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Ex-Penn State president says he didn't protect Sandusky, was himself an abused child

Gene Puskar / AP

Former Penn State President Graham Spanier walks on the field in 2011 before an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa.

The former president of Pennsylvania State University, Graham Spanier, has written a letter to the university trustees denying he shielded Jerry Sandusky, the child molesting assistant football coach.

Spanier rebuts the claim in the university-sponsored report by Louis Freeh, the former FBI director, that Spanier and other officials enabled Sandusky's crimes to continue and failed to show empathy for the victims. Spanier also says that he himself was the victim of abuse as a child and would never cover up or defend such action. He doesn't specify what kind of abuse he suffered, but he has previously described being beaten by his father; his attorney said Spanier was not referring to sexual abuse.

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"It is unfathomable and illogical to think that a respected family sociologist and family therapist," Spanier wrote, "someone who personally experienced massive and persistent abuse as a child, someone who devoted a significant portion of his career to the welfare of children and youth, including service on the boards of four such organizations, two as chair of the board, would have knowingly turned a blind eye to any report of child abuse or predatory sexual acts directed at children. As I have stated in the clearest possible terms, at no time during my presidency did anyone ever report to me that Jerry Sandusky was observed abusing a child or youth or engaged in a sexual act with a child or youth.

"Had I known then what we now know about Jerry Sandusky, had I received any information about a sexual act in the shower or elsewhere, or had I had some basis for a higher level of suspicion about Sandusky, I would have strongly and immediately intervened," Spanier wrote. "Never would I stand by for a moment to allow a child predator to hurt children. I am personally outraged that any such abusive acts could have occurred in or around Penn State and have considerable pain that it could perhaps have been ended had we known more sooner."

ESPN has published the full letter, first reported by The Patriot-News, which is available here.

Spanier's lawyer, Peter Vaira, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that Spanier received regular "disciplinary beatings" by his father, and had to have his nose straightened several times. Vaira said the abuse was never sexual. 

The Freeh report faulted Spanier, citing a long email trail showing he was informed of the 1998 investigation and the 2001 incident.

"By not promptly and fully advising the Board of Trustees about the 1998 and 2001 child sexual abuse allegations against Sandusky and the subsequent Grand Jury investigation of him, Spanier failed his duties as President," the report says.

The report said that "the avoidance of the consequences of bad publicity" was the most significant cause for the failure to protect child victims and report abuse to authorities.

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Spanier describes the 1998 and 2001 incidents

In his letter to the trustees, Spanier makes several specific rebuttals to the Freeh report.

First, Spanier says he thought that a 1998 investigation of Sandusky was being appropriately handled:

"I was apparently copied on two emails in 1998, the first, from Gary Schultz to Tim Curley on May 6 saying that 'the Public Welfare people will interview the individual Thursday.' The second email, from Schultz to Curley on June 9, says 'They met with Jerry on Monday and concluded that there was no criminal behavior and the matter was closed as an investigation. He was a little emotional and expressed concern as to how this might have adversely affected the child. I think the matter has been appropriately investigated and I hope it is now behind us.' I have no recollection of any conversations on the topic or any other emails from that era sent to me or by me. It is public knowledge that the District Attorney decided there was no crime to pursue. I don’t understand how one could conclude from such evidence 'concealment' of a known child predator."

Then Spanier provides more information about a 2001 incident in which coaching assistant Mike McQueary reported seeing Sandusky nude with a boy in a shower. He says university officials Tim Curley and Gary Schultz assured him that the information was not reported as a sexual incident, a sex act, but  as one that appeared inappropriate, "horsing around" nude in the shower:

"I can assure you that I hadn’t the slightest inkling until reading the Grand Jury presentment that Sandusky was being investigated for more than a single incident in a shower in 2001, something that was described to me only as 'horsing around.'

"I never heard a word about abusive or sexual behavior, nor were there any other details presented that would have led me to think along those lines. McQueary’s name was never mentioned to me, and it is clear that Curley and Schultz had not spoken to him yet when they gave me their initial heads up. I was in fact told that the witness wasn’t sure what he saw, since it was around a corner. Dr. Jonathan Dranov’s Grand Jury and trial testimony appear to corroborate that nothing sexual was reported to him in his meeting with McQueary on the night of the 2001 incident."

Spanier also says that he shared with the trustees what he knew in 2011, when Sandusky was being investigated by a grand jury, but that the university's general counsel kept him mostly in the dark.

Detail on the 2001 incident
Spanier supplemented his letter with details on the information he says he received about the 2001 incident in the shower. Here is his account in full:

Initial Heads Up

More than a decade ago, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz asked to catch me after another meeting to give me a “heads up” about a matter. Looking back at my calendar for what is now presumed to be February, 2001, I surmise that meeting to have been on Monday, February 12, at about 2:30pm, following a scheduled meeting of the President’s Council. It was common that members of the council would catch me individually for brief updates following such meetings.

The meeting lasted perhaps 10-15 minutes. Curley and Schultz shared that they had received a report that a member of the athletic department staff had reported something to Joe Paterno, and that Joe had passed that report on to Tim and Gary. The report was that Jerry Sandusky was seen in an athletic locker room facility showering with one of his Second Mile youth, after a workout, and that they were “horsing around” (or “engaged in horseplay”). It was reported that the staff member was not sure what he saw because it was around a corner and indirect.

I recall asking two questions:

“Are you sure that is how it was described to you, as horsing around”? Both replied “yes.”

“Are you sure that that is all that was reported?” Both replied “yes.”

We then agreed that we were uncomfortable with such a situation, that it was inappropriate, and that we did not want it to happen again. I asked that Tim meet with Sandusky to tell him that he must never again bring youth into the showers. We further agreed that we should inform the Second Mile president that we were we directing Jerry to never do this again and furthermore that we did not wish Second Mile youth to be in our showers.


There was no mention of anything abusive, sexual, or criminal.

At no time was it said who had made the report to Joe Paterno. (I never heard Mike McQuery’s name associated with this episode until November 7, 2011, when I read it in a newspaper story.)

The hour of the day was not mentioned.

The specific building and locker room were not mentioned.

The age of the child was not mentioned. I had presumed it was a high school age child under Jerry’s guardianship or sponsorship, since that is all I knew about the Second Mile.

There was no mention of any prior shower incident, and I had no recollection of having heard of a prior incident.

Follow Up

In reviewing my calendar for February, 2001, I note a double entry for Sunday, February 25. I had been out of town for several days and was scheduled to return in time to see a Penn State women’s basketball game at 2pm. My assistant noted on the calendar that I should stop in to see Tim Curley briefly in my way into the game. I have no recollection of that meeting other than that Tim was worried about how he shouldhandle things if he informed Sandusky that we were forbidding him from bringing Second Mile youth into our facilities and then Sandusky disagreed with this directive. I do not recall knowing about any prior incidents, but it is apparent from emails recently released to the media that Tim also indicated that there had been an earlier occasion when Sandusky had showered with a minor. We also now know that I was copied on two emails in 1998 that may have alerted me to that (the first one being a vague reference with no individual named) and the second essentially saying that the matter had been closed. I had absolutely no recollection of that history in 2001 nor do I recall it today. I don’t believe I replied to those emails nor was I briefed verbally.

Tim Curley sent me a follow up email that has recently been shared with the news media. My use of the word “humane” refers specifically and only to my thought that it was humane of Tim to wish to inform Sandusky first and to allow him to accompany Tim to the meeting with the president of the Second Mile. Moreover, it would be humane to offer counseling to Sandusky if he didn’t understand why this was inappropriate and unacceptable to us. My comment that we could be vulnerable for not reporting it further relates specifically and only to Tim’s concern about the possibility that Jerry would not accept our directive and repeat the practice. Were that the outcome of his discussion I would have worried that we did not enlist more help in enforcing such a directive. I suggested that we could visit that question down the road, meaning after Curley informed Sandusky of our directive and learning of his willingness to comply.

A few days after the brief Sunday interaction, I saw Tim Curley and he reported that both of the discussions had taken place, that those discussions had gone well and our directive accepted, and that the matter was closed.

I never heard another word about this from any individual until I learned of the investigation into Sandusky. I was eager to assist the attorney general and was completely honest to the best of my recollection. I had absolutely no idea until midway through my voluntary grand jury testimony that this inquiry was about anything more than the one episode in the shower.


I do not recall that I was privy to any follow up discussions between Curley, Schultz, legal counsel, or others. I had five out of town trips that month, my appropriations hearings, THON, a packed calendar with 164 appointments, an average of 100 incoming and 50 outgoing emails a day, and the turmoil of the Black Caucus disruption and the takeover of the student union.

I do not recall being involved in any discussions about DPW or the police, although I now assume that DPW is the “other organization” being referenced by Curley and Schultz in their emails.