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Penn State leaders can't hide their guilt after damning Freeh Report

Anything new in this department? Coach is anxious to know where it stands.-- Penn State athletic director Tim Curley's e-mail to vice president Gary Schultz at 2:21 p.m. on May 13, 1998.

*****

They knew in 1998.

That Penn State president Graham Spanier, football coach Joe Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz were aware of a 1998 police investigation into an accusation of child molestation against then-Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky isn't, in and of itself, the most damning revelation in the scathing report released Thursday by former FBI director Louis Freeh and his investigative team. The police did their work. The state attorney declined to press charges following that investigation. It is understandable if the men presumed Sandusky had been falsely accused.

But combine that fact with what we already knew. In 2001, graduate assistant Mike McQueary told Paterno he saw Sandusky raping a boy in a shower at Penn State's football complex. Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz -- already aware of suspicions that Sandusky was a child molester -- did absolutely nothing. The two most powerful men on Penn State's campus (Spanier and the late Paterno) and two more on the upper end of the totem pole did nothing to help the child involved in 2001, nothing to stop Sandusky.

While it was a reasonable logical leap to conclude the men knew of the 1998 investigation, there wasn't any hard evidence. Now there is. Now they can't hide their guilt. Certainly, they can lie. They can spin. They or their representatives can perform semantic gymnastics to protect their freedom or their reputations or their legacies, but the world knows exactly what they are. They are the power brokers who decided it would be more convenient to allow a child rapist to keep operating than to deal with the fallout from his arrest.

"Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State," Freeh wrote in his summary of his report. "The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized. Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky's victims until after Sandusky's arrest."

Sandusky was clearly deranged, because only a deranged person would sexually abuse a child. These four men have no such excuse. They sought to protect themselves at the expense of innocent children. They may have done good in their lives before and after, but that will always be their legacy.

Anyone who has spent any time inside a major football program or university knows there are few kept secrets. Common sense dictated Penn State's leaders knew in 1998 and that Sandusky's 1999 retirement was no coincidence, but absent evidence to support that, the men still could enjoy some benefit of the doubt. They can't anymore.

Paterno is dead, so he won't have to watch as the tremendous legacy he built collapses under the weight of this one colossal human failing. Any defenders he has left are either blind, fools or family. Most of the nation realized his grand jury testimony provided enough evidence to conclude he enabled Sandusky, but the evidence contained in the Freeh Report should eliminate any doubt.

Curley and Schultz stand accused of perjury for lying to the grand jury last year. They'll get their day in court, and unless they have O.J.-level defense attorneys, they'll be convicted and imprisoned. Hopefully, they'll never work again. They deserve much, much worse.

Spanier has not been accused of any crime. That could change. He still may face a perjury charge. The man who fought hard to make Penn State's e-mails secret so he could avoid accountability is now going to court to seek access to his old e-mails to find out what other paper trails he might have left behind. The image-obsessed Spanier now will be remembered as the leader who presided over one of the most despicable cover-ups in the history of American higher education. Hopefully, he'll also go to jail.

How big of a scumbag is Spanier? When the men decided in 2001 that they wouldn't report Sandusky to any law enforcement agency, Spanier praised Curley's bravery in an e-mail sent at 10:18 p.m. on Feb. 27, 2001:

"Tim: This approach is reasonable to me. It requires you to go a step further and means your conversation [with Sandusky] will be all the more difficult, but I admire your willingness to do that and I am supportive. The only downside for us is that if the message isn't heard and acted upon, then we become vulnerable for not having reported it. But that can be assessed down the road."

Here we are, down the road.

The real downside, as anyone with a soul knows, is that more children were abused. That is the ultimate tragedy, but Spanier, Paterno, Curley and Schultz weren't worried about children. They were worried about themselves.

Penn State's reputation is in tatters. The school will face significant civil action from Sandusky's victims. The federal government plans to investigate. So does the NCAA. My opinion on the latter has not changed after the Freeh Report. Unless the NCAA finds evidence of broken bylaws, it needs to keep its nose out of an issue beyond its purview. Absolute power corrupted absolutely here, but not specifically because this happened in the football building. Powerful people attempt to protect their power in any large institution. Punishing the current crop of 20-year-olds playing at Penn State won't change that.

Besides, the federal government holds a much larger hammer than the NCAA. There are obvious violations of the Clery Act outlined in the Freeh Report, and penalties for those violations could include fines or a loss of federal funding. Penn State can afford to pay fines -- along with the massive settlements it will ultimately pay the victims -- but it cannot bear a cut in federal funding or the elimination of federal aid to its students. The government has yet to use that penalty in a Clery Act case. It seems unlikely it would use it here because doing so would affect thousands of students, put thousands out of work and economically cripple the surrounding region. Still, people need to understand there are far greater issues at play than how many scholarships Penn State's football program has going forward.

The Freeh Report is probably only another mile-marker in a disgusting journey of self-discovery for Penn State. The trials of Curley and Schultz and a planned federal investigation may reveal even more ugly truths about the cover-up. But the Freeh Report provided the evidence that reinforced what most suspected when the Sandusky news broke last November.

The saddest part? It was even worse than we thought.

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