The people who mattered most, knew. The people who had the power to stop Jerry Sandusky from raping children, knew.
- Head Coach Joe Paterno knew.
- School President Graham Spanier knew.
- Athletic Director Tim Curley knew.
- Senior Vice President Gary Schultz knew.
They all knew that Jerry Sandusky was sexually abusing children on their campus. They knew as far back as 1998. Fourteen years ago. And they did nothing about it. Worse, they covered it up.
The extensive investigation led by former FBI head Louis Freeh came to that conclusion. Its 267-page report says Penn State officials “repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from authorities” (p. 14). Unbelievably, they even allowed him to continue using university facilities after his retirement in 1999. And for years afterwards, Sandusky continued to molest children on the Penn State campus. That’s what the coverup by senior officials wrought. Simply put, they have blood on their hands.
And the people beneath them? The people without the prestige and power?
Some of them knew too. But they didn’t say anything. Why? Because they were convinced that they would get canned if they did. Graduate assistant Mike McQuery saw it happen. He waited years to tell anyone. Three janitors knew. One of them, a Korean War veteran, saw Sandusky perform oral sex on a boy in the shower. The janitors didn’t report it either. All of the low level employees who knew believed they would be fired if they spoke up.
Would they have actually been fired if they said anything? Who knows? But that all of them firmly believed it was even a possibility reveals something very disturbing.
I wrote about it last November. And it turns out I was right.
My initial analysis was that scandals and coverups are more likely when an institution does not remain true to its values. In other words, you should run a school like a school, a church like a church, and a business like a business. Running an institution like something other than what it is supposed to be is a betrayal of that institution’s values. And when an institution betrays its values, that sends a signal to everyone involved that the institution’s stated mission is not its top priority. Without having to say it openly, it sends the message that the institution itself is what’s important, and that it needs to be protected at all cost.
As I noted in November, when you run a church like a business instead of as a church, it opens up room for monkey business like televangelist Jerry Swaggart buying prostitutes, followed by the obligatory coverup. And when the Catholic church operates as a government instead of a church, you shouldn’t be surprised when it moves aggressively to cover up countless incidents of priests molesting boys.
When an institution makes its state mission secondary and behaves as something other than what it is, that increases not only the chances of something going really wrong, but also of a subsequent a coverup.
And guess what? The Freeh report says that’s exactly what happened at Penn State.
Instead of operating like a school, the university was running itself like a business, specifically like a football factory. Essentially, the Freeh report says Penn State's values were corrupted, and that contributed to the coverup.
In its executive summary, the report lists eight general causes for this foul and reprehensible scandal. On page 17, the last one listed is this:
A culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus community.
According to the Freeh report, that was a cause. Not an unbecoming symptom, but an actual cause. The university betrayed its values as an institution, and that directly contributed to the coverup.
The university was not being run like a university. The school’s top priority was not education. The institution had betrayed its core values, which in turn signaled to everyone down the line that they should betray their values too if they want to remain a part of that institution. The institution was paramount, not its noble mission. Jerry Sandusky was part of the institution. The children whom he forced himself on were not. So when top university officials found out, they protected Sandusky, ignored the children who had already been abused, and engaged in a coverup that allowed the abuse to continue.
I don’t believe in capital punishment for the most part, but these men’s lives are worthless to me. Spaniel, Schultz, Curley: I hope they die soon. Paterno? I’m glad he’s dead. Hell with 'em all.
But this is not just about Penn State. The exact same thing could have happened at any other university that has sold its soul to the big business of big time sports. Any of the big collegiate sports mills throughout the nation, including two I hold degreres from (University of Michigan and University of Nebraska), and even our very own University of Maryland, College Park. Because on some level, the exact same culture exists at all of them. They have all betrayed their primary purpose and taken to operating like businesses, maximizing revenue in the entertainment industry.
And if any of the officials at any of those schools tell you that they’re different, that it could never happen at their school, then they’re either a lying through their teeth or far too stupid to have an adult conversation on the matter. Either way, they should be fired immediately.
Look. I was right.
But, this isn’t about I told you so. This is about owning up to the reality of big-time college sports. It simply should not exist. Take it away. It’s time that we handled the sporting element of the entertainment industry like every other country in the world does, and simply make it a business.
That’s what it is, so let it be that. Let the business be a business. And then universities can go back to being universities, where hopefully things like this won’t happen anymore. But if they do, serial child molesters won’t be protected by university administrators who’ve forgotten what they’re there to do and what a school is all about.
Akim Reinhardt blogs regularly at The Public Professor