In a mini-PR campaign to clear his name, former Penn State President Graham Spanier gave his first interviews since the release of the Freeh Report and continues to denounce the accusations that he covered up the child abuse of Jerry Sandusky. Spanier delivered a lengthy written interview to Jeffery Toobin for The New Yorker and his first TV interview with Josh Elliott for ABC's Nightline, which was broadcast last night. Both stories also came on a day that began with a bizarre press conference featuring Spanier's lawyers lashing out at Freeh and the media, but did not included Spanier or any substantive answers during a Q&A.
In both the interviews, however, Spanier reiterated that the report conducted by former FBI director Louis Freeh and paid for by Penn State's Board of Trustees was biased and full of errors, and that many people he knows who were interviewed by Freeh called the questioning a "witch hunt."
Among the key claims that Spanier makes in his defense, is that he knew nothing about the 1998 investigation of Sandusky that was eventually dropped with no charges being filed. He also says that he did not believe that a 2001 incident in a Penn State locker room (the one witnessed and reported by assistant football coach Mike McQueary) amounted to or suggested abuse. He also claims that even up until the moment that Sandusky's indictment was made public in 2011, Spanier still believed that the grand jury investigation did not go beyond that original 2001 instance of horseplay — even though Spanier himself had testified in front of the grand jury, had been asked questions about sodomy, and the details of the investigation had published by local media.
As we have written before, even if you believe Spanier's claims of ignorance (as we are honestly inclined to do), his own description of events still raises troubling questions about how he handled Sandusky and the charges against him. Spanier was apparently alarmed enough about the report of "horseplay" between Sandusky and a unidentified boy in a school shower that he believed Sandusky needed to be warned and the behavior should stop. But he was not alarmed enough to try to identify the boy, talk to the person who made the report, or even ask what "horseplay" meant. He never spoke about the incident with Joe Paterno, a man he says he met with an average of once a week. He never learned any details about a grand jury that he and three of his direct reports were called to testify in front of. He also cites his own history of childhood abuse as proof that few people could have "a higher level of awareness" about abuse than him, which would seemingly make his failure to spot the warning signs even more glaring/ Some of his other comments — like his insistence that Sandusky, who was given emeritus status, was no longer an official employee; or how much he was admired by PSU board members; or how Penn State was like a big family — just sound like prevaricating and blame shifting.
Now that all the sordid details have come out, his biggest regret seems to be that Penn State's board didn't allow him to "get out in front and manage" the situation. His comments to Toobin are particularly telling. Spanier criticizes the board, Freeh, the NCAA, and even Penn State's lawyers, for not adequately preparing him for the grand jury. He then says he wouldn't have acted differently, based on the fact that those below him gave him so little information. While Spanier offered sympathy and respect for Sandusky's victims, he reserves just as much for himself and the employees who are now on trial for their mistakes. Maybe he didn't willfully conceal information about child abuse, but that's only because it seems he didn't want to know if it was happening.