One reader's take on what happened at Penn State

Here's what I think happened at Penn State:

In 2001, Mike McQueary reported to Coach Joe Paterno that he witnessed a serious crime committed against a child by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky in the football building at Penn State. Based on the emails and his personal notes that appeared in the Freeh report, university vice president Gary Schultz told Athletic Director Tim Curley and President Graham Spanier that this had to be reported to police and the Pennsylvania Department of Child Welfare.

Messrs. Curley and Spanier apparently agreed. Then Mr. Curley talked to Coach Paterno, and later he told President Spanier he was no longer on board with reporting this incident. Mr. Spanier replied, in effect, "OK, but if it gets out that we knew and didn't report, we're in trouble."

The NCAA concluded that the coverup was all about protecting football and avoiding sanctions and bad publicity (though why there would have been sanctions for reporting Mr. Sandusky in 2001, I have no idea). In any case, I have a different take.

Yes, Mr. Paterno persuaded Mr. Curley not to report the incident, and I think his motive was simple (though badly misplaced): His personal loyalty to Jerry Sandusky. He and Mr. Curley evidently agreed to ban him from bringing children on campus, but not to report him to the police. This was clearly an inadequate — and illegal — response. In failing to report Mr. Sandusky's apparent crimes, Coach Paterno put personal loyalty to his former assistant above the safety and welfare of children.

So, yes, I think that this foursome covered up a crime, but I think that Mr. Paterno's (and Mr. Spanier's) motive is not the one that the public and the NCAA believe. And because he had become a larger-than-life figure, and one to whom so many people paid enormous deference, he got his way.

This extreme deference to the football coach was the one respect in which Penn State differed from other universities where football has become a multimillion dollar business. The "football culture" at Penn State is no different than that at Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas, USC, Ohio State and at least three or four dozen other schools. But only Penn State had Joe Paterno, a man with what amounted to an almost cult-like following among fans and alumni.

Although all four men are to blame for not doing what the law required, to conclude that they did it to "protect football" is, in my opinion, not accurate. I believe they simply did not want to report their long-time colleague. This failure to put their responsibility to protect children above personal loyalty was wrong, and it led to a criminal conspiracy, but to conclude that it was done to protect the football program and the university from bad publicity is, in my view, incorrect.


Of the four who apparently participated in the coverup, one is dead, two are under indictment for perjury, and the fourth was fired and is reported to be the subject of a continuing grand jury investigation. By imposing sanctions on Penn State, the NCAA has unfortunately decided to punish the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Rather than burnishing the NCAA's image as an organization that promotes fairness and punishes cheating, these actions make the NCAA appear feckless, inept and unconcerned by the collateral damage done by its ill-considered and unnecessary punishment of those who have done no wrong.

Patrick Purcell, Odenton