Two days of media attention after a bombshell line in a court ruling prompted Penn State President Eric Barron to make a statement.
He used it to remind people of the difference between allegations and evidence.
“I want you to know I am appalled by the rumor, innuendo and rush to judgment that have accompanied the media stories surrounding these allegations,” Barron said in the statement released by the university Sunday. “All too often in our society, people are convicted in the court of public opinion, only to find a different outcome when all the facts are presented.”
On Wednesday, Philadelphia Judge Gary Glazer signed an order in the Penn State lawsuit against its liability insurer, Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association Insurance Co., over who pays the tab for settlements in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Media coverage has largely ignored the substance of the ruling, focusing on one passage that says, among the 32 claimants the university settled with, to the tune of $92.8 million, was one who alleged Sandusky molested him in 1976. The insurer claimed that Joe Paterno may have known about sexual abuse by Sandusky as early as 1976.
That information hit the Internet Thursday. On Friday, there were additional allegations in more media reports, including one from NBC that claimed more coaches were aware of assaults by Sandusky, who retired as Penn State’s defensive coordinator in 1999.
The university did respond earlier, but Barron said his office has spent two days analyzing records before his statement.
“First, the allegations related to Penn State are simply not established fact. The two allegations related to knowledge by Coach Paterno are unsubstantiated and unsupported by any evidence other than a claim by an alleged victim. They date from the 1970s. Coach Paterno is not alive to refute them. His family has denied them,” he said.
“Second, we cannot find any evidence, related to a settlement or otherwise, that an alleged early assault was communicated to Coach Paterno. This raises considerable credibility issues as to this press report,” he said.
According to an Associated Press story later in the day, university spokesman Lawrence Lokman confirmed that the earliest year of alleged abuse that was settled dated back to 1971.
However, Barron still refuted reports from NBC.
“Others cite assistant coaches that were witnesses or had knowledge — stating it as fact in headlines and text — even in the face of a denial and clear failure to corroborate from the individuals allegedly involved,” Barron said.
“Other stories are clearly incredulous, and should be difficult for any reasonable person to believe. We should not be rendering judgments about the actions of Coach Paterno or any other former employees of Penn State based on incomplete, sensationalized media accounts.”
Barron was president of Florida State at the time of Sandusky’s arrest in 2011 or Joe Paterno’s death or Sandusky’s conviction of 45 counts of child sex abuse crimes in 2012. He was a member of the earth and mineral science faculty from 1986 and served as dean of that college from 2002 to 2006.
In November 2014, he agreed to review the Freeh report, the university-commissioned investigation of the Sandusky scandal delivered in July 2012 that found Penn State at fault and assigned culpability to Paterno, as well as former president Graham Spanier, former vice-president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley.
That report, and a review of it, have caused a divide between the majority of the board of trustees and the alumni-elected trustees who have repeatedly expressed problems with the university’s handling of the Sandusky incident.
“The harm visited upon this university by random and out of context allegations is incalculable. The secrecy and confidentiality that the University sometimes demands only feeds suspicion and innuendo,” one of those trustees, Anthony Lubrano, told the full board Friday.
“So I am asking — no I am pleading — with you, Chair (Keith) Masser, to direct university counsel to release all the details related to this stale and highly suspect allegation so that all stakeholders, but most importantly, we the trustees of this university, can evaluate and understand the context surrounding this claim.”
Lubrano and others petitioned the university for access to the source material of the Freeh report. They won that access last year.
The university has spent four years trying to balance atonement with moving on. Penn State has tried to not just become compliant with laws and best-practices on protecting children, but to set a new bar, with the Center for Protection of Children and the Network on Child Protection and Well-Being.
“I can think of few crimes as heinous as the sexual assault of a child. We are, as individuals and as an institution, appalled by Sandusky’s actions, and unified in our commitment to prevention, treatment and education,” Barron said.
Over the past two years, there has been movement on Paterno’s image, which was hugely tarnished in the wake of the Sandusky arrest. The longtime coach was known for his “success with honor” motto, but was relieved of his position, stripped of wins and had his statue removed from outside the stadium. The wins were restored in January 2015. Talk of bringing back the statue even made the presidential campaign trail last month.
The other three men identified in the Freeh report were charged for crimes stemming from the grand jury that indicted Sandusky. Most of those charges were dropped earlier this year, and just last month the solicitor general recommended that the attorney general not pursue an appeal in that case. The three still face charges of failure to report and endangering the welfare of children. Curley also still faces a perjury charge.
Barron did not just reserve his criticism for the professional media.
“Unfortunately, we can’t control the 24/7 news cycle, and the tendency of some individuals in social media and the blogosphere to rush to judgment. But I have had enough of the continued trial of the institution in various media,” he said. “We have all had enough. And while Penn State cannot always comment on allegations that emanate from legal proceedings, I thought it was important to let you know my reaction to the media frenzy that has ensued over the past few days. I am appalled.”