It’s been nearly 11 years since Graham Spanier resigned as president of Penn State and in that time he has not spoken about the Jerry Sandusky scandal in depth except to his wife, close friends and his lawyers. This month he breaks his silence in a comprehensive 512-page book in which he gives his version of the breakdown in the legal, media and academic systems that sustained the scandal.
A subdued Spanier is not the person he was as president. He was everywhere, even helping students move into their dormitories and later joining them at the annual dance marathon. He donned the Nittany Lion mascot costume and hosted President Bill Clinton at the Creamery. When a student was shot and killed on the HUB lawn, he was the face of Penn State. He ran with the bulls in Spain. He played racquetball when he could and even entertained as a magician. He was active in the local music scene, playing primarily with the Deacons of Dixieland but also with the Phyrst Phamily, the Rustical Quality String Band and Lost Faculties. However, what Spanier could not do in the past 11 years was tell the most dramatic part of his story.
Spanier spares no one in his retrospective, “In the Lions’ Den: The Penn State Scandal and a Rush to Judgment.” And for a good place to find who’s on his blame list, start reading on page 477, which is an 11-page chapter titled Who’s Who, in which Spanier provides readers with an alphabetical listing of the people he thinks committed injustices to both him and Penn State.
“The entire political, judicial, legal and media approach to this hurt this university and the central Pennsylvania community and the Pennsylvania community and higher education,” Spanier said in a three-hour interview with State College Magazine (SCM). Referring to Joe Paterno, Gary Schultz, Tim Curley and himself, Spanier added: “People the fingers were pointed at didn’t do anything wrong.”
In short, the Sandusky scandal was revealed and then exploded from a grand jury investigation by then Attorney General Tom Corbett, who went on to be a one-term governor and whose motives as well as those of his many successors have been questioned. Did Corbett want to jail a pedophile or was he politically ambitious and wanted to go on to higher office as well?
Spanier says that six different people, including two trustees and one former trustee, heard Corbett say that if he was elected governor, he was going to get rid of Spanier as president. In his book, Spanier says he did not fully appreciate that the Sandusky case would become a Penn State story rather than one about the Second Mile, a charity Sandusky founded and had worked for since 1999 after retiring as the defensive coach at Penn State.
Spanier senses that there was some personal animosity toward him. On the day Gov. Corbett announced a dramatic cut in Penn State’s appropriation, Spanier responded by saying: “Abraham Lincoln is weeping now,” an allusion to Lincoln’s role in creating land-grant colleges. Later Spanier and Corbett would meet in Pittsburgh, courtesy of John Surma, a Penn State trustee, and Corbett would explain that he wanted to give Penn State’s appropriation to the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, adding that Spanier should be OK with it because Penn State was so popular it would still attract many students. Spanier explained that would not help Penn State because the appropriation covers more than just undergraduates and says that he later came to realize that Corbett, a graduate of a private university (Lebanon Valley College), did not understand Penn State.
“He had no clue, no clue whatsoever,” Spanier says. In fact, Spanier points out in his book that many of the investigators and prosecutors were ignorant of Penn State’s role in the local community and the commonwealth and pressed their cases based on their ignorance rather than facts.
In the SCM interview, Spanier told a story about Corbett meeting at Carnegie House in State College with several of his biggest financial supporters, one of whom shared the details with Spanier.
“He (Corbett) was at that point way behind in the polls,” Spanier recounted. Corbett wanted to know why. “One of the people who is a very prominent name in central Pennsylvania, probably the wealthiest person in the area, says to him: ‘It’s what you did to Penn State. That’s why you’re going to lose the election.’”
Spanier’s source reported that Corbett got furious and flew into a rage. He lost the election by 10 points.
Second to Corbett in Spanier’s view is Louis Freeh, a former FBI director who was hired by Penn State to investigate and was paid $8.3 million for a report. The report, contends Spanier, was written to garner national headlines, claiming that Spanier, Schultz, Curley and Paterno “failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for a decade. These men concealed Sandusky’s activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community and authorities.”
In his book, Spanier refers to the report as a “work of fiction, a theory in search of evidence” and black mark on Paterno’s reputation. Spanier describes the report as written in “a morally self-righteous tone, delivered with an air of sanctimony, and designed to shock.” Spanier says he did not learn until 2018 that Freeh himself had proposed he be hired (in 2012). “Little did I know that day,” he writes, “that some members of the board already had Freeh in mind and that the governor, Freeh, Cynthia Baldwin and some members of the board had Paterno, Curley, Schultz, and me in their sights even before I stepped down.” A freelance journalist, Michael Sokolove, in a New York Times story about Spanier published in July 2014, wrote: “The case against Spanier is at best problematic, at worst fatally flawed.” The late Dick Thornburgh, a former U.S. attorney general and Pennsylvania governor, called the situation “a rush to injustice.”
In the SCM interview, Spanier said many would see Freeh as the number one culprit but realize that Corbett got the ball rolling. “It was not an organized conspiracy,” Spanier told SCM, “but it evolved in a conspiratorial way.”
One of the twists in this saga is how quickly the board accepted the Freeh Report and then later rejected it. Spanier notes in his book that in early 2016, the chair of the board, Keith Masser, had told the editorial board of USA Today that Freeh’s conclusions amounted to speculation. Another trustee, Keith Eckel, said he was surprised that Freeh had reached the conclusions he had and told a newspaper that he and others never accepted the conclusions of the report.
Three years before that, Spanier says board member Paul Silvis told him, in the presence of the former chair of the board of the Second Mile, Bob Poole: “Nobody on the Board of Trustees actually believes the Freeh Report.” Two years earlier, Spanier tells of a meeting of business executives in New York City in which some raised questions about Penn State based on the Freeh Report. One of the members of the panel, a Penn Stater, got a laugh by saying that Freeh’s job was to “throw a virgin into the volcano to appease the angry gods regardless of the facts.”
Shortly after the report was released, Spanier was charged with perjury, child endangerment, obstruction, failure to report and conspiracy to commit. A grand jury that had started out investigating Jerry Sandusky yoked in three other people; no one knows what would have happened to Paterno had he still been alive.
Spanier also expresses unhappiness with Surma, who was the vice chair of the board when Spanier and Paterno stepped down. Surma rose to the position because Steve Garban, who had been chair, realized that he had a conflict in that he had played football for Paterno, hired Schultz and Curley, and supported Spanier. Spanier says he later learned from a trustee that some members of the 2011 board felt railroaded by Surma and that he had been heavy handed. Spanier recalls that after Surma joined the board in 2007, he suggested that Spanier remove Paterno as head coach. And on the day the board actually removed Paterno, Surma first sought Spanier’s counsel. Spanier says in his book he questioned the wisdom of doing that because there were only three games left and Paterno had already given the board a letter saying that he was retiring at the end of the season.
Surma countered, “Joe will find a way to weasel out of the agreement.”
One recipient of much of Spanier’s ire is Cynthia Baldwin, who was Penn State’s general counsel and is one of the few people in this story to have been punished for her behavior. Spanier says she kept him in the dark about what the grand jury was doing, misrepresented her role in the proceedings and outright lied. When she did tell Spanier anything about the grand jury, she said three different times: “There’s nothing there.”
Baldwin told Spanier that she would represent Curley and Schultz but not Paterno, who wisely hired his own attorney. Spanier writes: “Shrugging her shoulders, she said it was Paterno’s right to have his own counsel, but she didn’t understand why he didn’t wish to rely on her, as Curley and Schultz were. Baldwin would later lie under oath about all of this.” Spanier learned later that behind closed doors, Baldwin said she represented Penn State. Spanier went before the grand jury believing she represented him.
Baldwin, a former state Supreme Court justice and chair of the university’s board of trustees, was formally reprimanded by her former judicial colleagues who said she had violated confidences of Spanier, Schultz and Curley and had been incompetent.
In a chapter cleverly titled “Media Culpa,” Spanier excoriates several reporters by name, especially Sara Ganim, who broke the Sandusky grand jury story and later won a Pulitzer Prize, and Chip Minemyer, who was then the editor of the Centre Daily Times. Spanier is frustrated that many reporters acted like tape recorders instead of fact finders and merely reported what came out of Freeh’s mouth and others. Spanier says that as “the story wore down” the news media did not follow through with corrective reporting.
Even today, some current news stories and editorials contain major fact errors. According to Spanier, any story that says he and Paterno were fired is inaccurate because Spanier resigned and Paterno’s retirement plans were known. As this story was being written, the Daily Collegian, the student newspaper at Penn State, published an editorial containing this fact error: “The university’s history of covering up former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky’s 45 counts of child sex abuse means there’s a heightened obligation to address issues the Penn State community is facing.” Of course, there was no such cover-up by Penn State. In a way, the book is corrective reporting, albeit from Spanier’s perspective.
Spanier believes that the judicial system failed, that many of the prosecutors pushed a certain narrative for political reasons or to protect themselves. Even the current attorney general, Josh Shapiro, now a candidate for governor, is criticized for his zealotry in prosecuting Spanier and seeing him incarcerated.
“I had only one vengeful thought during my incarceration for a crime I didn’t commit, namely that the politicians, prosecutors, and judges who had conspired to lock me up should spend five days, as I did, in solitary confinement, referred to as ‘The Hole.’” (Prison policy dictates that all incoming prisoners start their sentences in The Hole.)
Ultimately, Spanier spent two months in Centre County Prison. He writes about being strip searched 39 times. “The daily ritual,” he writes, “also included a breathalyzer test, temperature check, a medical questionnaire, and a full body x-ray. On six occasions I had to undress and urinate in front of COs for comprehensive drug screening. It was degrading and humiliating.” Overall, Spanier says prison was a cross between “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Animal House.”
Now a free man, he writes: “Our justice system is broken, and I need to be an advocate for change.”
Graham Spanier had a commercial publisher for his book until the company was sold and both the publisher and acquisitions editor lost their jobs. The remaining commercial publishers who were interested in the book wanted it cut in half.
“I just couldn’t do that,” Spanier says.
And so, with assistance from his unemployed acquisitions editor Spanier started his own publishing company, Gryphon Eagle Press. The gryphon has the head of an eagle and the body of a lion. “Justice. Truth. The Nittany Lion,” Spanier says. The title on the book’s cover is Penn State blue.
The book is 160,000 words and 512 pages. It has no footnotes and no index, which saved a few trees.
The book, listed at $21.99, can be purchased online from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. An audio version, voiced by Spanier, is also available. A book tour begins soon and current information can be found at spanierinthelions