Holly Swanson: What More Could They Do, Dr. Emmert?
Dear Dr. Emmert,
I’d like to talk to you about the recent sanctions the NCAA imposed on Penn State. I’m confused by some of the statements you’ve made and, truthfully, I think you might be confused about some of it, too. You are understandably busy and maybe haven’t had the opportunity to follow the Sandusky scandal as closely as I have.
But first, there’s a story I’d like to share with you. A few months ago while traveling, I overheard a conversation in a restaurant. Although I missed some pieces, it sounded like the people involved were planning something illegal. I wasn’t sure, though, so I reported it to the police. The police looked into it and, although they agreed that my suspicions were appropriate, there wasn’t anything that the alleged bad guys could be charged with. I still think they seemed hinky, but what more can I do?
This brings me to the 1998 allegations against Jerry Sandusky, which is what you based most of the NCAA sanctions on. It’s hard to get a clear picture of the events based on the Freeh Report since a lot of it was written prejudicially, so allow me to recap. After an alert and intuitive mom reported her suspicions about Sandusky to her son’s therapist, the police stepped in to investigate. They discovered that Sandusky took a shower with the boy, hugging him and lifting him off the ground while they were both naked. Even to the untrained eye, this behavior is inappropriate and weird.
As we know now, Sandusky was grooming the young boy so he could victimize him. But at the time, Sandusky’s conduct could not be labeled as illegal, despite a detailed investigation that involved the Penn State University police department, the Department of Public Welfare, Centre County Children and Youth Services, and the District Attorney’s office. As outlined in the Freeh Report, which you read, “the local District Attorney declined to prosecute Sandusky for his actions with the boy in the shower.” This can be found on page 46.
But in late September, you gave a speech to the Detroit Economic Club in which you said, “As a criminal investigation, it was none of our business. And if, back in 1998, Penn State had heard about it and put a stop to it, it would have never been any of our business. When they didn’t do that, it became our concern.”
So that doesn’t make sense to me. The police, and several other trusted organizations that were skilled at investigating this type of thing, were involved and a decision was made not to bring charges. That’s because, based on the only allegation at that time, nothing illegal happened.
It’s difficult to ascertain what exactly the Penn State leadership, especially Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier, understood about the 1998 incident. I believe, based on the Freeh investigation and other reports, that they didn’t know anything about it. But, let’s assume for the sake of this argument that they knew about the shower incident and the police investigation. After the officials declined to bring charges against Sandusky, what more should they have done? Should they have called the FBI or the governor to request another investigation? Who would do something like that based on a mild suspicion of indecency that others had cleared?
So back to me…if it turns out later that the guys I overheard in that restaurant really were up to no good, would you blame me for not doing more? It’s clear from your previous statements that you would, but what more could I have done?
Penn State did everything they could in 1998. Those who knew about the allegations involved the appropriate authorities. In hindsight, many people did not see what is now obvious—that Jerry Sandusky was a manipulative pedophile. But to blame the University for its actions dating back to 1998, as the NCAA clearly has, is inappropriate and short-sighted.
There are so many lessons to be learned from the Sandusky scandal, but blaming the wrong people doesn’t help the victims and it doesn’t prevent future crimes. Using the NCAA’s power and reach to increase awareness of child abuse through public service announcements and educational tools would be a better use of the organization’s resources. Erasing games and trophies from the record books? Not so much.
And preventing a group of hardworking young men, who were small children themselves in 1998, from playing in bowl games as a means to punish Penn State is petty.
I’d like to think the NCAA is better than that. And I’d like to think that you fully reviewed and understood both the Freeh report and its shortcomings. But I don’t.