LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- Leave it to a janitor to make the most succinct observation in the entire 267-page investigation into Penn State's handling of Jerry Sandusky published today by former FBI director Louis Freeh.
"Football runs this university," said a man identified in the report as "Janitor B," a man who in November of 2000 saw two pairs of feet under a shower stall door of Penn State's Lasch Building, the same night another janitor reported seeing a sexual assault by former Penn State assistant Jerry Sandusky on a young boy in the locker room showers of that building.
"Football runs this university."
It should not anymore.
Quietly, quickly and without fanfare, Penn State University should dispatch a truck, remove the statue of Joe Paterno that stands outside Beaver Stadium, and cart it away with this message -- never again can concern for something as trivial as football stand in the way of something as important as the safety and innocence of children, and the justice required to safeguard it.
A lot of us are issuing corrections today. Or at the very least, revisions. When Paterno died, I praised the first sentence of his obituary in The New York Times, which included his football accomplishments, his positive legacy, and his role in the Sandusky scandal. I praised the Times for making the Sandusky business a part of its lead, but not the lead itself.
After today, we know his role was far greater than we originally thought. After today, we know the Sandusky story is part of his headline, a sad headline on a great career, but no less a headline.
When Jerry Sandusky retired in 1999 -- a year after he had been accused of sexual misconduct with a minor in the showers of the Lasch Building and interviewed by Penn State police and a Child Welfare caseworker before the investigation simply ended without action -- Sandusky sought out ways to remain involved with Penn State, and with youth. He proposed running a middle school youth football camp.
According to Freeh's report, on Sandusky's note making the proposal, in Joe Paterno's handwriting, are the words, "Volunteer Position Director -- Positive Action for Youth."
Joe Paterno's handwriting is all over Sandusky's continued involvement with and sexual abuse of children.
He didn't endorse it, but he did enable it. He knew the District Attorney had looked into Sandusky in a child sex abuse investigation. Other coaches reported having seen Sandusky showering with children before 1998. We know he knew of the 1998 allegation because there are emails showing that he was being kept aware.
"He was steps away," Freeh said of Paterno in a news conference today. When asked if this was a football problem, Freeh said, "The rapes of these boys occurred in the Lasch Building. Mr. Paterno's office was in the Lasch Building."
Among the devastating findings from Freeh's report:
-- Four of the most powerful people at Penn State, president Graham Spanier, senior VP for finance and business Gary Schultz, athletic director Tim Curley and Paterno, failed to protect a child sexual predator from harming kids for more than a decade. They hid what they knew from the board of trustees and the authorities. They showed a lack of sympathy for the victims, never tried to figure out the identity of a child Sandusky assaulted on their campus in 2001, and worse yet, exposed the child to more harm by telling Sandusky what he had been seen doing.
-- They allowed Sandusky to retire in 2009 not in disgrace as a suspected child predator, but as a valued member of the Penn State community with privilege and access, allowing him to bring potential victims to campus "for grooming as targets of his assaults.
--The university didn't fully require the football program to participate in a Federally mandated program for tracking and disclosure of crimes, nor did it have a central compliance director, and in general allowed its athletic department to become a "closed community," unto itself.
-- The university fostered, "A culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus community."
Paterno has spent enough time in the pocket of protection from this. While there's plenty of blame to go around, we no longer can assume that Paterno was a passive participant. One senior Penn State official told investigators that AD Curley was Paterno's, "errand boy."
Want to see how he was viewed at the university? Go back to those janitors. One of them, "Janitor A" in the report, said he saw Sandusky raping a young boy. He later told co-workers on the custodial staff that he had, "fought in the Korean War . . . seen people with their guts blowed out, arms dismembered. . . . I just witnessed something in there I'll never forget."
The second janitor said reporting it, "Would have been like going against the President of the United States in my eyes. . . . I know Paterno has so much power, if he wanted to get rid of someone, I would have been gone." He said the university would have closed ranks around the football program.
Don't believe him? Last year, after these allegations surfaced, more people donated money to Penn State University than at any time its history.
"If that's the culture on the bottom," Freeh said of the "Janitor B's" comments, "God help the culture on the top."
It's not about football, many people are saying. Joe Paterno himself said it in a letter written before his death and circulated this week. They're not wrong, in principle. It just happened to be a football program that everyone cared far too much about, but it could have been a church, a business, a political leader.
It could have been. But this time it was football. And football -- and the way a university and a community feel about it -- is part of what it is about.
We're not dealing in principle with these crimes. We're dealing with reality.
"There were more red flags than you could count, over a long period of time," Freeh told reporters in his news conference today.
No one at Penn State was willing to see through the blue and white pom-poms to do anything about them.
Speaking about Spanier, Curley, Shultz and Paterno, Freeh said, "All four individuals, including Paterno, made a decision to actively conceal knowledge of the events."
Of Paterno specifically, Freeh concluded, "The facts are the facts. He was an integral part of the act to conceal."
Already, some are jumping up to color Freeh's report as an attempt to pin blame on a deceased legend who cannot defend himself.
Look at the facts. There's no defense left. It wasn't just a failure of Paterno, but of an entire university and community.
The fallout isn't over. The U.S. Department of Education, the NCAA, law enforcement and the courts continuing to look into the actions of leadership as potentially criminal, this is far from over.
But for the victims, many of whom could have been completely spared this horrific experience had Paterno and Penn State only exercised the "success with honor" they preached, it never will be over.
I want to end on their note. They are the ones this report concluded were "completely disregarded" by Penn State. Spanier spoke of dealing with Sandusky "humanely."
If there's any monument around the football stadium at Penn State, it ought to be to them. Perhaps not names or likenesses, but some tangible reminder of what human cost there was when a program was too consumed with success, and not enough by honor.
As for Paterno's statue, maybe they should move it to the administration building. To remind people there of the same thing.
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