Tate: It seems Spanier already has been judged
This country's greatest misnomer is "innocent until proven guilty."
When did that ever happen? Rush to judgment is a national pastime. Piling on is a 15-yard penalty in football but not in life.
— In 1996, security guard Richard Jewell "fit the profile" for a bomb suspect in the Olympic Park in Atlanta. Never charged, he was universally deemed guilty by the media and the public. Though ultimately exonerated, his life was ruined.
— Ten years later in an era of rampant political correctness, three Duke University lacrosse players were falsely accused of rape. The mob attitude was inflamed by overreacting Duke professors, a corrupt district attorney (Mike Nifong was later disbarred) and the ravings of Al Sharpton, who didn't learn his lesson in the Tawana Brawley rape hoax. Charges were dropped, but the three families paid dearly in reputation and legal costs.
— Just this month, in a local case, Andre Davis was released from prison for a 1980 murder that DNA indicated he did not commit. The News-Gazette editorial referred to "wrongful conviction" and "a gross miscarriage of justice."
Things aren't always as they seem. In real life, herd mentality tends to overrule discerning dissenters like Henry Fonda in "12 Angry Men." There are few Fondas left.
Let us turn now to a dangerous subject: Penn State.
Yes, Joe Paterno was more well known than Graham Spanier. During his heyday, JoePa was everybody's football hero. He was a driving force on campus during the period when Penn State moved from cow college to a respected center of higher education with 44,000 students and a place in the Big Ten.
But Spanier was vastly more prominent in educational circles. Overwhelmingly so. The Penn State president chaired numerous national boards. He was chairman of the National Security Higher Education Board as well as the NCAA Division I Board of Directors. His compensation package at Penn State reached $800,000.
The buck stopped with him, not Paterno. If he had information of Jerry Sandusky's creepy activities, the indictments should start with him. But he hasn't been indicted. Tim Curley and Gary Schultz have been accused of lying to the grand jury and will go to trial. Spanier's name has been coupled with them, and his life in higher education appears destroyed. In the atmosphere consuming Penn State, the president was forced to retire. It appears he participated in a tragic cover-up. He'd be a landslide loser in a popular vote.
But hold on a minute. Where is the hard evidence? How are we supposed to digest a previously silent Spanier's denials in the Freeh Report?
Let me repeat: I don't know what Spanier knew. But I do know that Spanier says he didn't know, that he wasn't advised by subordinates of Sandusky's evil tendencies between 2000 and 2010. Perhaps he mishandled his dealings with trustees in 2011, particularly in not being more forthcoming about his grand jury involvement.
But the legal case against Spanier boils down to what he knew about the major incidents in 1998 and 2001.
— In 1998, he said he was copied on two emails from Schultz to Curley on a case where Sandusky showered with an 11-year-old boy but made no sexual advances. Said Spanier: "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."
— Three years later, Mike McQueary caught a naked Sandusky assaulting a 10-year-old in the shower. McQueary's report worked its way up the ladder to Paterno, Curley and Schultz. But did it reach Spanier?
Spanier wrote, "I never heard a word about abusive or sexual behavior (in 2001) nor were there any other details presented that would have led me to think along those lines."
That statement knocked me for a loop. It is in direct conflict with a February 2001 email in which Spanier told Curley and Schultz: "This approach (your decision) is acceptable to me. The only downside for us is if the message isn't 'heard' and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it ... the report you outline is humane."
That sounds 100 percent incriminating. We are left to wonder: Has Spanier forgotten a decade later? Or is he fabricating? Why would he make such a categoric denial when his email a decade earlier refutes it? And what does Schultz, his next-in-command, say? Are we missing something? The answer should become clear in time.
Penn State's new president and board of trustees were obliged to accept the Freeh Report, which vigorously challenges Spanier's assertion. The report is the official word, and it is widely accepted from coast to coast. But were all of Louis Freeh's conclusions accurate? The report turned up evidence showing Paterno did not tell the truth. Will Spanier be revealed similarly, or are we jumping to conclusions?
Editor's note: Though his reputation has been profoundly damaged, Spanier underwent background checks and received national top security clearance for his new federal job.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the Big Ten media kickoff scheduled for Thursday and Friday in Chicago, News-Gazette football beat writer Bob Asmussen asked for some help from the reporters who cover the league. In our second annual media poll, 24 ranked the teams and players (two who cover each school.) And they predicted the outcome of the Big Ten title game. Here are the results (NOTE: The poll was conducted before Monday’s NCAA punishment of Penn State):
Team (First-place votes) Points
1. Wisconsin (19) 139
2. Ohio State (5) 125
3. Purdue 79
4. Illinois 72
5. Penn State 65
6. Indiana 24
Team (First-place votes) Points
1. Michigan (16) 134
2. Michigan State (7) 120
3. Nebraska (1) 104
4. Iowa 72
5. Northwestern 51
6. Minnesota 25
Title-game winner: Michigan over Wisconsin (10 votes).
Others: Michigan State over Wisconsin (7), Wisconsin over Michigan (5), Wisconsin over Nebraska (1).
Offensive MVP: Montee Ball, Wisconsin (14 votes).
Others: Denard Robinson, Michigan (9), Braxton Miller, Ohio State (1).
Defensive MVP: William Gholston, Michigan State (11 votes).
Others: Kawann Short, Purdue (5), Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State (3), John Simon, Ohio State (2), Denicos Allen, Michigan State (1), Chris Borland, Wisconsin (1), Gerald Hodges, Penn State (1).
Participating reporters: Bob Asmussen, The News-Gazette; Steve Batterson, Quad City Times; David Briggs, Toledo Blade; Mike Carmin, Lafayette Journal & Courier: Matt Charboneau, Detroit News; Brian Christopherson, Lincoln Journal Star; Pete DiPrimio, Fort Wayne News-Sentinel; Dustin Dopirak, Bloomington Herald-Times; Chris Emma, Northwestern scout.com; Bob Flounders, Harrisburg Patriot-News; Marcus Fuller, St. Paul Pioneer Press; Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune; Terry Hutchens, Indianapolis Star; Doug Lesmerises, Cleveland Plain Dealer; Sam McKewon, Omaha World-Herald; Kyle Meinke, Annarbor.com; Phil Miller, Minneapolis Star-Tribune; Marc Morehouse, Cedar Rapids Gazette; Tom Mulhern, Wisconsin State Journal; Jeff Potyrkus, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Joe Rexrode, Lansing State Journal; Jeff Rice, Lions 24/7; Mark Snyder, Detroit Free Press; John Supinie, GateHouse News Service.
Five to watch
The Penn State roster is available to all of the rest of college football. Here is college football beat writer Bob Asmussen’s list of Nittany Lions whom Illinois should consider adding:
1. Anthony Fera K/P
He hit 14 of 17 field goals last season and 42 yards on punts. Nailed a 30-yarder to set up Penn State’s win against Illinois in 2011.
2. Justin Brown WR
Leading returning receiver had 35 catches for 517 yards. And he would get an upgrade at quarterback.
3. Ryan Nowicki OT
Talented redshirt freshman was a three-star recruit out of high school in Arizona.
4. Devon Smith WR
No. 2 leading receiver had 25 catches. It is a position of need for Illinois with the loss of A.J. Jenkins to the NFL.
5. Mike Farrell OT
Projected starter for the Nittany Lions would add to the competition at Illinois.