Monday, July 23, 2012


Penn State football: the innocent victim of the Sandusky affair.

I've just been examining the NCAA's Sandusky-affair sanctions against Penn State. (For details, see here.) I've also just read the whole Freeh Special Report that excoriated the university for its handling of the Sandusky case—the report on which the NCAA has largely based its actions. Has anyone else here read the entire Freeh report? The two—the report and the NCAA's sanctions—don't match up for me. The NCAA punishment doesn't seem to fit the crime—or, more exactly, the punishment seems to be meted out to the wrong entity.

In the entire Freeh report, there is only one sentence that suggests that protecting the football program was a motive of anyone involved in this case, and that was a comment by a janitor who witnessed Sandusky fondling a boy. The janitor says he didn't report the incident because he felt the football program could have him fired. But that was merely how he "felt," and nowhere else, anywhere, in any notes or emails or conversations or testimony, does anyone else involved ever suggest that protecting the football program was a motive for not reporting Sandusky.

And in fact, those in the football program did report Sandusky's activities—to the university's athletic director and to the v-p for business affairs, who just happens to oversee the university's police department, where the accusations against Sandusky should have been reported. Joe Paterno himself reported what a young graduate assistant/later coach saw (Sandusky molesting a boy in a university shower) to the A.D. and to the v-p for business affairs. By the Clery Law, Paterno should have himself reported it to the university police, but he did report it to the man who oversees the police. Was that such a bad misstep on his part? As far as the report suggests, that's the only thing Paterno did wrong: instead of going straight to the police himself, he went to their boss. The Freeh report suggests that neither Paterno nor most other people at Penn State understood the Clery Law well enough to know they should report what they heard about Sandusky in person to the police.

Joe Paterno: wrongly vilified.
After reading the Freeh report, I am of the opinion that Paterno is being vilified improperly and that for the Penn State football program to be gutted as a result of what Sandusky did is a case of misdirected justice. It suggests to me that people just want to take revenge on someone, and the Penn State football program is the biggest elephant they can shoot down.

If you read the Freeh report in its entirety, you might, like me, get the sense that it is the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and the Penn State university police department that deserve our criticism: they failed to investigate at all carefully an early (1998), double-witness/double-victim account of Sandusky molesting children, and the district attorney refused to prosecute him then. For some reason, that failure is lost in the screaming about the Penn State football program and Paterno.

The abuse of all those kids was a terrible thing. Punishment and deterrence are important in such cases. As humans, we need to feed our hunger for revenge. But the evidence against the football program itself is utterly missing from the Freeh report. For a football program which had almost nothing to do with the whole case to be eviscerated by the NCAA therefore seems inappropriate to me. (Freeh himself, in the report's conclusions, tries to blame the university's devotion to the football program in part for what happened, but he offers no evidence to back that up. It's as if he, too, just wants to shoot the big elephant.)

Louis Freeh: shooting at elephants.
Sandusky is put away for good. The athletic director and the v-p for business affairs are being prosecuted for failure to report a crime. All that seems appropriate. But the Penn State football program has received a raw deal. In this case, it seems to me, at least one innocent party—the football program—is going to jail.

The reasons the people at Penn State did not stop Sandusky earlier are far more complex than "the football program made them do it." Some are simple human reasons: misplaced loyalty, an unwillingness to believe something awful about a friend and colleague, preoccupation with one's own everyday brushfires, dislike of confrontation, head-in-the-sand attitudes about despicable acts. (How many of us actually do something about hunger in Somalia or rape in the Congo? We know it's there, and yet we do nothing.) And there are institutional reasons: poor lines of communication, weak training in legal and human-resources policies, misunderstanding of organizational-chart responsibilities. And yes, there are more selfish reasons: the desire to protect one's own reputation and that of one's favorite institutions.

There are many reasons Jerry Sandusky got away with what he did for as long as he did. Joe Paterno and the Penn State football program are the least of those reasons.

Here's the Freeh report if you care to read it.


  1. Hi Ed,

    I believe I arrive at the same conclusion as you do, but for different reasons. From my standpoint the only reasonable inference that can be drawn is that Paterno and his "superiors" manipulated the situation in a manner that would protect the football program. I believe this in itself is evidence enough. However, regardless of that fact I do not believe it is appropriate for the the NCAA to levy any penalties on the program, as I believe it should be out of their jurisdiction. This is the reason we have a legal system and that is the place for justice to take its course. Anyhow this is JMHO! Bob Mayeri

    PS Do you still throw that nasty curveball?

    1. Thanks for the response, Bob. I agree that it isn't the place of the NCAA to mete out punishments that are best left to the legal system. My curveball, whether nasty or not, left me long ago (you have a good memory!), but I have a decent slice serve on the tennis court, for whatever that's worth.