Former Penn State President Graham Spanier called the Freeh report “unfair” and “deeply flawed,” and said he does not recall the two central child abuse incidents involving Jerry Sandusky that would eventually bring scandal to the university and cost him his job.
A pair of national interviews were released Wednesday — the same day Spanier’s attorneys argued in Philadelphia that the Freeh report that led to NCAA sanctions against Penn State was a mishandled investigation that led to faulty findings.
Interviewed on ABC World News, Spanier said he neither failed to act on evidence of child abuse nor tried to cover up incidents — as alleged by the Freeh report.
“That report is absolutely wrong,” he said. “The conclusions in that report, that in effect we conspired to conceal a known child predator, are just incorrect.”
Never miss a local story.
Asked at the start whether he feels he failed to stop Sandusky, Spanier paused and looked down.
“I wish in hindsight I would have known more about Jerry Sandusky and his terrible, terrible hidden past so I could have intervened, because it would have been my instinct to do so,” Spanier said.
Spanier told The New Yorker magazine, “I have no recollection” of emails related to a 1998 incident involving Sandusky showering with a boy on campus. And he said he has “no memory” of dialogue surrounding the 2001 incident witnessed by then-graduate assistant football coach Mike McQueary in a Lasch Building shower.
The earlier incident led to a police investigation of Sandusky which brought no charges. Both situations were detailed during testimony in Sandusky’s trial in June, when the former defensive coordinator was convicted on 45 of 48 counts of child sex abuse.
At the trial, McQueary testified that he saw Sandusky and a boy in a shower and heard “rhythmic slapping sounds,” although he did not see intercourse happening. McQueary said he talked with his father, then head coach Joe Paterno, who took the story to athletic director Tim Curley and vice president for finance Gary Schultz.
The Freeh report included emails exchanged among Curley, Schultz and Spanier about how to handle the incident in 2001.
“(Schultz and Curley) said we received a report that a member of the athletic department staff, after a workout in one of our athletic facilities, saw Jerry Sandusky in the locker room with one of his kids, meaning one of his Second Mile kids,” Spanier said. “And it was reported that they were horsing around in the shower. Now they either used the word ‘horsing around’ or ‘horseplay.’ And the staff member wasn’t sure what he saw, because it was indirect and around a corner.
“And I remember asking two questions. ‘Are you sure that’s how it was described to you, as “horsing around”?’ And the answer was yes from both Gary and Tim. And, ‘Are you sure that’s all that was said to you?’ And the answer was yes. I remember, for a moment, sort of figuratively scratching our heads and thinking about what’s an appropriate way to follow up on ‘horsing around.’ I had never gotten a report like that before.”
To ABC, Spanier said he pictured “horseplay” then as tossing water around, snapping towels and other innocuous acts from his own childhood.
He admitted he didn’t try to find the boy involved in the 2001 shower incident, but when asked if he had moral obligation to do so, said, “I didn’t conjure up anything more than what I thought of as simple horseplay. It’s not in my nature to go around thinking the worst of people. I’m not a law enforcement agent. I’m not an investigator. I was a university president.”
Spanier told the New Yorker that he, Curley and Schultz decided that Curley would meet with Sandusky and inform the retired coach that his actions were “unacceptable to us.”
Spanier said he didn’t know until the grand jury presentment came down in November that McQueary was the 2001 shower witness, or that the alleged incident occurred in the football building.
Curley and Schultz were charged in November with failure to report a crime and perjury, accused of lying when interviewed by the grand jury.
Spanier said he was shocked at the Freeh report’s findings that he, Paterno, Curley and Schultz had concealed Sandusky’s crimes.
“I’m totally stunned by that, because why on Earth would we? There’s no logic to it,” Spanier said to the New Yorker. “Why on Earth would anybody cover up for a known child predator? Adverse publicity? For heaven’s sake! Every day I had to make some decision that got adverse publicity. Fortunately over my career I mostly got good publicity. That’s changed recently, but we weren’t afraid of adverse publicity.”
During his ABC interview, Spanier said he was abused as a child, offering no details but seemingly presenting the revelation as evidence that he would have acted appropriately with clear knowledge of crimes.
“I’ve had, for example, four operations as an adult to correct injuries from my childhood inflicted by my father,” he said. “I’ve never met anyone who has had a higher level of awareness about such issues than I have.”
Spanier told the New Yorker that he remains comfortable with his reactions in both 1998 and 2001.
“Knowing what I know now, of course, there are a lot of things that we would do differently,” he said. “I wish I would have known what I know now. Or even that I would have had just a little more information, suspicion, awareness, because that could have provided a basis for motivation for a higher level of intervention, and my pushing others to go further with it.”
He criticized Penn State’s acceptance of the Freeh report, which the NCAA in turned used as the basis for “the most severe set of penalties in the history of athletics.”
He called the NCAA’s actions “a rush to judgment.”
“I think they’re saying their penalties are based on what the institution did, what the institutional leaders did,” Spanier said. “That means they must be assuming the president, the head coach, the athletic director, and the vice-president, actually, as Freeh believes, were involved in concealing the wrongdoing of this former employee. But I’m certainly not guilty of that, and I’m not sure the others are either.”
He added: “Someday I hope to have my name completely cleared when it becomes evident that this was unfair and untrue.”