Devastating is the only way to describe the findings of a special inquiry into the scandal surrounding convicted child rapist Jerry Sandusky.
Devastating for the leadership at Pennsylvania State University, devastating for the legacy of late football coach Joe Paterno, devastating for anyone who loves the school. But the conclusions of the independent panel led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh stand as both a condemnation and a rallying cry for broad-based reform.
The report should spur state lawmakers to move quickly — as demanded by victims’ advocates — to “enact laws to protect children instead of perpetrators.” Accordingly, legislators should rebuff special interests and open a window to relief in the courts for long-ago victims of abuse.
The Freeh report confirmed the broad outlines of an apparent cover-up dating as far back as 1998, when Sandusky was accused of showering with a boy on campus. It offers a shocking portrayal of decision-making by university officials, who were less than forthcoming about their unwillingness to ferret out a serial predator. Above all else, they sought to protect Penn State from scandal.
Freeh said school officials “never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky’s victims until after Sandusky’s arrest.”
Penn State trustees should have kept closer tabs on school administrators, but they deserve credit for launching the Freeh inquiry. At Freeh’s urging, the school has already changed policies on contact with minors, reporting abuse allegations, and campus security. Additional steps recommended by the panel should continue an important healing process.
Even more apparent now is the upending of Paterno’s legacy. The coach with the most major-college football victories, a man who raised and donated millions to support Penn State academics, will forever be remembered as a participant in a 14-year cover-up of child sexual abuse.
The report also exposed former Penn State president Graham B. Spanier and two former officials facing perjury charges — former Athletic Director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, a vice president who once had oversight of campus police — as being equally complicit in what Freeh called “the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims.”
Despite continued claims by Curley, Schultz, and Spanier that they did nothing wrong — and a posthumous defense by Paterno’s family — the Freeh report convincingly documents what the former top law enforcement officer in the nation called the failure of the “most powerful leaders” at the university to keep children on campus safe from harm.
Finding evidence that Paterno was not, in the words of the mother of one Sandusky victim, “the honest Joe, the good guy” is among the most dispiriting conclusions.
But in line with the Paterno family’s acknowledgement that their patriarch “wasn’t perfect,” the Freeh report shows the need for systemic reforms at Penn State, and likely other schools, to make certain that campus safety always takes precedence over any fear of bad publicity for the university, its sports teams, or a celebrated person like Joe Pa.
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