There are people who know things. People who can corroborate or discredit, who can clarify what really happened at Penn State and how the university gave cover to child molester Jerry Sandusky for so long. Enough with the constant legal sophistry coming out of Happy Valley. All of the sworn testimony cannot be pure lies, and what it collectively alleges is that multiple people at Penn State, not just Joe Paterno, saw or heard something over the years.
The attention will center, as it invariably does, on Paterno, and an alleged victim’s statement that the head coach “didn’t want to hear that stuff” when he tried to report Sandusky molesting him in 1976. There’s probably no way to verify the claim — and it’s a distraction from the real import of the depositions released Tuesday in a civil case between Penn State and an insurance agency over who should pay 32 victims. The statements were taken under oath, under penalty of perjury, and what they swear is that a wide variety of Penn State coaches and officials had indications that Sandusky was a child predator, only for the alleged victims to be silenced or ignored.
Some of these people can no longer speak for themselves; Paterno died in 2012, and former athletic director Jim Tarman has dementia. Others deny the allegations. Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano is one; UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley is another. Both say they saw no evidence of abuse. But what’s clear is that they could help victims understand Penn State’s climate, why it was not conducive to believing reports and taking action against Sandusky sooner.
For the longest time, attention (and blame) has solely focused on the young assistant coach Mike McQueary, who in 2001 reported to Paterno that he saw Sandusky doing something to a boy in the Penn State showers. Before his death Paterno claimed it was the first he’d ever heard of any sort of issue with Sandusky and boys — a claim now hard to credit. According to McQueary in his newly released deposition, he also discussed what he had seen with Bradley, a Penn State assistant from 1979 to 2011.
“Bradley said he knew of some things,” McQueary testified.
The deposition states that Bradley told him Schiano had eye-witnessed a similar incident between Sandusky and a boy in the locker room when he worked at Penn State from 1990 to 1995: “Greg had come into his office white as a ghost and said he just saw Jerry doing something to a boy in the shower.”
Other allegations included in unsealed depositions: that the late Penn State assistant Joseph Sarra allegedly witnessed Sandusky put his hand in a boy’s shorts in 1987. O’Dea, a former graduate assistant and strength coach, allegedly saw improper contact between Sandusky and a minor, though the date is in dispute. Tarman allegedly received a molestation report also in 1988.
All of this predates a police report filed by the mother of a boy in 1998, and McQueary’s eyewitness incident in 2001. And it begs the question of whether there was more discussion and suspicion of Sandusky’s behavior at Penn State than has previously been disclosed — and if not, why not. What we do know for sure is that in 2001 athletic director Tim Curley, vice president Gary Schultz and president Graham Spanier had full notice that Sandusky was a potential predator, yet he was not charged until 2011. All three face charges of child endangerment and failure to report suspected abuse.
Each time new evidence or allegations appear in the Sandusky case, Penn State and Paterno’s defenders have had the same response.
“Although settlements have been reached, it also is important to reiterate that the alleged knowledge of former Penn State employees is not proven, and should not be treated as such,” Penn State President Eric Barron said in a statement. “Some individuals deny the claims, and others are unable to defend themselves.”
A spokesman for the Paterno family said, “That Penn State chose to settle claims without fully assessing the underlying facts is something that the University obviously felt they had to do to help resolve this matter. . . . [It] does not remotely validate the assertions about an uncorroborated conversation with Joe Paterno.”
That’s true, and only fair. But it should also be noted the settlement process was protracted and included several layers of vetting, with some claims rejected, and Penn State knew it would have to justify settlements, which total almost $93 million, to its insurer.
It’s wrong to suggest we can never get at the full truth, or shouldn’t try, because Penn State has settled. There are people who were in a position to know things, who clearly have been reluctant to comment publicly. In 2011, Schiano was asked whether he had ever seen during his six-year stint at Penn State any indications that Sandusky might be a child predator. He totally evaded the question. It’s interesting to revisit his response in light of the McQueary deposition.
“Because of the situation being what it is, I’m not even going to get into it,” Schiano said then. “I’m so far removed. Again, you don’t need people making commentaries on things like this. It’s just a sad thing.”
When Bradley was hired by UCLA, he similarly avoided any attempts at discussing his Penn State experience. “I think all those questions have been answered years ago,” he said. “I’m here to help UCLA and help these players be the best players they can possibly be.”
No, all the questions haven’t been answered.
Not even close.