When former FBI director Louis Freeh issues his findings Thursday on how Penn State University handled reports that Jerry Sandusky, a onetime football coach, was sexually abusing boys, the worlds of big-time sports and law will be watching.
There is a lot on the line in Freeh’s report, commissioned by a university already roiled by the scandal.
Most publicly, the report could have an effect on the school’s exalted football program, which generates millions of dollars and is closely followed by students, alumni and sports fans. The NCAA, the governing body for college sports, has been reviewing how Penn State performed and whether officials acted in accordance with the association’s standards. Depending on what Freeh reports, the group has indicated, it could open a more formal investigation.
PHOTOS: Who's who in the Sandusky case
The findings also could damage the reputation of Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno. Even dinging the late coach’s legacy could aggravate Paterno’s supporters, some of whom rioted in his support last fall when he was being ousted.
Then there's the legal world, both civil and criminal.
Criminal counts are pending against two former college administrators who face charges of perjury and falure to inform outside authorities of Sandusky’s actions. Further, a number of civil suits are expected from Sandusky’s victims, and the Freeh report could be a factor in determining how much liability, if any, falls on the deep-pocketed university.
Sandusky was arrested last fall and accused of abusing 10 boys over 15 years, with some of the incidents having taken place in the showers at the university’s football training facility. The disadvantaged children were clients of the charity Sandusky founded, the Second Mile, which is in the process of turning over its assets and programs to a Christian group based in Texas.
In June, Sandusky, 68, was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse and is in jail awaiting sentencing in the fall. He has said he will appeal the convictions.
It was the arrest that triggered the turmoil at Penn State. The questions quickly arose: Who knew what about Sandusky -- and did officials engage in a coverup when they decided not to go to outside authorities?
Freeh will look at a series of key dates, but probably the most important one for the school is the 2001 verbal report by former graduate assistant Mike McQueary, a football star in his own right who later became a coach under Paterno. McQueary, who was placed on administrative leave, has filed notice that he intends to sue the school.
During the Sandusky trial, McQueary testified that he witnessed Sandusky in the university showers with a boy of 10 to 12 years of age. McQueary testified he heard sex sounds and saw Sandusky committing a sex act on the child, who was facing the wall with his arms raised. The jury acquitted Sandusky on the main charge in this incident but convicted him of several other sexual abuse charges.
McQueary said he first consulted with his father, then took what he had seen to Paterno. The coach went to administrators Gary Schultz and Tim Curley, who later brought in university President Graham Spanier.
In recent weeks, emails among the top administrators have been leaked to the media painting a confusing picture that Freeh will have to sort out. Some of the emails imply that Paterno urged administrators Schultz and Curly to keep the matter internal and that outside officials not be contacted. Other emails raise questions about what the administrators told Spanier.
In a rare public pronouncement, lawyers for Spanier this week condemned the leaks, which they called selective, and said the former president was not involved in any coverup. Spanier told investigators that he was never told that Sandusky had engaged in any criminal act, his lawyers said.
Paterno’s family also has been critical, arguing that the leaks made them question just how fair Freeh and his investigators will be. The family rejected the emails and the implication that the coach knew of Sandusky’s abuses. They denied that Paterno had done anything to hinder an investigation.
Spanier and Paterno were ousted from their posts last year by university trustees for how they handled the Sandusky investigation. Paterno died of cancer earlier this year.
Lawyers for the victims have signaled this week that they'll be watching to see what is said about the university’s investigation and the possible direction of future litigation they're planning. Some of the incidents of abuse took place after 2001, and the argument could be that the university is liable because it didn't tell authorities about Sandusky. What Freeh finds could have an affect on that argument as well.
University officials hope not just that the report answers some legal questions but that it will allow them to put the incident behind them before the new academic year begins. University trustee Ryan McCombie reflected that sentiment when he told reporters Tuesday:
“I would hope the Freeh report … addresses the university as a whole — and how this culture was handled or mishandled correctly — and comes to some closure on that.”
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