They did right by the victims.
Now, who will do right by Penn State?
The university has exactly one chance here. The personification of that chance is Louis Freeh, the former FBI director hired by the Penn State Board of Trustees to investigate exactly who knew what, and when. His report is said to be due late this summer.
Even a whiff of whitewash will doom the university. They have to know that now. Two university officials have been charged with perjury, and old emails have been unearthed that cast doubt on the grand-jury statements made by Graham Spanier, the former university president. There is no going back.
Who, what, when.
One chance here.
The civil suits are coming but there will never be a civil trial, not one — because Penn State cannot afford to be on trial (in the literal sense). The university is going to write checks, enormous checks, to anybody with a credible claim that he was abused by Sandusky, and particularly after 2001. The checks will contain six zeroes, before the decimal point. If Penn State is smart, the negotiations will be the easiest ones the plaintiffs' attorneys have ever conducted.
The Sandusky appeal is coming, and good luck with that. It is not as if this was a close call, after all. The perjury cases involving former athletic director Tim Curley and university vice president Gary Schultz also are coming. The FBI is said to be investigating, which could bring more charges. And then, on a more mundane level, there is the question of whether the NCAA will ever get involved and sanction Penn State athletics, based upon a lack of institutional control.
There are months and months of business yet to be done. But you will be able to multiply that time period by a tragic figure if the Freeh report is perceived as anything but brutal in its honesty. It needs to answer two questions with as much certainty and clarity as can be mustered, regardless of the consequences:
First, what happened in 2001, after former assistant coach Mike McQueary told coach Joe Paterno that he witnessed Sandusky assaulting a young boy in a university locker room? Specifically, what happened in the "nine or 10 days," according to McQueary, between the time he told Paterno about the incident and the call he received from Curley to set up a meeting?
Second, what happened between the spring of 1998 and June 1999? At the beginning of that time period, an incident of Sandusky showering with a young boy was investigated by campus police and ultimately dropped by the Centre County district attorney without charges being filed. At the end of that time period, Sandusky announced his decision to retire as a football coach at the end of the 1999 season to focus on his work with the Second Mile charity and to take advantage of a retirement package being offered to university employees.
Were they related, the investigation and the retirement? Who knew about the 1998 investigation — other than Schultz, who oversaw the campus police? Did Paterno know? Was there a decision made to ease Sandusky out of the football program because of the allegations? Was that the reason for the alleged cover-up in 2001?
Who, what, when.
One chance here.
In this case, we have seen reasonable people question their inaction. It's hard to forget the testimony of Joe Miller, the elementary-school wrestling coach who walked in on Sandusky engaged with one of his victims on a wrestling mat. He said that Sandusky raised his torso off the boy, as if surprised, and said that he was just showing the kid a wrestling move.
Miller said that he thought nothing of it at the time. While driving home, though, the thought ran through his mind that something was wrong. But he said he dismissed it. He said, "I just thought to myself, ‘It's Jerry, Jerry Sandusky. He's a saint.' "
The reaction might have been understandable enough back then — but no longer. We know that now. We have heard the victims testify. We have heard from the eyewitnesses to crimes, both McQueary and the janitors. Those eyewitnesses had no stake in this, other than aiding the search for the truth. As Joshua Harper, the schoolteacher on the jury, told NBC, "I kept just going back in my mind: ‘Why would McQueary lie about this?' He was sure. He made it very apparent that he saw something that was wrong and extremely sexual."
There is no doubt what happened. An honest jury made certain of that. This was a case of individual tragedies perpetrated by one man but unwittingly abetted by individuals who made mistakes in isolation — a wrestling coach, a school counselor who did not believe a victim, single mothers who were not attentive enough, for whatever reasons.
A university is different. It is not an individual in isolation.
Again: one chance here. Because Penn State cannot honestly look to the future until it deals as honestly with the past as a jury from Centre County has just done.
Contact Rich Hofmann at firstname.lastname@example.org, read his blog, The Idle Rich, at www.philly.com/TheIdleRich, or follow @theidlerich on Twitter.
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