Former Penn State President Graham Spanier spoke to The New Yorker recently — his first formal interview published since the whirlwind of news surrounding his handling of reports that former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was abusing boys.
A significant amount of criticism was directed at Spanier after the release of former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s investigative report on Penn State. Freeh’s investigators were hired by the Penn State Board of Trustees in November to look into university officials’ handling of reports involving Sandusky.
Freeh’s report, which came out on July 12, released numerous emails that investigators concluded were proof of an administrative cover-up or conspiracy to keep reports about Sandusky secret.
In one of the emails, Spanier responds to former athletic director, Tim Curley’s decision to “go the extra mile” and meet with Sandusky before reporting the incident to The Second Mile by telling Curley he thought it was a very “humane” way to handle the situation.
“I think what many people wanted to read into it was that it was humane for us not to turn him in for being a known child predator. But I never, ever heard anything about child abuse or sexual abuse or my antennae raised up enough to even suspect that. So I know that’s been taken out of context, and I suspect that whoever leaked those e-mails wanted them to be taken out of context,” Spanier told The New Yorker.
He also told The New Yorker that he was surprised when he found out that the investigation surrounding Sandusky was about child sex abuse. He said former Penn State General Counsel Cynthia Baldwin did not tell him what the investigation was about. According to The New Yorker, Spanier said he told Baldwin that he would speak with anyone in the grand jury whenever they wanted to speak with him. He said he did not know anything about the testimonies of other Penn State officials, including Curley and former Interim Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz.
During his interview with Jeffery Toobin of The New Yorker, Spanier also said that the late former head football coach Joe Paterno was planning to retire after the 2011 season — of that Spanier said, he is certain.
Spanier said the Penn State Board of Trustees knew that Paterno planned to retire when they made the decision to fire him in November — just three regular-season games before the end of the season.
Spanier said an agreement was drafted by Spanier and Paterno, detailing Paterno’s plan to retire following the end of the football season.
In an interview with ABC News’ Josh Elliot that appeared on World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer Wednesday night, Spanier refused to admit failure on his part.
"I wish in hindsight I had known more about Jerry Sandusky," Spanier said in the interview.
Spanier said the Freeh report’s conclusions were “absolutely wrong.” A spokesperson for Freeh Sporkin and Sullivan they said they are standing by the report’s accuracy.
Spanier said that when he heard the word “horseplay” -- which is how the acts that Sandusky committed were described to him -- his mind never wandered to a sexual nature. He said he thought of how the word was used in his childhood, which involved throwing water around or slapping towels.
“I didn’t conjure up anything more than what I thought was simply horesplay,” he said on the interview. "It's not in my nature to go around thinking the worst of people."
Spanier said in another portion of the interview that he never received a report of anything sexual in nature but had he known, he would have “forcefully intervened.”
But Spanier’s engagement with Sandusky was minimal. Spanier said he had only met the former coach once and was only partially involved with reports that the coach engaged in inappropriate behavior on Penn State grounds in 1998 and again in 2001.
Referring to the 1998 incident, Spanier said he did not get involved in police matters. But after a police investigation, the Department of Public Welfare and prosecutors did not charge Sandusky for abusing a child at that time.
“I always had a very hands-off attitude and issues pertaining to people were dealt with by the police, by human resources, or by supervisors in various areas of the university," Spanier said.
But in 2001, when then-assistant coach Mike McQueary reported hearing sexual noises and seeing an underage boy in the shower with Sandusky, Spanier had been copied on emails pertaining to the incident.
Yet, when Spanier agreed with Curley and Schultz via email that Sandusky could be let off with a warning and a “promise that he would get professional help,” he added that they would be “vulnerable” for not reporting it.
Spanier said in the interview that he had chosen the wrong vocabulary in that email, clarifying that “it was a reaction to the possibility that [they] didn’t want this to happen.”
On the topic of the late Paterno, Spanier said he opposed the decision to fire him. He added that he and Paterno had "secretly" signed and agreement that Paterno would retire at the end of the 2012 season.