Penn State president Eric Barron responded to revelations that Joe Paterno may have known about Jerry Sandusky’s abuse of children as early as 1971 and that as many as six of Paterno’s assistants personally witnessed Sandusky molesting children with an angry open letter declaring that the stories “should be difficult for any reasonable person to believe.”
The flood of allegations came after a published opinion in Penn State’s lawsuit against its insurance company revealed evidence in the case suggested Paterno had been told about Sandusky’s abuse in 1976, and that other coaches witnessed abuse in 1987 and 1988. Subsequent stories from NBC and CNN made even more damaging accusations from victims who said Sandusky had molested them as children, too. Barron’s response came, in his words, because “I have had enough”:
Over the past few days, allegations have surfaced from individuals who claim to be Sandusky victims and from unidentified individuals about the alleged knowledge of former University employees. None of these allegations about the supposed knowledge of University employees has been substantiated in a court of law or in any other process to test their veracity.
That’s not entirely true. In using the (still-sealed) sworn testimony of witnesses as evidence in ruling on several elements of summary judgment, the judge is in fact substantiating the veracity of that testimony. Furthermore, the university already confirmed that it has paid out settlements going back to 1971. Presumably PSU officials know the names they wrote on the checks they cut.
I want you to know I am appalled by the rumor, innuendo and rush to judgment that have accompanied the media stories surrounding these allegations. All too often in our society, people are convicted in the court of public opinion, only to find a different outcome when all the facts are presented.
In contrast, over the last two days we have worked to be diligent in reanalyzing the record of reports and depositions to ensure that our reactions and comments are both responsible and trustworthy.
First, the allegations related to Penn State are simply not established fact. The two allegations related to knowledge by Coach Paterno are unsubstantiated and unsupported by any evidence other than a claim by an alleged victim. They date from the 1970s. Coach Paterno is not alive to refute them. His family has denied them.
Again, see above; one of the two allegations were provided under oath, and cited as evidence of record in the course of making a ruling on partial summary judgment.
Second, we cannot find any evidence, related to a settlement or otherwise, that an alleged early assault was communicated to Coach Paterno. This raises considerable credibility issues as to this press report. Others cite assistant coaches that were witnesses or had knowledge — stating it as fact in headlines and text — even in the face of a denial and clear failure to corroborate from the individuals allegedly involved.
The 1976 incident is part of the public record in PSU’s case. It is not a press report.
Other stories are clearly incredulous, and should be difficult for any reasonable person to believe.
Eric Barron, a geologist whose previous position was as Florida State president, does not know what the word incredulous means. It was difficult for reasonable people to believe a major university would allow a known child molester to remain involved with its football program—and children—before the Sandusky story broke, too.
We should not be rendering judgments about the actions of Coach Paterno or any other former employees of Penn State based on incomplete, sensationalized media accounts.
Again, this all started as a result of the court’s published opinion on motions for summary judgment of a lawsuit between Penn State and its insurer—a lawsuit Penn State itself filed in an attempt to avoid paying settlements to Jerry Sandusky’s victims.
Unfortunately, we can’t control the 24/7 news cycle, and the tendency of some individuals in social media and the blogosphere to rush to judgment. But I have had enough of the continued trial of the institution in various media. We have all had enough. And while Penn State cannot always comment on allegations that emanate from legal proceedings, I thought it was important to let you know my reaction to the media frenzy that has ensued over the past few days. I am appalled.
I am incredulous.