TOPICS > Politics

Penn State’s Storied Football Program Rocked by Sexual Abuse Scandal

November 7, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
A sexual abuse scandal involving a former football coach has emerged at Penn State University. Margret Warner discusses the investigation into former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky with Patriot-News' Sara Ganim.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the sexual abuse scandal that is rocking Penn State University and its renowned football program.

Margaret Warner has our report.

FRANK NOONAN, Pennsylvania State Police: This is not a case about football. It’s not a case about universities. It’s a case about children who have had their innocence stolen from them and a culture that did nothing to stop it or prevent it from happening to others.

MARGARET WARNER: As the Pennsylvania State Police commissioner told it today, that innocence was stolen by Jerry Sandusky, former longtime defensive coordinator for Penn State’s Nittany Lions football team. He was arrested Saturday on 40 counts of child sexual abuse after a three-year grand jury investigation.

Two top Penn State administrators, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Senior Vice President Gary Schultz, were arraigned today on charges that they didn’t report the abuse to authorities and that they lied to the grand jury.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly:

LINDA KELLY, Pennsylvania attorney general: The sexual abuse of a child is a horrific offense and that understandably arouses strong emotions within all of us and can cause scars that last a lifetime for its victims. And failing to report sexual abuse of children is a serious offense and a crime.

MARGARET WARNER: The shocking story has rocked State College, Pennsylvania, long known as Happy Valley and home to the storied football team and ledge legendary coach Joe Paterno. According to investigators, the iconic college town was also home to a sexual predator within the program.

JERRY SANDUSKY, Penn State: My attorney has advised me that the situation is in the courts and I’m not to make any comments.

MARGARET WARNER: The 67-year-old Sandusky is charged with sexually abusing eight boys over 15 years, from 1994 to 2009. All allegedly met him through a charitable foundation for high-risk youth that he founded in 1977 called The Second Mile.

Even after retiring from Penn State in 1999, Sandusky retained access to the college’s athletic facility, and it’s alleged some of the abuse occurred there. A janitor told the grand jury that, in 2000, he witnessed Sandusky performing oral sex on a pre-teenage boy.

Two years later, a graduate assistant said he saw Sandusky assaulting a 10-year-old boy. The assistant told Paterno, who in turn reported the allegation to Athletic Director Curley. Paterno didn’t call police, but he did testify before the grand jury.

LINDA KELLY: He’s been cooperative with the investigators in this case. He’s not regarded as a target at this point.

MARGARET WARNER: The man known affectionately as JoePa became college football’s winningest ever coach last weekend. Yesterday, he released a statement that read, in part: “If this is true, we were all fooled. While I did what I was supposed to with the one charge brought to my attention, like anyone else involved, I can’t help but be deeply saddened these matters are alleged to have occurred.”

Still, since the news broke, there have been some calls for Paterno to resign or even be fired. For now, Sandusky, who has denied the charges, is free on bond. He’s due in court for a preliminary hearing on Wednesday, though that appearance could be delayed.

And for more now, we turn to Sara Ganim, reporter for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. She broke the story about the grand jury probe into Sandusky back in March. She is also a graduate of Penn State.

And, Sara Ganim, thank you for joining us.

This is a pretty stunning set of indictments. And Jerry Sandusky was a really major figure in the Penn State football program. What — give us the gist of what is alleged to have been his M.O. to prey on these boys — young boys.

SARA GANIM, The Patriot-News: Well, the indictment starts out. The very first page, the jurors say that basically he used his charity, The Second Mile, to get to kids that were socially — at a social disadvantage that he could prey on.

So — and you’re right. He was number two, you know, second only to Joe Paterno, at the time that a lot of these acts were alleged to have happened. So he was certainly a huge — a huge name. He was considered a football great on the field and off the field because of his charitable work.

I mean, when you say the name Jerry Sandusky, it’s almost synonymous with charity in the Happy Valley.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, you have been reporting on this for a while, or digging into this. A couple of the incidents in the grand jury report were reported or at least did come to light. What does your reporting tell you about why indictments were never brought before this?

SARA GANIM: Well, in 1998, there was an incident that was reported to police, to university police, and was investigated for about six weeks.

At the time the district attorney of Centre County was Ray Gricar. He’s now missing, so we can’t really ask him why he decided not to press charges in this incident. Police testified that they did — the police investigator who ran that investigation testified they did set up this kind of like a sting sort of in the mother’s house. The mother of the victim confronted Sandusky.

He admitted that he took a shower with the boy and that there was some kind of touching that was inappropriate. And he basically said, “I wish I were dead.” He asked for forgiveness. And that was it. And that’s all according to the indictment. Nothing ever came of that. No charges were filed.

Then we have four years later this incident that’s witnessed in the locker room, the same locker room, again in a shower, by a graduate assistant. And, today, the police commissioner said that — the state police commissioner said that is almost unprecedented. He’s never heard of something like this before, where someone witnessed a sex act in progress, and it didn’t lead to some kind of investigation or possibly charges.

MARGARET WARNER: OK. And this is the one that was reported to Joe Paterno, right? This graduate assistant went to him at his home.

What did Paterno do after reporting it to the athletic director? Did he ever follow up?

SARA GANIM: He — he didn’t follow up. What he says happened, the graduate assistant came to him, started to tell him this story. And he went, whoa, whoa, whoa. You know, these details aren’t for me. This is something that someone else needs to handle.

And that’s when Tim Curley was called. About a week-and-a-half later, that graduate assistant sat down with Tim Curley and with Gary Schultz. And that’s where stories start to split, because the graduate assistant says that he told those two men all the details, that it was, clearly, he witnessed an act, a sexual act, basically Jerry Sandusky having sex with this boy.

The two men say, however, that they were not told about this sex act, that it was something akin to horsing around, something that was not that serious, and definitely not a crime, and that’s why they didn’t report it. What they ended up doing…

MARGARET WARNER: In other words…. Go ahead.

SARA GANIM: What they ended up doing was deciding on this ban that they admit wasn’t enforceable that Jerry couldn’t bring Second Mile children to that locker room anymore.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, I gather also that the university president, Graham Spanier, was advised of this situation.

What has been in general the university’s reaction? And how do they explain their failure to bring all this to a state authority of some sort?

SARA GANIM: Well, the first statement that they released pledged unconditional support to Gary Schultz and Tim Curley. And that upset a lot of people.

Then, yesterday, when Schultz and Curley stepped down from their positions, they released a little bit more of a lengthy statement that talked more about the victims, the nature of the alleged crimes. And that’s kind of where they are. They haven’t made a statement since then.

MARGARET WARNER: And has this provoked, fair to say, a firestorm in both the Penn State community and in the state?

SARA GANIM: You know, it absolutely has.

And I think that what’s going on here is that people initially were in a state of shock. And then — you read that 23-page indictment, it is not a light read. It is very graphic. It’s pretty sickening, if those allegations are true.

So what happened was people put themselves in those positions and said, is this what I would have done? And, you know, these people are heroes in Pennsylvania. They’re heroes to Nittany Lions fans. And I think a lot of people are just feeling very hurt and very let down and feeling like these people that they idolized didn’t do what they presumed to be the right thing.

MARGARET WARNER: Sara Ganim of The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, thank you so much.

SARA GANIM: Sure.