Graham Spanier Begins His Defense

The disgraced former president released a letter to the Board of Trustees. From ESPN:


"It is unfathomable and illogical to think that a respected family sociologist and family therapist, someone who personally experienced massive and persistent abuse as a child, someone who devoted a significant portion of his career to the welfare of children and youth, including service on the boards of four such organizations, two as chair of the board, would have knowingly turned a blind eye to any report of child abuse or predatory sexual acts directed at children," Spanier wrote to trustees. "As I have stated in the clearest possible terms, at no time during my presidency did anyone ever report to me that Jerry Sandusky was observed abusing a child or youth or engaged in a sexual act with a child or youth.... 

Spanier, former chairman of the NCAA Division I Board of Directors and a former member of the association's executive committee, said he was merely copied on two emails from Schultz to Curley about the 1998 report. "I have no recollection of any conversations on the topic or any other emails from that era sent to me or by me," he wrote. "It is public knowledge that the district attorney decided there was no crime to pursue. I don't understand how one could conclude from such evidence 'concealment' of a known child predator."

Two things stand out here. First, the character defense is the idea (a frequent theme here)  that "noble" people and, in the case of Spanier victimized people, are somehow incapable of inhumanity. (I suffered segregation, therefore I can not be a homophobe. I suffered gay-bashings, therefore I can not be a racist.)  The idea is that suffering is somehow ennobling or at least enwisdoming (made up word!) Thus it is somehow "unfathomable and illogical" that someone with Spanier's impeccable credentials, and tragic past, would do anything that might repeat the sins of that past. But the history of people says different.

For me, the tell is in the second graf, where Spanier says he was merely copied on e-mails about Sandusky and thus is somehow not culpable. The claim of great nobility and great ignorance is a frequent pairing -- think about the "If I have offended you..." clause that frequently follows apologies these days. I am too noble to have done wrong, and any wrong I may have done could only have been done out of ignorance.

How ignorance became an excuse is beyond me. A university president who is copied on an e-mail alleging child rape by a high-ranking official in his employ, and pays it no attention, isn't much of president or anything. When you are leader, intelligence is your job. If you are ignorant, you have failed. Nothing will make that OK.

Haven't these guys heard of Profumo?

UPDATE: Here is a copy of Spanier's letter.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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