Former Penn State University President Graham Spanier was convicted Friday of one misdemeanor count of child endangerment; Spanier was acquitted of two other counts. He faces up to five years in prison, and his lawyer intends to appeal. At issue in Spanier’s trial was how he and two other university administrators — former Athletic Director Tim Curley and former Vice President Gary Schultz — handled a report by graduate coaching assistant Mike McQueary, who said he saw Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in a locker room shower in 2001. The administrators barred Sandusky from bringing children onto the Penn State campus but did not report the matter to police or child welfare authorities. Curley and Schultz pleaded guilty March 13 to one count each of misdemeanor child endangerment. Sandusky is serving a minimum 30-year prison sentence for sexually abusing 10 boys.
This is the lesson we should draw from the conviction of Spanier: When faced with a question regarding the safety of a child, always do more.
To ensure that child’s safety, do more than what seems most convenient.
Do more, even if it means negative publicity for an institution or program.
Do more, even when doing so is uncomfortable.
You may consider yourself a good person; you may be seen by others as one, too. But if you fail the test of protecting a child from harm, you’ll have failed a basic test of character.
When McQueary told head coach Joe Paterno and Curley and Schultz what he’d seen in the football showers, they and Spanier should have moved heaven and earth to make sure Sandusky never had another opportunity to hurt a child.
As The Associated Press reported, an investigator told the jurors in the Spanier trial that four of the eight young men who testified during Sandusky’s trial "were abused after the 2001 incident McQueary witnessed." One of those victims, now 28, testified anonymously last week.
Paterno loyalists continue to insist that only Sandusky was responsible for the harm he caused. And yes, Sandusky was the perpetrator of his horrific crimes. But as Deputy Attorney General Patrick Schulte told jurors at Spanier’s trial, the failure of Penn State officials to report Sandusky enabled him to continue abusing children.
Actually, what Schulte precisely said was this: “Evil in the form of Jerry Sandusky was allowed to run wild.”
While we appreciate the righteous anger informing those words, we’d offer this caution: Sandusky wasn’t a demon. He wasn’t a monstrous stranger. He was a highly regarded man who knowingly harmed children and sought to hide his crimes. Sexual assault often is committed by people trusted and even loved by their victims.
This is why they often get away with their abuse. It’s easy to call 911 about the stranger lurking near the playground. It’s harder to report the pillar of the community whose reputation is tied up with your own.
Let’s heed the sorry examples of Curley, Schultz, Spanier and yes, Paterno.
According to the AP, Curley told the Spanier trial jurors that he and Schultz did “what we thought was appropriate” at the time by prohibiting Sandusky from taking children into team facilities but not alerting police or child welfare authorities.
“At the end of the day, I wish I would have done more,” Curley said, echoing Paterno’s words in an interview before his death in January 2012 from complications of lung cancer.
Schultz said he pleaded guilty because he felt he had been “deficient” for not reporting Sandusky.
Schultz also said he figured, in the decade before Sandusky’s 2011 arrest, that someone else had alerted the Department of Public Welfare about the former assistant coach’s questionable behavior with children.
Spanier’s lawyer said there was no evidence he had committed a crime.
But the jurors were swayed to the contrary by one of the former university president’s own emails, in which he approved the plan on how to deal with McQueary's report of the shower incident.
In the email, Spanier told Curley and Schultz that the “only downside” was if Sandusky didn’t respond appropriately “and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it.”
“Obviously (Spanier) knew children were at risk for something,” juror Victoria Navazio told the AP. “He knew there was a problem.”
It’s impossible to conclude otherwise.
And even if he wasn’t 100 percent sure, he should have erred on the side of caution — on the side of children.
He should have done more.
24-hour sexual assault hotline: 717-392-7273
Report suspected child abuse by calling ChildLine: 800-932-0313.