Penn State has only itself to blame for latest accusations

Dan Wetzel
·Columnist
Penn State's Beaver Stadium. (AP)
Penn State’s Beaver Stadium. (AP)

The accusations – and headlines that followed – are as disturbing as they are unproven, somehow both expected and shocking at the same time. Still, they are based on 40-year-old quotes assigned to Joe Paterno and former Penn State assistants done in by second-degree hearsay, fresh outrage arriving without investigation or examination.

It results in another round of contempt heaped on everyone with any involvement in Jerry Sandusky’s reign of terror. As victims, and Penn State sure does consider itself the victim, it isn’t sympathetic.

That is especially true since the school created this news cycle by refusing to open its own checkbook and dole out a reported $92.8 million in settlements it authorized to Sandusky’s actual victims. Instead it tried to pawn the settlement off on its insurance company, which promptly balked, sued (and won), stating Penn State knew of Sandusky’s acts, thereby voiding the policy. Along the way, came a mud fight that won’t end.

Joe Paterno is front and center on Tuesday, as released court documents detail an allegation from a child victim called “John Doe 150” with whom Penn State settled. He claims he attended the school’s football camp in 1976 and wound up in a shower with Sandusky. John Doe 150 said Sandusky ran his hand down his back before digitally penetrating his rectum. The boy cried out. He claims other coaches and campers heard, but nothing was done.

The next day, John Doe 150 testified, he told Paterno what happened and found the coach was dismissive and unconcerned. “I don’t want to hear about any of that kind of stuff, I have a football season to worry about,” he testified.

“I was shocked, disappointed, offended,” John Doe 150 said. “I was insulted. … I said, ‘Is that all you’re going to do? You’re not going to do anything else?’ ” He said Paterno walked away.

Ugly story. Is it a true story? John Doe 150 testified under oath, and there’s a full measure of support that any victim deserves. However no one other than he has any idea. This is merely an allegation in a civil suit that was settled without further challenge.

So, yes, it’s possible, and, yes, Penn State chose not to question it, so that’s on the school. It’s also fair to ask if a kid camper could really gain a private audience with Paterno, heroically make the aforementioned claim, grow outraged at the response, boldly and aggressively question Paterno’s response, all via quotes that feel directly out of a movie. He did all of that, but didn’t go to his parents, the police or anyone else for nearly four decades?

Systems of justice have to be rooted in fairness and, ideally, that includes the court of public opinion. Questioning allegations isn’t a sign of disrespect but an important part of the legitimizing process. It’s the only way this works, even if that means extending a courtesy to the most loathsome among us.

Jerry Sandusky was found guilty of 45 charges of sexual abuse of boys. (AP)
Jerry Sandusky was found guilty of 45 charges of sexual abuse of boys. (AP)

A naïve hope? Certainly. It’s never really worked that proper way, not with the public in general, let alone the media, traditional or social. That’s why even if Tuesday’s allegations should have been taken with appropriate suspicion, they weren’t. Penn State knew as much, which is at least partially why it settled the case originally.

It also illustrates the recklessness of the school when it tried to pass the victim payout bill to its insurer. Yes, $92.8 million is a lot of money, but Penn State has a $4.6 billion operating budget and a $3.64 billion endowment.

It was Penn State that decided to pay these claims. Besides, how much would the school pay to avoid days such as Tuesday?

Paterno was just one name that popped up, some with even more questionable allegations. How about former assistant Kevin O’Dea, who was alleged to have witnessed an act of molestation by Sandusky in what a court document stated was 1988. The problem? O’Dea worked at the University of Virginia at the time and didn’t arrive in State College until 1991.

Then there is Greg Schiano and Tom Bradley, each former Penn State assistants. Schiano went on to coach Rutgers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and is currently an assistant at Ohio State. Bradley was a longtime Paterno aide and briefly the interim coach following Paterno’s firing in 2011. He’s the current UCLA defensive coordinator.

Former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary testified in the insurance company lawsuit that Bradley told him one day in the early 1990s that Schiano came “into [Bradley’s] office white as a ghost and said he just saw Jerry doing something to a boy in the shower.”

Both Bradley and Schiano deny such a thing ever happened.

“I never saw any abuse, nor had reason to suspect any abuse, during my time at Penn State,” Schiano told ESPN.

“At no time did Tom Bradley ever witness any inappropriate behavior,” a statement for him said. “Nor did he have any knowledge of alleged incidents in the 80’s and 90’s.”

McQueary’s testimony makes for a big story but it’s hearsay of hearsay that would stand virtually no chance of ever being admitted as testimony in a criminal case. Even if true, it’s also incredibly vague. He wasn’t even questioned in detail on it. It’s practically a one-off, out-of-nowhere line. What was the “something”? If you’re inclined to believe McQueary, maybe Schiano was just stunned that Sandusky would even be in a shower with a boy. “Something” could be just standing there, not a direct sexual act. Who knows?

Only in the mind of Sandusky – or the segment of Penn State fans that want Sandusky to be innocent as a way to exonerate Paterno – is a grown man repeatedly showering alone with boys not an act of massive concern. This is especially true after he tearfully promised police he would stop when he barely avoided prosecution three years prior.

Of course, that’s Sandusky, a guy who never stopped. He’s a guy who admitted to NBC that, when it came to physical contact with boys, “maybe I tested boundaries.” Why would anyone test such a thing? He’s a guy who started a charity for at-risk kids but essentially used it as a way to lure the area’s most vulnerable, the often desperate and fatherless who were least likely to resist or report.

Soon, it would be time for the Second Mile summer camp, Sandusky jumping in the pool with all the boys, taking turns tossing them in the air like it was all fun and frivolous games, everyone watching and somehow approving.

“[He’d] kind of [pretend] like he was having trouble getting a good grip,” said a man called “Victim 4” at Sandusky’s 2012 trial. “And as he was grabbing you, he would brush your genitals and then throw you.”

This is why skepticism is always so great in this story, the awful antics that make everything believable.

The image of Sandusky, hiding in plain sight, in the pool with the boys, in the showers with the boys, renting local motel rooms with the boys, testing boundaries with the boys, the gig going on and on and on. This is why the benefit of the doubt was long ago lost, even on accusations begging for backup.

Penn State, ever shooting itself in the foot, knew that then didn’t. School officials should’ve just paid out what they thought they owed, not tried to slide it over to the insurance company. They could have avoided the recurring days like these, plunged back into the sewer of disgust, maybe because it’s true, maybe even if it isn’t. Then again, they probably would’ve just argued about putting the statue back up.