that face similar pressure to put the well-being of the multi-million dollar football program ahead of the well-being of others require “encouragement” to have the right priorities in place.

That’s why I propose the NCAA levy the following penalties:

A 14-year championship/postseason ban. That’s one year for every year Penn State concealed Sandusky’s sexual abuse. Penn State will not be eligible to win a Big Ten or national championship, or play in a bowl game, until 2026.

A 14-year moratorium on collecting shares of television or bowl revenue, and all of that money is instead earmarked towards a restitution fund for the victims in an effort to lessen the burden on Pennsylvania taxpayers having to pick up the tab for the multitude of legal expenses forthcoming. Big Ten rules call for equal revenue sharing by all member institutions, so Penn State will still get a share of the bowl revenue collected by its conference rivals even if it weren’t eligible to play in a bowl game itself.

The NCAA alters the record books to no longer consider Paterno the winningest coach in college football history.

These penalties send a strong message without taking opportunities to get an education away from future prospective student-athletes, like a reduction in scholarships would. Young men are still welcome to come and play and get a degree from Penn State if they want, and fans are still welcome to come and watch or tune-in to their favorite team 12 Saturdays a season. But time is needed to let the legal process play itself out. It would range from tacky to tasteless to see Penn State covered as just another college football team chasing championships while families of rape victims are still seeking justice for the Penn State cover-up.

Penn State needs some time away from focusing on gridiron glory to regain some lost perspective and put the right priorities in place. It was its focus on gridiron glory that caused Penn State to lose perspective and misplace its priorities in the first place.

The high cost for that mistake was the lost innocence of the victims Sandusky violated. The cost of the punishment should be high as well.

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