Penn State's Ex-President Fights Back; Says He Was a Victim of Child Abuse

Former Penn State President Graham Spanier is fighting back against the allegations made against him in the Freeh Report, but his defense isn't much of a defense at all.

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Former Penn State President Graham Spanier is fighting back against the allegations made against him in the Freeh Report, but his defense isn't much of a defense at all.

In a three-page letter sent to the Board of Trustees on Monday, Spanier insisted that he made no attempt to cover up the allegations of sexual abuse against Jerry Sandusky and that he didn't even know that anything illegal or sinister was happening. He seems to suggest that his subordinates did not make him fully aware of previous investigations and criticized the school's former general counsel for not adequately preparing him for his grand jury testimony last year or giving him all the necessary information about the criminal investigation of Jerry Sandusky. He claims that he was told numerous times that school was not in jeopardy, and therefore was not overly concerned with the proceedings.

Spanier also says that he has proof of error in the Freeh Report (which you can still read online) that he will send to the board privately, though his lawyers. However, given the evidence that is available now and Spanier's own comments about the matter, it's hard to believe his claims that he had no reason to suspect Sandusky of wrongdoing. And if he was ignorant of the charges that had been leveled against Sandusky, that's no one's fault but his own.

For example, Spanier claims that he was completely unaware of a 1998 criminal investigation that was launched against Sandusky, even though the Freeh Report contains two emails that Spanier was cc'd on which referenced the investigation. Spanier writes in his letter, "I have no recollection of any conversations on the topic or any other emails from that era," but in the very next sentence states that it was public knowledge that the district attorney decided there was no crime to pursue. (Although, a "lack of clear evidence" needed to prosecute is not the same as there being no crime.) His direct subordinates — athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president Gary Schultz — were following the case very closely and it's hard to see how it could have escaped his attention. Especially when there is evidence that they tried to inform him.

We suppose it is possible that he never read the emails or legitimately forgot about them three years later when the 2001 incident surfaced. Yet, even without that prior knowledge his behavior after this second incident is also suspect. Spanier says he was given a verbal "heads up" by Curley and Schultz, but note the way that meeting is described, in his own words, in the Freeh Report and the letter:

Notice how his questions were framed: Not "What happened?" or "Is it true?", but "Is that how it was described?" and "reported" to his subordinates. He says immediately after this that he was "uncomfortable with such a situation" and acknowledged that it was "inappropriate, and that we did not want to happen again." Yet, Spanier appears to have made no attempt to learn any more information about the incident. He didn't know who made the accusation. He didn't know any details about the child involved. He says he wasn't told the time of day or the location. He doesn't even know what, in this instance, "horseplay" means. All he does know it that he doesn't want it to happen again — even as he claims to have no idea what "it" even was. The reason he doesn't know those things is because he chose not to ask.

There's also the now infamous email where Curley explains that after speaking to Coach Joe Paterno, he now has second thoughts about their original plan to deal with Sandusky. Spanier's reply includes this telling line:

The only downside for us is if the message isn't heard and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it. (Emphasis added.)

Doesn't that suggest he knew they were dealing with something that should have been reported? If he truly had no reason to suspect abuse or something else illegal, then why would he feel "vulnerable" about the decision to not report it?

Spanier concludes in his letter that "It is unfathomable and illogical to think that a respected family sociologist and family therapist, someone who experienced massive and persistent abuse as a child, someone who devoted a significant portion of this career to the welfare of children and youth ... would have knowingly turned a blind eye to a report of child abuse or predatory sexual acts directed at children." That's a passionate argument and the abuse that he suffered as a child is certainly tragic. But it's hardly proof of his innocence in this matter. Sadly, if a respected football coach and the leader of a charity devoted to working with children can actually commit such horrific abuse, nothing is unfathomable.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.