Sad Days at Happy Valley: The Penn State Scandal Hits Home

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011 at 8:00 AM
Sad Days at Happy Valley: The Penn State Scandal Hits Home by Jay Stevens

“I'm angry at PSU,” said Barbara Ingribelli of Saint Catherine's, Ontario, “not at Sandusky. He probably can't help it.”

The reason for Ingribelli's anger is that her son, Michael, now 19, attended a youth football camp at Penn State Behrend run by former Nittany Lion coach, Jerry Sandusky. That was in 2003, when Michael was 11.

“They put my son in harm's way.”

You know the story. The year an 11-year-old Michael Ingribelli attended his football camp was one year after then-graduate assistant coach Mike McQueary went to the locker rooms in the Lasch Football Building on the Penn State University Park campus. It was 9:30 at night, and McQueary was stashing a new pair of sneakers and picking up game tape, when, according to the grand jury report indicting Sandusky on 40 counts of child molestation against eight victims, “he was surprised to find the lights and showers on.” Not only that, McQueary heard “ heard rhythmic, slapping sounds...he believed to be...of sexual activity.”

Investigating, McQueary found “a naked boy...whose age he estimated ten years old, with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky.”

McQueary then put into motion the events that would soon bring down legendary football coach Joe Paterno and endanger Penn State University itself. Former star quarterback and present quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions, McQueary – again, according to the grand jury report – instead of notifying the police, called his father, who advised McQueary tell Joe Paterno what he saw. He did so, the next day. Paterno himself waited another day before calling his boss, athletic director Tim Curley. From there, it gets foggy. Penn State Vice President Gary Schultz was apparently part of the meeting with Paterno, and University President Graham Spanier was notified later. When and what they heard is open to conjecture.

What is certain, is that the only action taken against Sandusky was that his key to the locker room was taken, and he was ordered not to bring youth onto the main campus. Penn State officials also notified The Second Mile, Sandusky's charity for at-risk children. No other authorities were alerted. Because of that, Curley and Schultz are now facing criminal charges for sitting on the information about Sandusky, and Spanier was fired – and could face investigation, too.

In short, Penn State allowed Jerry Sandusky, operating under the reputation and protection of the Penn State football program, to have continued access to young boys – just as long as it didn't occur on the University Park campus. And so, the alleged serial pedophile ran overnight football camps for boys at Penn State Behrend and other satellite campuses for at least six years after Penn State administrators knew he had allegedly raped a child.

Legally, Joe Paterno was obligated to do no more than report to Curley. But as a man and as a coach, he was obligated to do much, much more. For that, he, too was fired.

*  *  *  *

Penn State was founded when, in 1855, the operator of an iron furnace, James Irvin, offered 200 acres of land “pleasantly situated at the Junction of Penns, and Nittany Valleys near the Geographical Centre of the State” to the Pennsylvania State Agricultural Society for a college to instruct young men how to apply the latest scientific methods to the art of agriculture. The offer was accepted and the school opened in 1859 with 69 students and four faculty members.

Today, the university boasts over 94,000 students studying 160 majors on the main University Park campus and its 19 affiliate commonwealth campuses throughout the state. Its “pleasant situation” in the Penns and Nittany valleys has come to be known as “Happy Valley,” whose restaurants, arts community, general health and prosperity, and low crime rate caused CNN's Money Magazine to rank it in 2008 as one of the best places in the country to live.

During its history, the school went through a number of iterations, changing name, mission, and relationship to the state, but what made Penn State so vast, so rich and prosperous, what gave it its reputation – in short, what made Penn State what it is – was a football coach.

Joe Paterno.

The homely, Brooklyn-born sparkplug and son of Italian immigrants arrived at the desolate patch of farmland that was State College in 1950 to work as an assistant coach to Rip Engel. Sixty-two years later – 44 spent as head coach – Paterno had two dozen bowl victories, five conference titles and two national championships among his accomplishments, and his thick glasses, round head, and plain blue suit jacket and tie became iconic.

During his tenure, Beaver Stadium, a diminutive 46,000-seat area in 1960, would triple in size and became the monolith that today dominates State College's landscape: Penn State's football cathedral. Penn State's endowment – nearly non-existent when the young Brown-educated ex-quarterback and law student arrived – would grow to $2 billion, thanks mostly to Paterno and his Nittany Lions. Paterno would raise funds to build a library, athletic facilities. A university.

What made Paterno special – apart from his longevity – was that he built Penn State football on the foundation of his “grand experiment,” the idea that excellence stems from integrity. His football program would concentrate on academics, his players would be true athlete scholars. In measurable terms, the idea was a success. Penn State excelled at graduating its football players and is the only publicly funded BCS school to have not a single NCAA violation since records were kept, beginning in 1953.

But it was in the immeasurable ways that Paterno had his real impact. His motto of “success with honor” permeated the university. Penn State became an academic giant, with campuses spread across the state. Its reputation was second to none in Pennsylvania. Paterno's legacy was in the cry of, “We are – Penn State,” a cheer that supposes simply attending the university is all that's required to thrill boosters and intimidate opposing schools.

Joe Paterno became Penn State. Penn State became Joe Paterno.

If Paterno was like a deity in Happy Valley, then Jerry Sandusky was a high priest. As Nittany Lion defensive coordinator, he built Linebacker U, the system that created some of college football's greatest defensive players and perhaps even won Penn State its two national championships. Certainly Sandusky's defense won the 1987 Fiesta Bowl game against the University of Miami, torching Heisman quarterback Vinnie Testaverde for 5 interceptions in Penn State's 14 – 10 upset.

Sandusky retired abruptly at 55 in 1998. The official story was that Paterno told him he wasn't going to be Penn State head coach, so Sandusky decided to dedicate himself to his charity, The Second Mile, which helped at-risk youth.

You know the rest of the story. In 2009, a concerned mother contacted her son's school after he had called Sandusky a “sex weirdo” – the boy had met Sandusky years earlier through The Second Mile, and had been showered with gifts and special trips by the former coach. He'd also allegedly been regularly sexually assaulted by Sandusky during that time. The boy told his guidance counselor about the abuse, and an investigation was launched.

That investigation led to the discovery of a number of other victims and a 1998 police report that showed Sandusky had been investigated for improper contact with children – raising questions about his 1999 retirement. What became clear is that Sandusky used his association with Penn State and its football program to get extraordinary access to young boys. That investigation also led to Mike McQueary and what he saw in the shower in 2002, and its coverup by Penn State officials.

*  *  *  *

Jerry Sandusky ran his youth football camp on the Penn State Behrend campus for eight years, from 2000 to 2008.

Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, is the largest college of Penn State's “commonwealth campus” system, and was also founded on a patch of donated land – in 1948 the widow of Hammermill Paper Company co-founder, Ernst Behrend gave over the family's farm estate to a school that provided one- and two-year degrees to area students. The similarity with University Park ends there. Behrend sits on a rolling hillside overlooking Lake Erie and the blue-collar manufacturing city of the same name. Hammermill, like the steel industry that built Erie, is long-gone, and the lakeside city with its 40 percent poverty rate and abandoned mills dotting its urban landscape is the antithesis of State College.

Which might explain why main campus administrators appeared unconcerned about Sandusky's activities there.

Normally the summer sports camps at Behrend are run by campus employees, said Behrend Athletic Director Brian Streeter in a telephone interview, but this was Sandusky's own football camp. “We didn't have a football camp,” said Streeter, “so we reached out.” Sandusky approached Behrend about running his camp in Erie. “He was a Penn State employee and an extremely successful football coach,” said Streeter, “that definitely got his foot in the door.”

The camp, for boys in grades 4 through 9, typically occurred in mid-July, lasting three nights and four days and used Behrend's gym, practice fields, pool, weight room, and residence halls. Sandusky's company – Sandusky Associates – paid for the use of the facilities. According to Streeter, Sandusky also brought his own coaching staff, using graduate assistants and high school coaches from the State College area, Streeter thought. Erie-area coaches came and observed, but Sandusky didn't hire local coaches. “It was his camp,” said Streeter, “his venue ran it.”

Sandusky's staff was also responsible for overseeing campers. That included time spent in the residence halls, where the coaching staff slept in the same halls as campers. Streeter couldn't say if Sandusky shared living and bathroom accommodations with campers.

Michael Ingribelli remembers his stay at the camp fondly. He remembered the drills he'd do in the morning – special lineman drills with line coaches – and the jogging, and the hills on the campus. The campers ate lunch in the cafeteria together, and in the afternoon they played touch or flag football.

“I was introduced to him,” said Ingribelli of Sandusky, “but I didn't spend time with him during camp.” Ingribelli did remember Sandusky hanging around with the campers in the common area between practice sessions, but Sandusky never talked with him directly or had any contact with him.

In fact the only time Sandusky touched Ingribelli was on the last day. “When we left,” said Ingribelli, “we took a picture, and he put his arm around me.”

But Ingribelli stayed with his parents at a local hotel. His mother Barbara doesn't think it would have mattered, even had he stayed on campus. “We didn't fit the profile,” she said. “We [his parents] were there every day, in the stands. He probably would not have been a candidate.”

Ben Smith had a different experience with Sandusky. Smith, now 22 and living in Brockport, New York, attended the 2004 camp when he was in the 9th grade. He slept over in the Behrend residence hall with the rest of the camp – “200 at the most, we could all fit into one dorm hall” – and he recalled Sandusky actively engaging with campers.

“We'd all sit there, and Sandusky would talk to us,watch movies with us,” said Smith. “He'd be right there with us.”

That friendliness extended to swimming, too. Sandusky would join the campers in Behrend's  swimming pool when campers were allowed to swim. He played water polo with the boys, but Smith doesn't remember any unusual behavior in the water.

Not so after practice. According to Smith, Sandusky showered with the campers. “When I first saw it,” said Smith, “it gave me the creeps.” Smith said he and the other campers used to make jokes about it, the kind of juvenile joking you'd expect to find among 15-year-olds when they had to share their shower with a 60-year-old coach.

Still, despite Sandusky's unsettling habits, Smith and the other campers still respected him. “We all knew he was a pretty renowned coach. He won two football championships. We were all Penn State football fans. It was weird that he was so personable.

“I thought he was a great dude.”

As a quarterback, Smith remembers having Mike McQueary as his coach at the camp. “He ran the show for the quarterbacks and wide receivers,” said Smith. “I watched him throw so hard he broke a kid's nose.” (McQueary's presence at the Behrend football camp in 2004 meant that the assistant coach worked with Sandusky two years after the 2002 incident, in which allegedly he witnessed his employer raping a boy.)

Neither Ingribelli or Smith had any questionable contact with the head of their football camp. Nor did they see or hear of any other camper experiencing anything improper. In fact, both men remembered camp fondly. Smith said he had a “great time,” and Ingribelli had so much fun his mother Barbara said he was “out of sorts” the next day, sad to leave the friends he'd made and the all-day-football schedule of the camp.

But both agree that Sandusky had access to campers and plenty of opportunity to molest campers.

“It wouldn't surprise me,” said Ingribelli. “There were tons of kids there, all of them slept over.”

Smith went even further. “It was a place where he had opportunity, especially if the kids were there more than once,” said Smith. “He had a lot of power. He was really nice. It must have been hard for those kids to resist.

“As much as I don't want to say it, I think someone must have gotten violated.”

*  *  *  *

“There were no complaints, issues, or suggestions of impropriety,” said Bill Gonda, director of marketing communication for Penn State Behrend, of Sandusky's time spent on campus in Erie. “We'd certainly know if there were any issue raised with campus police.”

Gonda's willingness to talk on the phone is a little surprising. You'd expect Behrend administration to be leery talking about its relationship to Sandusky. It's a reminder, perhaps, that Penn State Behrend was as caught off-guard by the Sandusky investigation and subsequent indictments as anyone else. If anything, Penn State Behrend is another kind of victim of the scandal – caught by a stray bullet, if you will. The main Penn State administration set them up. It sent an alleged serial pedophile to their campus for six years, risking the health and well-being of Erie-area children and the reputation of its summer sports camps.

When asked about the policy for reporting sexual assault or molestation at the camps, Gonda isn't certain. “We probably remove the accused from the situation and alert the authorities,” he said. “It's the obvious thing to do.” Gonda also noted that Penn State's new president – Rod Erickson – promised to revisit and revise the university's reporting policies, as necessary, so that they “meet the law and Penn State standards.”

How did he feel when he heard about the Sandusky indictments and read the grand jury report? “Shocked,” said Gonda. “Saddened. Frustrated. Angry. A whole lot of emotions, the feeling that a large majority of the the Penn State community felt when they heard.”

How has the community reacted to the news that Sandusky ran a camp here? “It's been a remarkably calm response,” admitted Gonda, “and we don't underestimate the reaction of Penn State alumni.”

Gonda's priority now is to ensure that Penn State policies are properly put into place at Behrend. “We all know the problems,” he said, “we have to focus on how to make sure these things won't happen again.”

In that, his athletic director, Brian Streeter would agree. Streeter is already considering policies that could be instituted or changed.

For example, Streeter acknowledged that having an outside staff chaperone the campers in the residence halls might not have been the best policy. “That may be something we visit,” he said, “we may hire someone to be in the residence hall, someone certified” to oversee any camp spending the night on the Behrend campus.

Also, while a background check on Sandusky probably wouldn't have yielded any alerts, Streeter suggested an improvement to that policy. Every Penn State employee does get a background check, said Streeter, a process that is applied to camp employees, but he said that check occurs only at initial hire. “Maybe that background check should be run more often,” said Streeter.

For Streeter, it's about protecting the summer sports camps at Behrend. The college runs summer camps for girls and boys for 22 sports. It's one of the crucial ways tin which Behrend interacts with and serves the local community.

“We take a sport they're interested in,” said Streeter of the youth that attend Behrend sports camps, “motivate them, and get them to enjoy the sports. After they leave they walk with a little more confidence than they had when they came.”

“Things will be safer,” said Streeter, “because more rules will be put into place and implemented. We'll want to assure the community that it will be a safe environment.”

*  *  *  *

The Penn State scandal is just getting underway.

First, there are the criminal trials against Sandusky and Penn State administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz – and new victims have already stepped forward, likely necessitating additional grand juries and criminal charges. And then there will be civil suits by the victims against Sandusky, Penn State, and others, like Joe Paterno, who failed to halt Sandusky's alleged abuse when given the opportunity.

And then there are the ongoing investigations. The NCAA is looking into whether the university exercised “institutional control” over its football program – whether preservation of football led to ethical or criminal lapses by the administration. The Department of Education is looking into whether Penn State failed its obligations under the Clery Act, which mandates universities and colleges report criminal offenses that occur on their campuses. And the Penn State board of trustees hired former judge and FBI director Louis Freeh investigate the school's policies and culture, and how they led to the scandal.

And there are the ongoing criminal investigations that could turn up more involvement by Penn State administrators and staff in covering up Sandusky's alleged illegal activities.

Penn State is facing fines, huge civil lawsuits, the loss of its football program, and possible additional criminal charges – including that of Joe Paterno, who could be prosecuted for perjury or obstruction of justice if it's found he misled the grand jury over the severity of McQueary's 2002 statement. And the school is already noticing negative effects from the scandal: advertisers are backing out of televised Penn State football games, the sale of Nittany Lion merchandise is down, and high school recruits are shunning the university. Donations and enrollment stand to suffer, too, as does on-campus corporate sponsorship.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is not likely to show Penn State mercy: he was the state attorney general when that office first looked into this mess, and Corbett was not pleased by the way the administration handled the 2002 incident. Corbett, of course, has a lot of pull over the funding and charter of the university; he could trim or slash state funding and force the school to act more directly under the oversight of the state. Corbett could initiate other, more drastic measures as well, including a reorganization of the university system and its commonwealth campuses. Instead of a monolithic and largely independent Penn State University system, say, we could see a collection of independent, state-run college campuses.

All of this would obviously have an immense effect on the university. The loss of football revenue, donations, and a cut in state assistance could accompany the millions Penn State has to pay out in civil suits and fines, which in turn could cripple the university – and not just football, but academics, tuition, and faculty pay.

Penn State is heading for catastrophic change.

But not all bad is coming out of the scandal. For one, it could lead to change in Pennsylvania's statute of limitations on child abuse accusations, which currently forbid victims from bringing civil suits after their 30th birthday – and for victims before 2007, thanks to a grandfather clause in the law's 2002 amendment, before their 20th birthday. Along those lines, Pennsylvania's Bob Casey called for Senate hearings to review “the relationship between federal and state reporting requirements on child abuse and neglect” and to offer guidelines on educating those that work with children on how to recognize child abuse. And colleges across the country are revisiting their policies on reporting sexual abuse and support of victims – which might be a boon to female students, who comprise the biggest group of victims of sexual abuse on college campuses.

Another possible benefit of the scandal is to examine the role – or lack of thereof – of women administrators with athletics on college campuses. “Could a person not conditioned in the culture of traditional male-dominated sports hierarchies have made different calculations about how to react and what to report?” asks University of Baltimore Law School professor Dionne Koller on the Penn State scandal in an editorial for The Chronicle of Higher Education. “I believe the answer to those questions is an emphatic yes.”

Penn State's own experience with women administrators seems to indicate Koller is correct. Vicky Triponey, Penn State vice president of student affairs from 2003 to 2007, clashed with the administration over punishment of Nittany Lion football players for incidents that included sexual assault. Triponey was told that Paterno handled his players' discipline, students harassed her at home, and she was let go by President Graham Spanier for being “pushy” and “confrontational” and for not understanding the “Penn State way.”

Today, the majority of Penn State's prominent administrative positions are filled by men – as are all of Behrend's top administrative positions – but hopefully the scandal will bring attention to the glaring lack of women in important decision-making capacity at the university.

*  *  *  *

This is a football scandal, not a child abuse scandal.

Sandusky's actions were horrific and repulsive, but, taken alone, they brought shame and indignation to no one but himself. Barabara Ingribelli – mother of Behrend camper, Michael – put it best. “This man we stood next to,” she said of Sandusky, “we were standing next to a monster.”

What made this a scandal was the response to the monster. What made this a scandal were the people who saw Sandusky molest children, or knew about it, and did nothing. What made this a scandal were the people who banned Sandusky from campus in lieu of contacting the police.

When Mike McQueary allegedly found Sandusky sodomizing a 10-year-old, his thoughts were for Penn State, and he called Joe Paterno. When Joe Paterno was told what Sandusky did to the boy, his thoughts were for Penn State, and he called his athletic director. When Tim Curley and Greg Schultz heard what had had been done to a boy in a Penn State facility by a former Penn State coach, they apparently worked with Graham Spanier to bury the incident and make sure it never happened again – on the University Park campus. They, too, were thinking of Penn State.

No one thought of the boy.

What made this a scandal was that several men, when faced with a decision to either aid a small boy who had allegedly been raped by a 60-year-old man or to protect the reputation of a college football program, they chose football.

And what's necessary to complete a scandal – outrage – came from us, the public.

Many Americans were already uncomfortable with the relationship of athletics and colleges and universities. We saw the huge stadiums being built, the scholarships doled out to athletes uninterested in education and with barely acceptable grades. And we already thought that the priorities of school administrators and coaches were skewed.

We had no idea how skewed those priorities were until the Penn State scandal.

But it's not just the sports that give us pause. Secondary education is rapidly becoming a business. Tenured faculty are being replaced by cheap, part-time adjunct professors who are inexperienced and overworked. Multi-million-dollar exercise facilities are built, fancy coffee bars installed, while libraries, grants, and academic scholarships are squeezed. Faculty pay rates are dictated in large part by student evaluations, leading to grade inflation and dumbed-down course offerings.

According to Anthony Griffin in the New York Review of Books, a recent assessment of college students showed that 45 percent “had made effectively no progress in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing in their first two years,” and that students devoted half the time they did 50 years ago to studying, and that a full third had never taken a class that required more than 40 pages a week of reading.

Universities have become like corporations, doling out product (diplomas) to consumers (students). An education is a by-product of the process, taken only by those who want it.

“If Mike McQueary had seen a child being raped in a boardroom or a storeroom, he wouldn't have been any more likely to have stopped it, or to have called the cops, than he was as a graduate assistant football coach at Penn State,” wrote Charles Pierce in Grantland. “[E]very American who works for a major company knows the penalty for exercising his personal freedom, or his personal morality, at the expense of 'the company'....Nobody wants to damage the brand.”

At Penn State, the brand was Joe Paterno and football. And for that, an untold number of children were sacrificed.

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