Cook: Fallout not over for reeling Penn State
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None of it came as a surprise, really. Not the news Thursday that there was a massive cover-up at Penn State of the criminal actions of convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky. Not even word that iconic football coach Joe Paterno played a big part in it.
Many long have suspected as much and had their suspicions confirmed by the release of the Freeh Report after a nearly eight-month investigation into Penn State's handling of the Sandusky child sexual abuse case.
But what happens now?
• Penn State president Graham Spanier, senior vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley should go to prison if it can be proven that they and Paterno showed -- according to the Freeh Report -- a "total and consistent disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims" and "repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse from the authorities, the University's Board of Trustees, the Penn State community and the public at large." Paterno died in January. If he were alive, he, too, should have gone to prison.
• All attempts by Paterno's family and legions of fans to save even a portion of his once-pristine legacy will fail. Paterno brought that on himself by making what lead investigator Louis Freeh called "perhaps the worst mistake of his life." Still, in a way, it's sad because Paterno was mostly a good man who did great things for countless thousands of college students -- not just football players -- and Penn State.
• The Penn State football program should not face the death penalty or other sanctions from the NCAA. This is a criminal matter, not an NCAA matter.
Let's start with Paterno. With anything Penn State, you have to start there, right? For much of the past 30 or 40 years, he was the biggest and most powerful man on campus.
That was proven after the 2004 football season when he turned away Spanier and Curley, who had come to his home to ask for his resignation. That's why it was almost nonsensical when his blind supporters insisted he did what he was supposed to do by kicking allegations of a child rape incident against Sandusky in 2001 upstairs to his superiors. Paterno had no superiors at Penn State.
When Sandusky was arrested and charged in November, Attorney General Linda Kelly said Paterno met his legal obligation in the case. The Freeh Report told a much different story. It said Paterno was aware of allegations of improper behavior by Sandusky -- his longtime defensive coordinator -- with a young boy in a shower in 1998, yet did nothing to intervene. Fast-forward to the incident in 2001. A reasonable conclusion, based on email exchanges between Curley, Schultz and Spanier, is that Paterno scuttled plans to report Sandusky to authorities after assistant coach Mike McQueary told him he witnessed Sandusky engaged in sexual activity with a young boy in a shower at the Penn State football facility.
Is that so hard to believe?
Many speculated Paterno acted to protect the image of Penn State football even as several boys were being subjected to unthinkable horror by Sandusky. Freeh agreed that's "an inference you can draw." Surely, that was a big part of it, but it goes much deeper. Paterno loved Penn State. He devoted his life to it and did more good for the university than perhaps anybody has done for any other school. He would do anything to protect it.
In the end, that thinking came at a steep cost for Paterno. It cost him his reputation and good name. He will never get back either.
We knew from that nixed forced resignation attempt in 2004 that Spanier and Curley were weak leaders. Shame on them and Schultz if they allowed Paterno to talk them out of doing the right thing with Sandusky in 2001. You can argue Paterno had the right to leave as football coach on his terms because of the games he won, the people he brought to Beaver Stadium and the millions he raised for Penn State.
But it's impossible to argue for allowing a suspected child molester to roam free on the University Park streets and in the Penn State football facility.
It's too late to prosecute Paterno. It's not too late to go hard after Spanier, Curley and Schultz. Freeh deferred questions about their criminal culpability to Kelly. Her office worked with the Freeh investigators and, presumably, has the same evidence. No one should be surprised if charges against Spanier are filed soon. Curley and Schultz are facing charges of perjury and failure to report.
• Sandusky was convicted last month of 45 counts of sexual abuse involving 10 boys. He figures to spend the rest of his life in prison.
• Paterno, almost unimaginably, was fired a few days after Sandusky's arrest, justifiably according to Freeh. He is dead and gone. He is not resting in peace. He is rolling in shame.
• Spanier, Curley and Schultz soon could be facing prison time.
That covers the five people most responsible for one of the truly tragic stories of our lifetime.
Is it really necessary to shut down the Penn State football program?
Wouldn't that be -- pardon the poor pun -- piling on?
Many have argued a message needs to be sent that nothing or anyone -- not a hallowed football program or a legendary coach -- can be bigger than a university. Freeh talked of a culture at Penn State where janitors knew of a Sandusky assault in 2000 in the Penn State football facility and were afraid to report it. Freeh said taking on the football program would be, for them, "like taking on the President of the United States."
I would suggest that much-needed message has been and will continue to be sent by the judicial system. It's not just Sandusky's conviction and the prosecution of, Curley, Schultz and possibly Spanier. It's the millions Penn State will pay out to settle civil lawsuits.
That's a powerful message.
It's not just Penn State that should learn from it. How about noted football schools such as Alabama, Louisiana State, Florida and Ohio State? Do you really believe the culture of football is any different there than it was at Penn State?
The difference is Penn State had a monster in its midst, a monster so conniving and so convincing that he long fooled people in the highest places. Did you know Sandusky was named by President George H.W. Bush as one of his "Thousand Points Of Light" in 1990 for his work with his Second Mile Foundation? "A shining example," Bush called Sandusky.
Eventually, four Penn State officials caught on to Sandusky. They chose to do nothing about him. It was the worst mistake of each of their lives. They deserve everything they've gotten and will get.
The kids on the Penn State football team -- none of whom had anything to do with Sandusky -- shouldn't go down with Spanier, Curley, Schultz and Paterno.
This horrific story doesn't need more innocent victims.
First Published July 13, 2012 12:00 am