The most senior officials at Penn State University failed for more than a decade to take any steps to protect the children victimized by Jerry Sandusky, the longtime lieutenant to head football coach Joe Paterno, according to an independent investigation of the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the university last fall.
“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims,” said Louis J. Freeh, the former federal judge and director of the F.B.I. who oversaw the investigation. “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”
Freeh’s investigation — which took seven months and involved more than 400 interviews and the review of more than 3.5 million documents — accuses Paterno, the university’s former president and others of deliberately hiding facts about Sandusky’s sexually predatory behavior over the years.
“The facts are the facts,” Freeh said of Paterno. “He was an integral part of the act to conceal.”
One new and central finding of the Freeh investigation is that Paterno, who died in January, knew as far back as 1998 that there were concerns Sandusky might be behaving inappropriately with children. It was then that the campus police investigated a claim by a mother that her son had been molested by Sandusky in a shower at Penn State.
Paterno, through his family, insisted after Sandusky’s arrest that he never knew anything about the 1998 case. But Freeh’s report asserts that Paterno not only knew of the investigation, but followed it closely. Local prosecutors ultimately decided not to charge Sandusky, and Paterno did nothing.
Paterno failed to take any action, the investigation found, “even though Sandusky had been a key member of his coaching staff for almost 30 years and had an office just steps away from Mr. Paterno’s.”
The investigation also presented evidence that in the wake of the 1998 case, top university officials contemplated the possibility that Sandusky could be a serial pedophile. A second boy, according to notes taken by a university vice president, Gary Schultz, described actions similar to what had happened to the first boy, including Sandusky hugging him from behind in the shower. Schultz wrote in his notes: “Is this opening of Pandora’s box? Other children?”
“In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity,” the most powerful leaders of Penn State University, Freeh’s group said, “repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the board of trustees, the Penn State community and the public at large.”
The investigation’s findings doubtless will have significant ramifications — for Paterno’s legacy, for the university’s legal liability as it seeks to compensate Sandusky’s victims, and perhaps for the wider world of major college athletics.