Saturday, December 22, 2012

An open letter to Sports Illustrated about its continued failings re Penn State

Dear Sports Illustrated editors:

How wonderful to see the the amazing Dec. 17 cover story by Gary Smith, titled "Stand Up Speak Out," about Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison, which is helping bring the sickening scourge of child sex abuse to the forefront.

Their stories are distinct, yet they both incurred immense, incalculable suffering, due in part to society's failure to recognize and address the severity of this ubiquitous, vicious plague.

Throughout their lives even those closest to them did not recognize it. In fact no one ever stepped forward to help them - they had to do it on their own. They are two incredible people who, after years of agony, fear, confusion and despair, are somehow overcoming the most horrible of personal experiences.

And at the same time, shame on Sports Illustrated for perpetuating the myths, exaggerations, half-truths and lies in relation to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. This has been a disgusting, irresponsible pattern of behavior from SI since the Sandusky story broke in Nov. 2011.

In Smith’s lengthy, riveting story on Dickey and Harrison, there are only two relatively brief references to the Sandusky scandal. They both perpetuate the false media narrative that SI has helped maintain since the scandal broke.

The first comes in the fifth paragraph, when Smith is explaining why the year 2012 was a major turning point in the recognition of the "disease" of child sex abuse: "(In 2012) the air in which the disease thrived started to change." In citing several reasons for this change, Smith writes, "(2012) was the year ... when (Sandusky's) boss, a legendary head coach, died soon after being dethroned for not following through on the evidence."

First, Joe Paterno wasn't Sandusky's boss in 2001, when Mike McQueary told Paterno he saw Sandusky in the football building showers with a boy.

Second, there is no reason whatsoever why Paterno's death would impact "the air in which the disease thrived." While Paterno clearly is connected to the Sandusky scandal (we'll discuss this more later), he in no way had anything to do with the sexual abuse of children, and there's no reason his death would impact or has impacted any societal change toward child sex abuse. If Paterno were still alive, would the “air in which the disease thrived” have changed any less in 2012? No, of course not. So then why would his death change it more? It doesn’t. It’s merely another example of the media obsessing on Paterno instead of Sandusky and so many other more critical aspects of the scandal.

Third, with regard to Paterno "not following through on the evidence," there are two major issues:
  1. Paterno did follow through. Paterno passed along the information to the very high-ranking administrators at Penn State who he should have passed it along to, including one who oversaw athletics and athletic facilities (where the incident Paterno was was told about took place) and another who oversaw campus police, among other things.
  2. What exactly is that "evidence" he didn't follow through on? What the Attorney General asserted in the grand jury presentment - what the AG said Mike McQueary witnessed in 2001 - has been disproved. McQueary has explicitly maintained he “never used the words anal or rape in this - since day one” to describe what he saw. One of the few criminal charges Sandusky was found not guilty of at his trial related to McQueary's testimony and the 2001 incident. McQueary also has maintained that the version of events he told Paterno was watered down. 
So, considering McQueary did not witness "involuntary deviate sexual intercourse" according to the Sandusky jury, and he provided Paterno with a glossed over version of what he did see, and considering Sandusky was no longer working for Paterno and was not connected to him, and considering Paterno passed the information along to the proper persons, and considering that not a single person who McQueary spoke with about what he saw - his professor father, a family friend professor, Paterno, AD Tim Curley, VP Gary Schultz and anyone else - thought that what McQueary told them warranted the immediate involvement of police, then isn't it nonsensical and misleading to single out Paterno for "not following through on the evidence?" Yes, it is.

Moving on to Smith's second reference to the Sandusky scandal, which is much later in the otherwise excellent story, Smith discusses how the relentless coverage of the Sandusky scandal battered open "private doors" of many who have been abused: "... the yearlong siege of headlines and news stories about the boys Jerry Sandusky violated in locker rooms and on football road trips, and about the university officials who chose to protect image and money rather than children."

There are many factual problems with that statement. The majority of abuse incidents Sandusky perpetrated did not occur in locker rooms and on football road trips. In fact, extraordinarily few occurred on football road trips, relative to the total of Sandusky abuse incidents, and none occurred in Penn State facilities after 2002. Again, these fact errors sensationalize the Sandusky scandal and mislead the public.

Second, and this has been a consistent failing of the media in this entire saga: Using the plural "children" abused by Sandusky when referencing Penn State administrators' alleged failings, instead of the singular "child." There was one boy McQueary saw, not multiple boys. PSU administrators had no indication whatsoever that Sandusky was abusing, or had “violated,” multiple children. (And based on what we know now about McQueary's testimony, it’s highly questionable he indicated the one boy was “violated.”) Yet the media relentlessly, falsely maintains otherwise.

What about the 1998 investigation into Sandusky, you say? Sandusky was exonerated by the authorities in that instance, after an accusation of bear-hugging a boy in a shower. The police, the appropriate child welfare agencies and the District Attorney all were fully involved in that investigation. The DA ultimately cleared Sandusky and charges never were filed, despite, as we now know, one psychologist's contention that Sandusky was a dangerous person, and was grooming the boy for abuse. And, Penn State administrators had nothing to do with this failed investigation. That said, Schultz and Curley were aware of this investigation into Sandusky at least to some extent, but of course also knew he had been cleared of any wrongdoing. There is virtually no evidence Paterno was aware of it, or was aware of any specifics, though the Freeh Report bizarrely contends otherwise.

Ah, the Freeh Report. It reached sweeping, harsh, damning conclusions with scant evidence. Has Sports Illustrated ever bothered to examine the Freeh Report, with its foibles, glaring lack of thoroughness and fraudulent conclusions? Those who actually read the report all seem to reach roughly the same conclusion - that Freeh uncovered some very interesting information, but that there are enormous gaps and flaws, and his conclusions are essentially a blind leap. The vast majority of Penn Staters - i.e. the people who most want to know the full truth about this entire saga, and the people who have followed it most closely and are still following it, because it cuts so close to home for them - believe the Freeh Report to be, at best, deeply flawed, and at worst a sham, concocted by a man with a highly questionable reputation, at a price of $6.5 million, designed to say what the PSU Board of Trustees, covering its own self-interests, wanted it to say.

The Freeh investigators did not speak with anyone closely connected to this scandal - not any of the key PSU administrators, not Sandusky, not McQueary, not anyone affiliated with The Second Mile, the Sandusky-founded organization that supplied him with his victims for decades and somehow goes unexamined by the media, not the assistant DA who was involved in the 1998 investigation of Sandusky in which he was cleared, and not Paterno. (And why not Paterno? He specifically indicated his desire to speak with investigators, but no one bothered to follow-up with him in the 8 weeks before he died. Hmmm.) The lone exception is former PSU president Graham Spanier, who spoke briefly with Freeh investigators very late in the process.

Yet this document is considered a final authority on this matter?

The Freeh Report interviewed hundreds of other PSU employees. And of all the people Freeh investigators spoke with, not a one - none - alleged any sort of a cover up, or alleged university officials chose to “protect image and money rather than children.” One person, a secretary for Schultz, said Schultz might have been trying to conceal something on Sandusky because Schultz told her not to look in his file. That’s it - that’s the full scope of individuals who have alleged possible wrongdoing by PSU administrators, according to the Freeh Report, which interviewed hundreds of them.

Smith also writes about the immediate reaction at Penn State to the Sandusky scandal, referring to it as the “subsequent apathy to the wreckage that wrought.”

There was anything but apathy at Penn State toward Sandusky’s actions and his victims. Smith, like so many, is confused, because of the protest of Paterno’s firing. He can’t imagine being horrified by Sandusky's acts and not also outraged at Paterno. Because, apparently, he’s not fully aware of the facts, or is in denial of them. So to Smith and others, the protest of Paterno’s firing was a show of “apathy” to the true wreckage Sandusky wrought - his victims.

This is completely false. The protest was about the sudden firing of a tremendous contributor to the university and to society, even though that person was not charged with a crime (and in fact initially was praised by the Attorney General for having done the right thing) while two others were, and was terminated without any sort of investigation and without even speaking with him.

Seems wrong, doesn't it?

The grand jury presentment was accepted as gospel by the media and BOT, when in reality the presentment is the prosecution's version of events, not some independent arbiter's.

It was a panicked, cowardly, underhanded act by the Board of Trustees, firing Paterno. With the overwhelming pressure at that moment, he should have been suspended while the BOT took a step back, investigated and made factual determinations. Paterno was denied any semblance of due process and fired to satiate the media. That’s what the protest was about.

Penn Staters also were stunned by the inexplicable and shocking lack of preparedness of the BOT, and the near-complete lack of accountability by the BOT since. One Board member has resigned - one!  When the scandal broke, the BOT should already have conducted some sort of internal investigation into its top officials, since it was aware of the investigation into Sandusky and knew several high-ranking PSU officials - Schultz, Curley, Paterno - had been called to testify for the grand jury earlier in 2011. Shouldn't the BOT have been asking a lot of questions about its top employees months prior?

The Paterno firing was based solely on the grand jury presentment that, in key parts specifically relating to Paterno, has been proven false, making that protest seem more appropriate than ever. And considering the ongoing, massive outpouring of support from Penn Staters for Sandusky’s victims and for abuse awareness organizations, that “apathy” comment is patently false.

And while we're at it, what about the NCAA's assertion that Penn State football placed athletics over academics? Check all of the academic metrics used to measure college football programs. Penn State continues to be at or near the top, and a model for other schools, in all of them.

Kayla Harrison’s friend was right to ask on Facebook, “Why is JoePa blamed?” Those who are pursuing the facts and the truth, not clinging to a false, sensationalized, self-serving narrative fed through the media by Louis Freeh, NCAA president Mark Emmert, Gov. Tom Corbett and the PSU BOT, are still wondering the same thing.

And we’re also going to wait until the trials of Curley, Schultz and Spanier before declaring, as if it already were a proven fact and not just Louis Freeh’s $6.5 million opinion, that they chose to “protect image and money rather than children.’’ We’re all eager to learn more about this calamity from the trials, and to let the justice system work. May justice prevail, may guilt and innocence be properly ascertained.

And we’re wondering when the media - perhaps Sports Illustrated? - will set aside its obsession with Paterno’s supposed role and devote resources to exploring the major unexamined issues of this massive child sex abuse scandal: The failed 1998 investigation into Sandusky; The Second Mile’s tragic, decades-long, continuous supplying of victims to Sandusky; the mysterious failings and cloak-and-dagger power bubble of the PSU Board of Trustees; and Gov. Corbett’s bizarre role and lack of action when he was Attorney General, which allowed Sandusky to continue his reign of abuse for an extra 1.5 years, many times over, because Corbett declined to investigate.

One thing I have discussed many times since Nov. 2011 is that despite the overwhelming horror Sandusky created, this scandal can have a far-reaching positive impact - as Smith too maintains in his story - by helping bring this issue out of the shadows and into the light.

But this can only occur if the facts and truth are revealed and trumpeted, and not if lies, myths, half-truths and exaggerations are perpetuated, again and again.

Shame on Sports Illustrated for its continuing failure to accurately convey the Sandusky scandal.

For more insight, analysis and opinions about Penn State football, check, or follow Pete Young on Twitter @AllPSUfootball.

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