Former Penn State President: I Was Abuse Victim

In a letter leaked on Monday — the same day the NCAA levied a $60 million fine on Penn State — the university’s former president, Graham Spanier, writes that he himself was a victim of abuse by his father and that he would never have ignored reports of sexual abuse. Peter Vaira, Spanier’s lawyer, says that the abuse Spanier suffered was never sexual but involved “disciplinary beatings” that meant the young Spanier had to have “his nose straightened several times.”

Spanier’s letter was addressed to Penn State University’s trustees and leaked on Monday to the Associated Press. The Chronicle of Higher Education quotes from it:

“It is unfathomable and illogical to think that a respected family sociologist and family therapist, 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 … would have knowingly turned a blind eye to any report of child abuse or predatory sexual acts directed at children.”

But Spanier’s letter is contradicted by emails between him and other Penn State officials in the report conducted under former FBI director Louis Freeh:

In one 2001 e-mail, Mr. Spanier avoids reporting an incident of abuse and encourages another employee to talk to Mr. Sandusky directly instead of notifying the authorities:“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. but that can be assessed down the road.”

Spanier claims that he did not “understand the 2001 incident was sexual” and that he did not recall receiving emails about the 1998 report. The Freeh report, he says, is “egregious in its incomplete and inaccurate reporting” and “is full of factual errors and jumps to conclusions that are untrue and unwarranted.”

Certainly it is terrible to hear about anyone suffering child abuse of any sort. But Spanier and other Penn State officials including late coach Joe Paterno are not being judged on who they are but on what they did and did not do; on how they covered up reports of former assistant coach Jerry Sadusky sexually abusing children in the athletic facilities of Penn State.

Spanier had previously spoken of how his father Fred, who escaped from Nazi Germany for South Africa, was a huge inspiration to him.

Questions about whether the NCAA’s sanctions went far enough in penalizing Penn State are being raised. Spanier’s letter suggests that there is yet more to learn about the child sexual abuse scandal and about the decisions and actions of top-level administrators at universities where the importance of athletics came to overshadow academic, and moral and legal, concerns.

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Photo by Stevie Rocco


tiffany t.
tiffany t5 years ago

stop rolling your eyes and see the entire picture


J.L. A.
j A5 years ago

having been a victim ideally should have led to him having heightened sensitivity to the possibilities of sad

tiffany t.
tiffany t5 years ago

sickos blinded by money, just watched an interview after the sanctions and the coach stated "well at least we will still be on TV that is the most important thing"?! the staff at penn state is unbelievable!

Pam B.
Pam B.5 years ago

If this man is looking for sympathy it is n the dictionary! I think his abuse statement unless he can back it up with evidence is just an excuse.

Carl Oerke
Carl O5 years ago

Spanier was a victim of abuse and had no empathy or the victims. His letter to the trustees which was contradicted in his e-mails may have been an attempt to spread some horse manure in order to burnish the turd that is his legacy.

Mercedes Lackey
Mercedes Lackey5 years ago

The entire culture of Penn State is corrupt, not just the football or even the sports department. Rape, sexual abuse and harassment, racism and bigotry of all sorts are rampant. The Nittany Lion is a child-abusing, white-supremacist, anti-gay, rapist.

Donald W.
Donald Waltman5 years ago

Spanier is totally correct in his description of the Freeh report. It is a hatchet job. Freeh assumed the role of prosecuting attorney, interpreting every bit of evidence in the most negative way possible for Penn State et all.

There is no evidence that either the 1998 or 2001 incidents were explicitly sexual. The boy in the 1998 incident told the same story as Sandusky - they showered together and Sandusky hugged him. There was no sexual act. For the 2001 incident we have only McQueary's testimony under oath. From the sounds he had heard he expected to see two adults performing anal intercourse, but what he saw was not that, so he wasn't sure what he saw. When asked by the state attorney in court if he saw anal intercourse. He answered no.

Now showering with a minor child was certainly innappropriate. Males do typically shower in the same communal shower, but not under the same shower head. However given Mr Sandusky's known proclivity to "horse around," which he claimed was going on, this sounded possibly credible.

Bottom line, in 2001, when this "cover-up" is alleged to have begun, there was no evidence of sexual behavior. And Sandusky was still regarded as an esteemed coach and a pillar in the community. Hence the decision to do the "humane" thing seemed quite reasonable. I think that's what I would have done as would most of you, if you can take yourself to the place they were at the time.

The "safe" thing to do, and protect the University and the football pr

ILEANA LIEL5 years ago

Mr. Spanier should be reminded that the slapping sounds emanating from the Penn State locker room showers were not due to disciplinary whacks with the hand. While physical punishment of children can rise to the level of child abuse, to equate that to Sandusky's horrific acts is lame, selfserving and insulting.

Chris Cole
Chris C5 years ago

Sorry, the facts and emails prove otherwise...he is guilty!

Troy G.
Troy Grant5 years ago

They should hang pedophiles