Penn State child sex abuse scandal
The Penn State child sex abuse scandal was a scandal that broke in 2011 at Pennsylvania State University, as a result of longtime former university football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's sexual assault of at least eight underage boys on or near university property, and alleged actions by some university officials to cover up the incidents or to enable more. Based on an extensive grand jury investigation, Sandusky was indicted in 2011 on 52 counts of child molestation dating from 1994 to 2009, though the abuse may have dated as far back as the 1970s. Per the findings of the grand jury, several high-level school officials were charged with perjury, suspended, or dismissed for covering up the incidents or failing to notify authorities. Most notably, school president Graham Spanier was forced to resign, and head football coach Joe Paterno and athletic director Tim Curley were fired (Paterno would die two months after being fired). Sandusky maintained his innocence.
The trial of Jerry Sandusky on 52 charges of sexual crimes against children started on June 11, 2012, at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. Four charges were subsequently dropped, leaving 48. On June 22, 2012, Sandusky was found guilty on 45 of 48 counts of sexual abuse. Sandusky was sentenced on October 9, 2012 to a minimum of 30 years and maximum of 60 years in prison.
The scandal had far-reaching outcomes for the university. The report of an independent investigation commissioned by the PSU board and conducted by former FBI director Louis Freeh and his law firm stated that Spanier and Paterno, along with Curley and school vice president Gary Schultz, had known about allegations of child abuse on Sandusky's part as early as 1998, and were complicit in failing to disclose them. In so doing, Freeh stated that the most senior leaders at Penn State showed a "total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims" for 14 years and "empowered" Jerry Sandusky to continue his abuse. On July 23, 2012 the NCAA imposed sweeping penalties on Penn State's football program—among the most severe ever imposed on an NCAA member school—including a fine of $60 million, a four-year postseason ban and vacating of all victories from 1998–2011. In doing so, NCAA President Mark Emmert stated that the sanctions were levied "not to be just punitive, but to make sure the university establishes an athletic culture and daily mindset in which football will never again be placed ahead of education, nurturing and protecting young people." The Big Ten Conference subsequently imposed an additional $13 million fine. Spanier, Curley and Schultz have since been criminally charged for their roles in the cover-up.
As of November 2012[update], two other investigations are ongoing: a federal criminal probe by the local United States Attorney launched shortly after the discovery of Sandusky's crimes, and a separate probe from the Department of Education into whether Penn State responded to the incident properly and reported it in accordance with federal law.
On July 30, 2013, Penn State's ex-president Graham Spanier, vice president Gary Schultz and ex-athletic director Tim Curley were ordered by Judge William Wenner to stand trial on charges accusing them of a cover-up.
- 1 Background
- 2 Grand jury investigation
- 3 Criminal charges, conviction and sentencing
- 4 Media reaction and fall-out
- 5 Initial PSU and Second Mile responses
- 6 Ouster of Spanier, Paterno and Curley
- 7 Subsequent PSU and external responses
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Jerry Sandusky was an assistant coach under head coach Joe Paterno for the Penn State Nittany Lions football team for 31 seasons from 1969 to 1999. For the last 23 of those years, he was the team's defensive coordinator. In 1977, Sandusky founded The Second Mile, a charity formed to help troubled young boys, in State College, Pennsylvania. In 1998, he was investigated for sexual abuse of a child but no charges were filed. Sandusky was considered for spearheading a football program at Penn State Altoona in 1998–99, but the idea was scrapped and he retired in 1999. After his retirement as Penn State's defensive coordinator, he remained as a coach emeritus with an office in, and access to, Penn State's football facilities.
Grand jury investigation
The investigation was initiated in the spring of 2008, after Aaron Fisher (identified in court papers as "Victim 1"), then a freshman at Central Mountain High School in Mill Hall, Pennsylvania, reported that Sandusky had been molesting him since he was 12 years old. According to court papers, Sandusky had been having a relationship with Fisher involving "inappropriate touching" with Victim 1 since 2005 or 2006. Sandusky had met Fisher through the Second Mile program before retiring from the program in 2010. Sandusky was also volunteering as an assistant high school football coach at Central at the time of the alleged actions. The investigation included testimony from various individuals at Penn State and The Second Mile. Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly has said that during the grand jury investigation there was an "uncooperative atmosphere" from some of these officials.
In December 2010, assistant coach Mike McQueary appeared before the grand jury looking into the Victim 1 case. The presentment states that on March 1, 2002, at 9:30 PM, McQueary entered the locker room at the Lasch Football Building at Penn State and heard what he believed to be the sounds of sexual activity coming from the shower. He looked in the shower and "saw a naked boy, Victim 2, whose age he estimated to be ten years, with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky." Further investigation revealed that the correct date of the incident was actually February 9, 2001. The next day, McQueary reported the incident to Joe Paterno, who informed Athletic Director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, senior vice president for finance and business, who oversaw the Penn State police department at the time. Ultimately, the only action taken by Curley and Schultz was to order Sandusky not to bring any children from Second Mile to the football building — an action that was approved by school president Graham Spanier. The identity of the boy remained unknown to the authorities. However, in July 2012 a man came forward through his lawyers claiming to be Victim 2.
The presentment states that in their testimony before the grand jury, Paterno, Curley, and Schultz rejected the version of the incident presented by Mike McQueary. Paterno testified that he was only told about Sandusky "fondling or doing something of a sexual nature" to the victim. Curley and Schultz both denied having been told about alleged anal intercourse. Curley denied that McQueary reported anything of sexual nature whatsoever, and described the conduct as merely "horsing around". Graham Spanier likewise testified that he was only apprised of an incident involving Jerry Sandusky and a younger child "horsing around in the shower".
Despite Penn State banning Sandusky from bringing boys onto the main campus in 2002, he was allowed to operate a summer camp through his Sandusky Associates company from 2002 to 2008 at Penn State's Behrend satellite campus near Erie, where he had daily contact with boys from fourth grade to high school.
The Pennsylvania statewide investigating grand jury identified a total of eight boys singled out for sexual advances or assaults by Sandusky from 1994 through 2009, after six more victims were identified. Five alleged victims testified that they met Sandusky through The Second Mile; each also stated that they showered with him on the campus. According to the witnesses, the showers included physical contact ranging from hugs and wrestling to, in one case, Sandusky placing the boy's hand on his erect penis.
One child's mother reported the incident to Penn State police when he came home with his hair wet. After an investigation by Detective Ronald Shreffler, Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar chose not to prosecute. Shreffler testified before the Grand Jury that director of the campus police, Thomas Harmon, told him to drop the case. University police eavesdropped on conversations during which the mother confronted Sandusky about the incident. He admitted to showering with other boys and refused to discontinue the practice. District Attorney Gricar was not available to testify, as he had disappeared in 2005.
Victims also commonly reported that Sandusky would place his hand on their thighs or inside the waistband of their underpants. Two recounted oral sex with Sandusky, sometimes culminating in his ejaculation. Penn State janitor James Calhoun reportedly observed Sandusky giving oral sex to an unidentified boy in 2000, but Calhoun in 2012 was in a nursing home suffering from dementia; he was deemed not competent to testify.
At least 20 of the incidents were said to have taken place while Sandusky was still employed by Penn State.
Criminal charges, conviction and sentencing
On November 4, 2011, Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly indicted Sandusky on 40 counts of sex crimes against young boys, following a three-year investigation. Sandusky was arrested on November 5 and charged with seven counts of involuntary deviant sexual intercourse, as well as eight counts of corruption of minors, eight counts of endangering the welfare of a child, seven counts of indecent assault, and other offenses.
Senior vice president Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley were found to be not credible by the grand jury. The two administrators were charged with grand jury perjury and failure to report suspected child abuse. The indictment accused Curley and Schultz of not only failing to tell the police, but falsely telling the grand jury that Mike McQueary never informed them of sexual activity. Sandusky was then released on $250,000 bail pending trial. Curley and Schultz appeared in a Harrisburg courtroom on November 7, where a judge set bail at $75,000 and required them to surrender their passports.
After the charges came to light, former President Graham Spanier issued a statement in which he said Curley and Schultz had his unconditional support, and saying they "operate at the highest levels of honesty." Spanier was criticized for expressing support for Curley and Schultz, and failing to express any concern for Sandusky's alleged victims.
Congressman Pat Meehan (R-PA07) asked U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to probe whether Penn State violated the Clery Act when it failed to report Sandusky's alleged incidents of child molestation that took place on campus. Duncan announced an investigation into possible Clery Act violations at Penn State, saying that colleges and universities have "a legal and moral responsibility to protect children", and that Penn State's failure to report the alleged abuse would be a "tragedy". The investigation, which began on November 28, could result in fines or the loss of federal student aid if the university were to be found in violation. Officials in San Antonio, Texas also began investigating whether Sandusky molested one of the victims at the 1999 Alamo Bowl.
Sandusky was arrested again on December 7, 2011, following additional charges of sexual abuse.
Preliminary hearings for Tim Curley and Gary Schultz were held on December 16, 2011. Prosecution presented several witnesses. Mike McQueary took the stand again and testified that, on the night of the 2002 incident, he saw a 10- to 12-year-old Caucasian boy standing upright in the shower, facing the wall, and Jerry Sandusky directly behind him, with Sandusky's hands wrapped around the boy's "waist or midsection". McQueary estimated that the boy was roughly a foot shorter than Sandusky. He further stated that he "did not see insertion nor was there any verbiage or protest, screaming or yelling" and denied ever using the words "anal" or "rape" to describe the incident to anybody.
On February 24, 2012, The Patriot-News reported that Peter J. Smith, the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania was conducting a federal criminal investigation into the scandal. This probe was separate from the Clery Act investigation. According to a Penn State spokeswoman, Smith subpoenaed the school for information about Spanier, Sandusky, Curley, Schultz and the Second Mile. An official with the Second Mile said that Smith subpoenaed information about Sandusky's travel records just days after Sandusky's arrest. According to the grand jury indictment, Sandusky was accused of molesting boys at both the 1999 Alamo Bowl in San Antonio and the 1999 Outback Bowl in Tampa, Florida. Although federal authorities would have jurisdiction in the case since Sandusky was accused of taking the boys across state lines, three former prosecutors interviewed by The Patriot-News believed that the federal investigation did not appear to be focusing on Sandusky's alleged crimes. Instead, based on the subpoena, the federal probe seemed to be focusing on a possible cover-up by school officials.
During the Sandusky trial, an accuser and Sandusky's wife Dottie both testified about the Alamo Bowl incident. The accuser said Sandusky was attempting to negotiate oral sex with him in the bathroom while Sandusky's wife was in the apartment and that she came to the "edge" of the bathroom for a few words with Sandusky including "What are you doing in there?" Mrs. Sandusky said her husband was having a disagreement, including yelling, with the boy—in the bathroom but "clothed"—about attending a luncheon. She went on to characterize the boy as “very demanding. ... And he was very conniving. And he wanted his way, and he didn’t listen a whole lot.” Mrs. Sandusky testified when it was still uncertain whether her husband would testify. Though Sandusky's defense attorney Joe Amendola had said on the opening day of the trial that Sandusky would testify, Amendola ultimately rested the case without calling him to testify in his own defense.
On the evening of June 22, 2012, the jury reached its verdict, finding Sandusky guilty on 45 of the 48 counts against him. He faced a maximum sentence of 442 years in prison. According to NBC News, Sandusky likely faced a minimum sentence of 60 years – at his age, effectively a life sentence. Sentencing was scheduled for October 9, 2012. At that same hearing, prosecutors will ask that Sandusky be declared a sexually violent predator under Pennsylvania's version of Megan's Law, which would subject him to stringent reporting requirements if he is released. Sandusky would not only have to report his address to police every three months for the rest of his life, but would also have to participate in a court-approved counseling program. However, this designation will likely be symbolic since Sandusky will almost certainly die in prison. Earlier, on August 30, the Pennsylvania Sexual Offenders Assessment Board recommended that Sandusky be declared a sexually violent predator.
On the day of sentencing, Sandusky was officially designated a sexually violent predator. Sandusky was sentenced on October 9, 2012 to a minimum of 30 years and maximum of 60 years in prison. Judge John Cleland stated that he intentionally avoided a sentence with a large number of years, saying it would be "too abstract" and also said to Sandusky that the sentence he handed down had the "unmistakeable impact of saying 'the rest of your life'."
On November 1, 2012; the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and NBC News, citing sources close to the investigation, reported that Spanier would be formally charged for his alleged role in covering up Sandusky's crimes. Later that day, state AG Kelly announced that as part of a superseding indictment, Spanier, Curley and Schultz had been charged with grand jury perjury, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and child endangerment in connection with the scandal. Spanier faces eight charges, three of which are felonies.
Media reaction and fall-out
The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was the first to report on the grand jury investigation, in March 2011. The story did not receive much attention outside of the immediate area, and many readers at the time assailed the newspaper for impugning Sandusky's and Penn State's reputations. After the charges against Sandusky were filed, the newspaper was vindicated and in April 2012 crime reporter Sara Ganim was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting for her coverage of the scandal.
Under Pennsylvania law of the time, any state employee who learned about suspected child abuse was required to report the incident to his immediate supervisor. In the case of the 2002 incident, McQueary reported the incident to his immediate supervisor, Paterno. In turn, Paterno reported the incident to his immediate supervisor, Curley, and also reported it to Gary Schultz, who oversaw the campus police at the time. For these reasons, Paterno and McQueary were not implicated in any criminal wrongdoing, since they did what they were legally required to do. However, once the incident came to light, Paterno was criticized for not reporting the incident to police, or at least seeing to it that it was reported. Several advocates for victims of sexual abuse argued that Paterno should have faced charges for not going to the police himself when it was apparent Penn State officials were unwilling to act.
After McQueary was identified as the graduate assistant who reported the 2002 incident, he was criticized for not intervening to protect the boy from Sandusky (an accusation McQueary has since disputed), as well as for not reporting the incident to police himself. On November 7, Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan said that though some may have fulfilled their legal obligation to report suspected abuse, "somebody has to question about what I would consider the moral requirements for a human being that knows of sexual things that are taking place with a child." Noonan added that anyone who knows about suspected abuse, "whether you're a football coach or a university president or the guy sweeping the building," has "a moral responsibility to call us." Paterno said McQueary informed him that "he had witnessed an incident in the shower ... but he at no time related to me the very specific actions contained in the Grand Jury report." Paterno was uncertain if being more graphic would have made a difference. "And to be frank with you I don't know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man," said Paterno.
Further, criticism of Penn State leadership and Paterno himself, including calls for his dismissal, followed reports of these arrests for their role in "protecting Penn State's brand instead of a child", and allowing Sandusky to retain emeritus status and unfettered access to the university's football program and facilities, despite knowledge of the allegations of sexual abuse. In an interview with New York City radio station WFAN, sports reporter Kim Jones, a Penn State alumna, stated that, "I can't believe [Paterno's] heart is that black, where he simply never thought about [Sandusky's 2002 incident] again and never thought about those poor kids who were looking for a male mentor, a strong man in their life." Former sports commentator Keith Olbermann called for Paterno to be immediately fired, saying that "he failed all of the kids—the kid kids and the player kids—he purported to be protecting." In an editorial for the Centre Daily Times, literary critic Robert Bernard Hass, a Penn State alumnus, compared Joe Paterno's downfall to a Greek tragedy and suggested that despite Paterno's many good deeds, pride and age contributed to his failure to report the incident to police.
The Patriot-News of Harrisburg published a rare full-page, front-page editorial in its November 8, 2011 edition calling for the immediate resignation of Penn State President Graham Spanier; it also called for this to be Joe Paterno's last season. The same day, an editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called for the resignations of both Joe Paterno and his assistant coach Mike McQueary.
On November 14, Sandusky gave his first interview after being arrested. In a phone interview with NBC's Bob Costas on Rock Center with Brian Williams, Sandusky denied the allegations, though he admitted showering with boys and inadvertently touching them "without intent of sexual contact". The interview received substantial coverage in the media, particularly regarding the manner in which Sandusky answered Costas when asked if he was sexually attracted to young boys:
COSTAS: "Are you sexually attracted to young boys, to underage boys?"
SANDUSKY: "Am I sexually attracted to underage boys?"
SANDUSKY: "Sexually attracted, you know, I enjoy young people. I love to be around them. But no, I'm not sexually attracted to young boys."
The day of the interview, Sandusky's lawyer claimed that he was able to track down Victim 2 and that, according to the child, the incident did not occur as described by McQueary. However, in the days following the interview, several potential victims contacted State College lawyer Andy Shubin to tell their stories, with one claiming Sandusky had abused him in the 1970s.
In an effort to illuminate how the events and alleged coverup could have occurred at the university, the media began to run various accounts of the isolated and insular nature of Penn State, as well as the "cult of personality" and power of Joe Paterno. Former employees of Penn State, including a former vice president of student affairs, Vickey Triponey, and a former football grad assistant, Matt Paknis, stepped forward to critique the power and influence of the school's football program. Further stories detailed the loss of sponsorships, the damage to Penn State's merchandise sales, brand, student admissions, and the impact of the scandal on recent graduates.
After attending the first day of testimony in Sandusky's trial, Maureen Dowd reported in an opinion column called "American Horror Story" in The New York Times that "[i]t was an open joke in Penn State football circles that you shouldn't drop your soap in the shower when Jerry was around". Dowd concluded her column in the next line with "Only the boys in the shower weren't laughing".
Initial PSU and Second Mile responses
The allegations have impacted personnel and operations for both Penn State and The Second Mile. Penn State has responded in various ways, such as removing Sandusky's image from a mural near the university, and renaming an ice cream flavor which had been created in his honor. The university also responded by ousting both Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier, as well as placing Mike McQueary on indefinite paid administrative leave.
Penn State's Aa1 revenue-bond rating has also been "placed on review for possible downgrade" by Moody's Investors Service because of the scandal's possible effects on the university's finances. After the school was removed from the watchlist in February 2012 and assigned a "negative outlook" within that rating class due to it "ongoing uncertainty", Moody's again considered downgrading the bond rating the following July.
Jack Raykovitz, the longtime president and CEO of The Second Mile, announced his resignation on November 14. In addition, the United States Congressional program Angels in Adoption, subsequently rescinded its earlier 2002 award to Sandusky for his work with The Second Mile "in light of the serious allegations against him, and to preserve the integrity of the Angels in Adoption program."
In January 2012, new university president Rodney Erickson traveled for a week to speak with alumni in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York in an attempt to repair the university's image. At the meetings, Erickson received harsh criticism from alumni over the firing of Joe Paterno, and also received widespread criticism from the media for attempting to shift the focus away from the university.
State Farm Insurance pulled its sponsorship of the football team in July 2012. State Farm also asked the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Pennsylvania to declare that there is no provision in its policy with Penn State to force the company to help pay for Sandusky's criminal defense bills or any punitive damages that he has incurred.
Penn State reported that the school had spent $3.2 million on investigations, public relations, and legal advice in response to the scandal through the middle of February 2012.
Ouster of Spanier, Paterno and Curley
On November 8, 2011, Spanier canceled Paterno's weekly Tuesday news conference, citing legal concerns. It was to have been the coach's first public appearance since Sandusky's arrest. Paterno reported that Spanier canceled the press conference without providing Paterno with an explanation. That same day, The New York Times reported that Penn State was planning Paterno's exit at the close of the college football season. Based on interviews with two individuals briefed on conversations among top university officials, the Times reported: "The Board of Trustees has yet to determine the precise timing of Mr. Paterno's exit, but it is clear that (he) will not coach another season."
The following day, the Associated Press reported that Paterno had decided to retire at the end of the 2011 football season, saying that he didn't want to be a distraction. In a statement announcing his retirement, Paterno said, "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."
On the afternoon of November 9, The Express-Times of Easton, Pennsylvania, reported that the board had given Spanier an ultimatum—resign before that night's meeting or be fired. At that night's meeting, Spanier offered his immediate resignation. The board accepted it and named provost Rodney Erickson as interim president. Several Penn State sources told StateCollege.com and The Patriot-News that Spanier and Board of Trustees vice chairman John Surma mutually agreed that the best way forward for all involved would be for Spanier to resign "voluntarily and with grace."
At the same meeting, the board turned down Paterno's proposal to finish out the season and instead stripped him of his coaching duties immediately; defensive coordinator Tom Bradley was named interim coach for the remainder of the season. During the week after Paterno's firing, the Big Ten Conference removed his name from the championship trophy for its conference championship game, renaming it the Stagg Championship Trophy. The inaugural game was scheduled for December 2011, and the trophy was originally named the Stagg-Paterno Championship Trophy after Paterno and Amos Alonzo Stagg, a college football pioneer. In addition, the Maxwell Football Club announced that the Joseph V. Paterno Award, presented to the college football coach who did the most to develop his players both on and off the field, would be discontinued.
An attorney retained by the families of some of the boys who were allegedly abused by Sandusky criticized the decision by the board to fire Paterno, saying, "The school let the victims down once, and I think they owed it to the victims to at least gauge how the immediate termination decision would impact them as opposed to Mr. Paterno's resignation at the end of the year."
However, one of the trustees told The Morning Call of Allentown that the board had no choice but to force Paterno to leave immediately to contain the growing outrage over the scandal. According to the trustee, the board considered letting Paterno finish the season with Bradley as team spokesman, but ultimately decided that would still keep the focus on Paterno. The board also did not like that Paterno released statements on his own rather than through the school, with some board members feeling he may have breached his contract. The trustee also noted that he and many of his colleagues felt Paterno either "knew about [the abuse] and swept it under the rug, or he didn't ask enough questions." The board was also very angered by Spanier's statements of support for Curley and Schultz. A few months later, board of trustees chairman Steve Garban and vice chairman John Surma issued a statement saying that the board felt Paterno "could not be expected to continue to effectively perform his duties" in the wake of the scandal.
On March 12, the Board of Trustees released what it described as its final statement on the ouster of Spanier and Paterno. It said that Spanier not only made unauthorized statements to the press, but failed to tell the board all he knew about the 2002 incident. It also said that Paterno demonstrated a "failure of leadership" by not going to the police. The board said it had every intention of sending someone to personally inform Paterno of the decision, but was unable to do so because of the large number of people surrounding his house. Rather than risk having Paterno learn about the decision via the media, the board decided to order him to leave immediately via telephone.
Spanier remained a tenured sociology professor at Penn State, despite being stripped of his duties as president. Likewise, Paterno remained a tenured member of the Penn State faculty. The board was still finalizing Paterno's retirement package at the time of his death from lung cancer two months later, on January 22, 2012.
On October 16, 2012, Penn State announced it will not renew Curley's contract when it expires in June 2013.
A few Penn State students, angered over Spanier's role in the 2002 incident as well as his statement of support for Curley and Schultz, created a Facebook page, "Fire Graham Spanier", to call on Penn State's Board of Trustees to fire Spanier. An online petition at change.org calling for Spanier's ouster garnered over 1,700 signatures in four days.
After Paterno's ouster was announced on live television, students and non-students protested near the Penn State campus. Sources estimate 10,000 people rioted to support Paterno, with some tipping over a WTAJ news van and flicking cigarettes at gasoline spilling from it. Some police officers used a "chemical spray" to disperse the demonstrators. Minor injuries were reported. Approximately $200,000 in damage resulted from the riot. Local police criticized the short notice from the university administration and the insufficient time to mobilize police officers from other areas as factors exacerbating the situation. About 47 people were charged in connection with the riot, and many were subsequently sentenced to a combination of prison terms, probation, community service, and restitution.
On November 10, a group of Penn State alumni set up and announced ProudPSUforRAINN, a fundraiser for the anti-sexual violence network RAINN with a goal of $500,000, which was exceeded by July 10, 2012.
Students also held a candlelight vigil on the lawn of Old Main. The planning for the vigil began the Monday before Paterno's firing and gained steam quickly across campus. It was shown live on news networks across the country, including CNN and ESPN. Former NFL player and Penn State alum, sports broadcaster LaVar Arrington spoke at the event which attracted an estimated ten thousand.
Before the start of the season's final home game, a November 12 game against Nebraska, the players and coaches from both teams knelt at midfield for a group prayer led by Nebraska's assistant coach Ron Brown.
Subsequent PSU and external responses
On November 21, 2011, trustee Kenneth Frazier announced that Louis Freeh, former director of the FBI, would lead an internal investigation into the university's actions. Freeh announced that the team assisting him in his investigation would include former FBI agents and federal prosecutors. As the Sandusky trial proceeded toward conviction in June 2012, it was reported that "[t]he university says that [Freeh's] report should be out this summer and will be released to the trustees and the public simultaneously without being reviewed by the school’s general counsel’s office".
The Freeh report was released on July 12, 2012. Freeh concluded that Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz were complicit in "conceal[ing] Sandusky's activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community and authorities." According to the report, the four men were concerned that Sandusky be treated "humanely", but they did not express the same feelings towards his victims. The report was also critical of the university's general counsel, Cynthia Baldwin. Freeh and his firm found that by their nonfeasance, Schultz, Spanier, Curley and Paterno "failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade" as well as violating the Clery Act.
In addition, the report said that the four men "exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky's victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well-being." The report stated that the men knew about the 1998 incident but "empowered Sandusky to attract potential victims to the campus and football events by allowing him to have continued, unrestricted and unsupervised access to the University's facilities and affiliation with the University's prominent football program" while the investigation was underway. The report also stated the four men not only made no effort to identify the victim of the 2001 incident, but alerted Sandusky to McQueary's allegations against him, thus potentially putting the victim in more danger. It also stated that Paterno had lied to the grand jury regarding his knowledge of Sandusky's behavior; he had stated at that time that he hadn't known about any inappropriate activity until 2001. In response, Penn State's trustees announced that they accepted the report's conclusions and would implement corrective measures.
On September 13, 2012, a group of alumni and supporters, under the name of Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, released a review of the Freeh Report that was critical of the Freeh Group's investigation and conclusions. On February 10, 2013 a report commissioned by the Paterno family was released by Dick Thornburgh, former United States Attorney General and former Governor of Pennsylvania, maintaining that the Freeh report was "seriously flawed, both with respect to the process of [its] investigation and its findings related to Mr. Paterno". In response, Freeh called the Paterno family's report "self-serving" and said that it did not change the facts and findings of his initial investigation.
Campus and board reactions
After the Freeh report's release, local organizations called for the removal of the Joe Paterno statue outside Beaver Stadium. A small plane towed a banner over campus, reading Take the Statue Down or We Will. After some days of mixed messages, the school removed the statue on Sunday, July 22, in front of a crowd of student onlookers. The statue was reportedly put in storage. President Erickson said the statue had become "a source of division and an obstacle to healing" but made a distinction between it and the Paterno Library, also on campus. The $13 million 1997 library expansion, partially funded by a $4 million gift from Paterno and his wife Sue, "remains a tribute to Joe and Sue Paterno's commitment to Penn State's student body and academic success, and it highlights the positive impacts coach Paterno had on the university.... Thus I feel strongly that the library's name should remain unchanged," Erickson said in the statement.
Steve Garban, a member of the PSU board of trustees who had stepped down as chairman since the Sandusky scandal emerged and was named by Freeh as having received but not then disseminated information about Sandusky to the rest of the board, resigned from the board following the report's release. This made him the first board member to leave since the scandal emerged.
On August 15, 2012, Penn State's regional accreditation was put on "warning" status due to the Sandusky scandal. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which accredits the university, continued to accredit Penn State but demanded a report addressing these. In November, the warning status was lifted as the accreditor was "impressed by the degree to which Penn State has risen, as a strong campus community, to recognize and respond to the sad events."
NCAA and Big Ten sanctions
On November 17, NCAA President Mark Emmert personally wrote Erickson—who had had the "interim" tag removed from his title on the same day—to ask him how Penn State had exercised control over its athletic program in the wake of the disclosures about Sandusky's crimes. The letter also demanded answers to four specific questions about how Penn State had complied with NCAA policies during that time. Penn State pledged full cooperation, but asked to defer its response until after the release of the Freeh report. On July 16, Emmert appeared on PBS' Tavis Smiley and said that with the release of the Freeh report, Penn State had "weeks, not months" to answer the questions he'd raised in the November letter. He also hinted that he had not ruled out issuing the so-called "death penalty", which would have forced Penn State to cancel at least the 2012 season. The NCAA had not handed down a death penalty to a Division I school since Southern Methodist University was hit with it in 1987 for massive violations in its football program. Although the NCAA is required to consider handing down a death penalty if a school commits two major violations within five years, it has the power to shut down a program without any preliminary sanctions in the event of particularly egregious misconduct.
Shortly after the release of the Freeh report, the NCAA Board gave Emmert the power to take corrective and punitive action relative to Penn State, forgoing the NCAA's normal investigative protocol. On July 22, 2012, the NCAA announced that it would impose "corrective and punitive" sanctions against both the Penn State football program and the institution as a whole the next morning.
On July 23, 2012 Emmert announced the following sanctions against Penn State:
- Five years probation.
- A four-year postseason ban.
- Vacating of all wins from 1998 to 2011–112 wins in all. This had the effect of stripping the Nittany Lions of their shared Big Ten titles in 2005 and 2008. It also removed 111 wins from Paterno's record, dropping him from first to 12th on the NCAA's all-time wins list.
- A $60 million fine, the proceeds of which were to go toward an endowment for preventing child abuse. According to the NCAA, this was the equivalent of a typical year's gross revenue from the football program.
- Loss of a total of 40 initial scholarships from 2013 to 2017. During the same period, Penn State is limited to 65 total scholarships—only two more than a Division I FCS (formerly I-AA) school is allowed.
- Penn State was required to adopt all recommendations for reform delineated in the Freeh report.
- Penn State must enter into an "athletics integrity agreement" with the NCAA and Big Ten, appoint a university-wide athletic compliance officer and compliance council, and accept an NCAA-appointed athletic integrity monitor for the duration of its probation.
The sanctions took the form of a sweeping consent decree in which Penn State accepted the findings of fact by the NCAA and waived any right to appeal the sanctions. A full release was granted to all players in the program, allowing them to transfer to another school without losing eligibility. According to ESPN's Don Van Natta, Jr., the NCAA and Penn State had already begun preliminary discussions about possible sanctions in mid-July. The Patriot-News reported that the NCAA formally forwarded its terms to Penn State's legal team on July 19. Discussions continued over the weekend, and the final agreement was essentially the NCAA's original proposal except for some minor concessions to Penn State.
In announcing the sanctions, Emmert said that he intended the Penn State case to be "the cautionary tale of athletics overwhelming core values of the institution and losing sight of why we are really participating in these activities can occur." He also said that that the sanctions were necessary to force Penn State to reform its athletic culture.
The Big Ten followed the NCAA actions, concurring with its findings by officially censuring Penn State and levying a separate fine of $13 million. In a statement, the conference stated that its intentions were "not to destroy a great university, but rather to seek justice and constructively assist a member institution with its efforts to reform." The Big Ten financial penalty will come as PSU gives up its four-year share of conference bowl revenue. The $13 million, as with the NCAA fines, will instead be donated to "help victims of child sex abuse".
The NCAA said it was compelled to act outside the normal investigative process due to what it described as the sheer egregiousness of the misconduct detailed in the Freeh report. In the NCAA's view, Spanier, Curley, Schultz and Paterno's cover-up of Sandusky's crimes constituted "a failure of institutional and individual integrity," and thus violated basic principles of intercollegiate athletics that were over and above specific NCAA policies. Additionally, the NCAA said that since Penn State had commissioned the Freeh report and accepted its findings, further proceedings would be redundant. Emmert himself said that Freeh's investigation was far more exhaustive than any that would have been mounted by the NCAA.
Due to the deviation from normal NCAA investigative process as well as the nature of the sanctions, four trustees of the university filed an appeal of the sanctions. Board member Ryan McCombie, a 26-year U.S. Navy veteran who was elected to the board in July 2012 by members of the school's alumni association, led the trustee appeal. A letter filed on the trustees' behalf by Paul Kelly of Jackson Lewis LLP with the NCAA called the sanctions “excessive and unreasonable”. The letter also argued that President Erickson exceeded his authority in accepting the sanctions. In addition, a group of former Penn State football players, including former starting quarterback Michael Robinson filed their own appeal. However, a spokesman for the NCAA held that the sanctions are not subject to appeal.
On September 24, 2013, the NCAA ruled that Penn State's scholarships would be gradually restored until the total amount of scholarships reaches the normal 85 for the 2016-17 year, the first year after Penn State's postseason ban.
Debate over suspension of the football program
At least two Penn State trustees, as well as several alumni, criticized Erickson for accepting the NCAA sanctions as quickly as he had. However, in a press conference of his own shortly after the penalties were handed down, Erickson said that as harsh as they were, he had no choice but to accept them. According to Erickson, had Penn State not accepted the penalties, the NCAA would have gone in "another direction"—one that would have included the NCAA canceling at least the 2012 season. Erickson said that under the circumstances, "we had our backs to the wall," and he had no choice but to accept the consent decree since it was the only deal on offer. Erickson subsequently told ESPN's John Barr that Penn State was facing as long as a four-year ban from play had it not agreed to the sanctions that were ultimately imposed. Erickson went further on July 25, saying that Emmert had personally told him on July 17—a day after Emmert's interview with Smiley—that a majority of the NCAA leadership wanted to shut down Penn State football for four years. He also said that Penn State could have faced a host of other severe penalties, including a fine several times greater than the $60 million ultimately imposed. When Erickson learned this, he immediately started talks with the NCAA, and was able to get the death penalty taken off the table. Erickson discussed his actions with the board later that night, and the board resolved that Erickson's actions were understandable under the circumstances.
Emmert and the NCAA Executive Committee's chairman, Oregon State president Ed Ray, subsequently acknowledged that the NCAA had seriously considered imposing a death penalty, but denied that Penn State had been threatened with one had it not accepted the consent decree. Ray, whose committee was charged by Emmert with designing the sanctions, told ESPN's Adam Rittenberg that while there was considerable debate about whether to include a death penalty among the sanctions, "the overwhelming position of members of both the executive committee and the Division I board was to not include suspension of play." He also "categorically" denied that the NCAA had threatened Penn State with a death penalty had it not accepted the sanctions, and added that using it as a backup in case of such a rejection was "never even a point of discussion within either the executive committee or the Division I board."
Emmert himself told ESPN's Bob Ley that the death penalty was "unequivocally on the table" as one of the possible sanctions. However, he said, Penn State's swift corrective measures after the scandal broke out in full—including forcing out Spanier and Paterno—were significant factors in ultimately taking the death penalty off the table. "Had Penn State not been as decisive as they were," Emmert said, "I don't know what the outcome would have been, but I suspect it would have been significantly worse." Emmert also repeated Ray's denial that Penn State had been threatened with a multi-year suspension had it not agreed to the penalties, saying there had been "some confusion" about those circumstances. He did say, however, that if Erickson and Penn State had not signed the consent decree, the NCAA would have launched a full-blown infractions investigation that would have had "an unknown outcome."
In the consent decree itself, the NCAA acknowledged that there had been some discussion about imposing a "death penalty," but noted that this severe penalty was primarily reserved for repeat violators who neither cooperated with the NCAA nor took any corrective measures once the violations came to light. However, it not only noted Penn State's swift corrective action, but also pointed out the school had never been the subject of a major infractions case before. This stood in contrast with the situation at SMU 25 years earlier; school officials there knew major violations were occurring and did nothing to stop them, and the school had been under nearly constant scrutiny from the NCAA for over a decade.
Soon after the scandal broke, commentators noted that civil lawsuits against Jerry Sandusky and Penn State were inevitable. On November 28, 2011, Fisher and his mother hired attorneys to pursue civil claims against Sandusky and Penn State. On November 30, 2011, the first lawsuit by a victim of sexual abuse was filed against Penn State and Sandusky alleging over 100 incidents of sexual abuse; the victim was identified in the suit only as "John Doe A".
In February 2012, Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association Insurance asked the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas to limit its exposure from a lawsuit filed by an alleged sex-abuse victim of Jerry Sandusky due to both the time of coverage of the policies and possible "intentional conduct" of the university. The company, which had a business relationship with Penn State dating back to the 1950s, was sued by the school in February 2013, after the company refused to cover claims from 30 men alleging abuse by Sandusky.
A man claiming to be the previously unknown victim of the shower incident ("Victim 2") stepped forward through his lawyers in July 2012 and stated his intentions to file a lawsuit against the university. His lawyers also released a pair of voicemails from September 2011 that were purportedly left for their client by Sandusky.
On October 2, 2012, Mike McQueary sued Penn State in Centre County Court. He is suing for $4 million for alleged defamation due to Spanier's public statement of support for Curley and Schultz and another $4 million for misrepresentation, alleging that Schultz stated he would take appropriate action after the locker room incident McQueary witnessed. The suit alleges that McQueary was fired because he had cooperated with law enforcement and will serve as a witness in the trial of Schultz and Curley. McQueary is seeking reinstatement of his job or compensation for lost wages.
On January 1, 2013, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett announced he will sue the NCAA in federal court over the sanctions imposed against Penn State. Although Corbett is an ex officio member of the board of trustees, Penn State is not involved in the suit. According to the Associated Press, Corbett is filing an antitrust suit against the NCAA. Though Corbett had originally "endorsed [the NCAA settlement in the immediate wake of the Freeh report] as 'part of the corrective process'", he and other Pennsylvania elected officials had more recently begun to object to the prospect of the $60 million fine being spent mostly outside of Pennsylvania. One reason given for the objection is that there is no legal way Penn State can ensure that taxpayer money won't be used to pay the fine. In sharply criticizing the governor's move in an editorial, the New York Times noted that the governor "barely mentioned the young victims" in his 2013 statement. It continued: "In his complaints, the governor only confirmed the inquiry finding that the university’s obsession with football predominance helped drive the cover-up of Mr. Sandusky’s crimes." It also noted that, in the suit, Corbett "bypassed incoming state attorney general Kathleen Kane [who] in her election campaign last year ... promised to look into why it took so long for the pedophilia scandal to be investigated when Mr. Corbett previously served as attorney general". The Patriot-News said of the suit: "[It] comes after a year of withering criticism of Corbett by some quarters of the Penn State community, which has seen the governor and his fellow PSU trustees as too quick to brand former head coach Joe Paterno and others as fall guys for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal." On June 6, 2013, federal Middle District Judge Yvette Kane said she could not "find any factual allegations" and threw out the lawsuit calling it "a Hail Mary pass" that easily warranted dismissal.
On August 16, 2013, a man, known as Victim 5, who was sexually abused by Sandusky was the first to settle his civil suit against the university for an undisclosed amount.
On October 28, 2013, Penn State University reached settlements with 26 victims of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. It will cost the university a total of $59.7 million.
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