The Washington Post

Scandal shakes Penn State leaders

Penn State coach Joe Paterno has seen his school’s athletic director Tim Curley and administator Gary Schultz resign after a sexual-assault scandal surfaced involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. (Jim Prisching/AP)

One of these incidents, back in 2002, was allegedly reported to Paterno by a graduate assistant who witnessed it; Paterno then apparently passed along the information to Curley. Many today are questioning the obligations Paterno (who has not been charged or implicated in wrongdoing) may have had to do more than he did. In a statement, Paterno expressed his shock over the charges and indicated he did not know the details of what had happened—the witness was obviously “distraught over what he saw, but he at no time related to me the very specific actions contained in the Grand Jury report.”

I agree with those who say that if Joe Pa had even the slightest hint of something inappropriate happening between Sandusky and the boy, he should have done much more to get to the bottom of the incident. But if Paterno’s future is in question, and if the charges of perjury against Curley and Schultz turn out to be true, some might ask if Penn State president Graham Spanier’s future shouldn’t be in question, too.

After the stunning news was released, Spanier said “Tim Curley and Gary Schultz have my unconditional support” in a statement. “I have known and worked daily with Tim and Gary for more than 16 years,” he continued. “I have complete confidence in how they have handled the allegations about a former University employee.”

Perhaps when all is said and done, the charges—Curley and Schultz were both alleged to have made false statements under oath about what they were told by the graduate assistant—will turn out to be incorrect. But such unwavering faith in two people who would then step down two days later is emblematic of how far universities will go to protect their ultimate moneymakers: college athletics.

Even if Curley and Schultz are in fact innocent, what’s wrong with Spanier simply stating that the university is letting law enforcement do its job and is doing everything in its power to get to the bottom of the situation? Spanier could have even thrown in his support for the two men (something along the lines of “I have known Curley and Schultz for 16 years and respect them deeply”) without elevating them to deity status by claiming his “unconditional” support and playing the role of judge by talking about “groundless” charges.

One can’t help but be reminded of what happened after former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel came under fire for much lesser issues involving NCAA rules violations. Ohio State’s president, Gordon Gee, was asked if Tressel might be dismissed, and replied “No, are you kidding?” going on to say that he was “just hoping the coach doesn’t dismiss me.” While not as jaw-dropping, Spanier’s statement implies a similar sports-before-all culture that has become routine in higher education today, yet has the potential to hurt not only the character of today’s collegiate athletes, but in this case, possibly the lives of innocent children.

More from On Leadership:

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Post Leadership Blogger Jena McGregor: @jenamcgregor

On Leadership Editor Lillian Cunningham: @lily_cunningham

Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.



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