Failings of Penn State officials exposed at Jerry Sandusky trial

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Week 2 of testimony in the Jerry Sandusky trial began Monday. After five days of graphic and horrifying descriptions of alleged sexual abuse by a series of accusers as young as 10 or 11 at the time, Sandusky's attorneys will present their defense. Firsthand accounts last week from the courtroom in Bellefonte, Pa., were both riveting and heartbreaking, humanizing the young boys -- now grown men -- who sat before an audience and recounted the alleged atrocities that were first brought to light last fall in a chilling grand jury report.

With that comes renewed anger over a story that first incited the American public last November when Sandusky was indicted. Back then, the overriding reaction could be summed up thusly: Joe Paterno must pay. As Sandusky's former boss and the most powerful and recognizable man on Penn State's campus, the 84-year-old football coach endured a swift and brutal downfall, denounced for failing to take swifter action when told in 2001 by then graduate assistant Mike McQueary of a sexual incident involving Sandusky and a young boy in the Penn State locker room. Paterno himself would later concede: "I wish I had done more," one of his last public comments before dying of lung cancer in January.

Though he was never charged with a crime, Paterno was essentially the first to be tried in this fiasco, albeit in the court of public opinion. Sandusky, the man whose alleged crimes form the basis of this scandal, is being tried in a real court as we speak, faced with a likely life prison sentence if convicted of even some of the 51 counts he's facing.

But the story will be far from over if and when jurors reach that verdict. Three senior Penn State administrators -- athletic director Tim Curley, retired senior vice president Gary Schultz and former university president Graham Spanier -- also knew of McQueary's account but chose not to alert authorities. As new details emerge, it appears their day of reckoning is coming. And when it does, the public may see this was not the "biggest scandal in college sports history," as many declared it last fall. In fact, it was something much worse.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Penn State board member Keith Masser became the first power figure at the university to say publicly that he suspects that the administration headed by Spanier engaged in a cover-up regarding Sandusky. The board fired Spanier on Nov. 9, the same night it ousted Paterno. However, "We had no idea [at the time] he would be involved in a cover-up," said Masser.

Masser's statement stems from an explosive Sandusky-related revelation early last week. As first reported by NBC News, an ongoing investigation being conducted for the board by former FBI director Louis Freeh has uncovered e-mails and documents showing discussions between Spanier and other officials over McQueary's account about Sandusky and the boy in the shower. They've since been turned over to state prosecutors. In one exchange, Spanier and Schultz -- who oversaw the university's police department -- agreed not to inform social services agencies because it would be "humane" to Sandusky.

The e-mails apparently contradict previous testimony by Curley, Schultz "and others," said NBC's law enforcement source, that they were not told the true nature of what McQueary now says he saw in that shower. ("Absent seeing a penis, yes, I think they were having sex," he testified last week.) In his grand jury testimony, Schultz said, "... the allegations came across as not that serious." And yet it was also reported last week that Schultz -- who McQueary viewed to be "very much like a district attorney" of Penn State -- maintained a secret file on Sandusky. McQueary's father, John, also testified last week, recalling a conversation with Schultz at the time in which "Mr. Schultz said he had heard noise about this before, earlier than Mike's [complaint]."

Similarly, Curley told the grand jury that McQueary said Sandusky and the boy "were horsing around, that they were playful," that "I was not aware of anything sexual." It's not clear yet the extent of what Spanier knew. He did not meet with McQueary but was briefed by the other two officials. But whatever's contained in those documents, it's enough that Spanier is suing the university to turn over e-mails sent between 1998 and 2004, and for Masser, the board member, to suspect the president's involvement in a cover-up.

"I hope the truth comes out, and from a board standpoint it was Freeh's investigation that found these e-mails that relate Spanier, Curley and Schultz to the suspected cover-up," said Masser.

In a statement issued last week, attorneys for Schultz and Curley contend that the new information "confirms that as they testified at the grand jury, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz conscientiously considered Mike McQueary's reports of observing inappropriate conduct, reported it to the University President Graham Spanier, and deliberated about how to responsibly deal with the conduct and handle the situation properly."

Schultz and Curley will eventually have their day in court. Spanier may, too, as prosecutors are reportedly considering criminal charges. And we'll all know a lot more once Freeh's report is completed, possibly later this summer. It's pretty clear, however, that there was an institutional breakdown in leadership of the highest possible order.

The Penn State saga is considered a sports story because Sandusky was a former football coach and many of his alleged assaults took place, disturbingly, in the football complex or, in the case of one victim, on a bowl trip. Others testified Sandusky used the lure of game tickets and inside access to the program as bait. Penn State is so synonymous with Paterno and his storied football program it's entirely justified to question how that football-worshipping culture might have enabled a formerly revered figure like Sandusky to go unhindered for so long.

But it's also grossly understating the extent of the university's failure if we limit the scope of scrutiny to the football program. This is every community or business's worst possible nightmare: Betrayal at the highest level of leadership.

In an interview with AP, Notre Dame business ethics professor Ann Tenbrunsel described the phenomenon as "motivated blindness," described as "a tendency, whether subconscious or deliberate or sometimes both, to ignore unethical or even criminal behavior by others when you perceive it to be in your best interest to do so."

Spanier, by many accounts, was an exemplary president, serving Penn State from 1995 to 2011. He was certainly highly regarded in the world of college athletics, serving as chair of the NCAA Board of Directors and the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee. "He is a great man," a respected athletic administrator told me at the time of his ouster.

But great men can still make great mistakes, and it appears there were far too many made here. This "motivated blindness" apparently inhibited everyone from a guidance counselor who didn't initially believe Victim 1 because Sandusky "has a heart of gold," to Paterno, who didn't immediately report McQueary's conversation to his bosses because he "didn't want to interfere with their weekends," to Spanier, who, if the NBC report is correct, let Sandusky off the hook to be "humane."

There are still myriad questions to be answered by Spanier, Curley, Schultz and others, but one thing seems certain: No one in a position of authority at Penn State was particularly concerned with what's humane for those kids.