Press Conference By Lawyers For Former Penn State President Graham Spanier Was An Exercise In BullshitS

As expected, the blame-shifting from those at Penn State implicated by the Freeh report has begun. Lawyers for Graham Spanier, the university president fired last November in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, held a press conference in Philadelphia this morning to try and explain their client's side of the story. Much of what was said was an attack on the Freeh report and its findings. Little of it was convincing. All of it sounded like a pre-emptive strike by a man who might soon find himself facing charges for his role in the scandal.

Timothy Lewis, a former federal judge and one of Spanier's lawyers, began by speaking for more than 20 minutes. "The Freeh report is a myth," Lewis said. "That myth ends today. [...] This can only be seen as a cynical attempt by a biased investigator to pile speculation on top of innuendo in order to support his version of the truth." Never mind that Freeh was hired by Penn State specifically to investigate Penn State, at a cost of $6.5 million.

So what is Graham Spanier's version of the truth, as explained by Lewis? It's that none of the four senior Penn State officials implicated in the Freeh report—Spanier, Joe Paterno, on-leave athletic director Tim Curley, former senior vice president for business and finance Gary Schultz—had an inkling that Mike McQueary saw anything sexual when he witnessed Sandusky with a child in the PSU football building showers in 2001.

"First," Lewis said, "it assumes McQueary explicitly reported a sexual act to Coach Paterno." But according to Paterno's own grand jury testimony from January 2011, what McQueary told him was of "a sexual nature."

"It then assumes," Lewis went on, "that either Coach Paterno or McQueary reported a sexual act to either Curley, Schultz, or both." But according to Schultz's grand jury testimony, Paterno told him (and Curley) that McQueary had reported something "disturbing," "inappropriate," and that "maybe Jerry might have grabbed the young boy's genitals or something of that sort."

Press Conference By Lawyers For Former Penn State President Graham Spanier Was An Exercise In BullshitS

Lewis was on somewhat solid ground when he said Curley and Schultz never reported anything sexual to Spanier; it's true there is no evidence to indicate exactly what Spanier was told about the McQueary incident. But Spanier was aware of the 1998 investigation of Sandusky, and while that inquiry resulted in no criminal charges, it strains credulity to think none of these men was alarmed to learn three years later that Sandusky was again showering alone with a boy—especially given that Paterno ("sexual nature") and Schultz ("disturbing," "inappropriate") knew that something less than innocent had transpired. Besides, the Freeh report also discovered the email you see at left, in which Spanier, discussing the prospect of not reporting Sandusky to child welfare authorities, writes: "The only downside for us is if the message isn't acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it."

During a brief Q&A with reporters after Lewis's remarks, another of Spanier's attorneys, Jack Riley, was asked to explain what Spanier meant in that email. His reply? "Yes, um, No. 1, ultimately we're going to defer to Dr. Spanier to explain what he meant and intended." Oh, OK. Spanier, it should be noted, was not present at the press conference.

Spanier's lawyers did make a valid point when they insisted that Spanier had limited knowledge of the 1998 incident. The email evidence shows only that Spanier was copied on messages indicating that an investigation had been launched, and again once it had been closed. Nothing in the Freeh report shows that Spanier was informed of any of the '98 inquiry's particulars.

In his attack on Freeh, Lewis mentioned that Freeh never bothered to interview Dr. Jonathan Dranov, who Lewis said could have corroborated that McQueary had been vague in his report of the shower incident to Penn State officials. So let's examine Dranov's role in all of this. Dranov is a family friend of the McQuearys who was there on the night McQueary went to his father's house to tell him he had just seen Sandusky with the boy in the showers. Dranov told the grand jury that he had asked McQueary three times if he had seen anything sexual, and that McQueary said "no" each time. But Dranov did say McQueary had mentioned "sex sounds." McQueary, for his part, admitted at Sandusky's trial that, because he was embarrassed, he had refrained from being specific in his conversation with Dranov. In Joe Posnanski's just-released book, Dranov "conceded that McQueary might have been holding back." And in his trial testimony, Dranov said McQueary was "visibly shaken ... voice trembling, hands shaking" as he tried to explain to him what he saw.

Lewis also pointed out that Sandusky was found not guilty of the rape charge in connection with the McQueary incident. Which is true. But I explained the other day why that's irrelevant in a comment below this story.

More bullshit shoveled by Spanier's attorneys:

  • Exact quote from Lewis: "Even after he was fired by the board, all that McQueary told [Paterno] was that there was some sort of quote 'horseplay' going on. 'Horseplay' was referred to over and over and over again, but never with any sexual connotation, or suggestion of abuse."
  • The attorneys presented a letter from former Penn State football player Dr. Gary Gray, who said he met with Paterno in December, about a month after the scandal broke. Gray also said Paterno told him McQueary had never reported to him anything more than "horseplay."
  • "Horseplay," or, more specifically, "horsing around," was the justification Curley and Schultz used in their grand jury testimony for why they never reported Sandusky. Paterno did indeed use the phrase "horsing around" in an interview with Posnanski for Posnanski's book. But that interview took place after the scandal had broken. Paterno never used that phrase or anything like it before then. And, again, when he testified under oath before a grand jury in January 2011, Paterno said McQueary had told him he saw something of "a sexual nature." All the contrarian arguments run aground on that one phrase, said under oath by Paterno himself. It was his last good deed, in a way—to be clear about something people would spend the next few months trying to obfuscate.