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Penn State aftermath: Fired former president denies knowing of abuse

Even as Penn State tried to digest the severe NCAA sanctions imposed on its athletic program, the school's former president, Graham Spanier, says he 'hadn't the slightest inkling' about the systematic sexual abuse.

By Staff writer / July 24, 2012

In this 2007 photo, Penn State University president Graham Spanier speaks during a news conference in Hershey, Pa. Spanier says he wouldn't have ignored child sexual-abuse complaints as Penn State's president because he was beaten repeatedly as a child.

Carolyn Kaster/AP/File

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Chicago

Former Penn State University President Graham Spanier says an investigative report released early this month is inaccurate regarding his role in the alleged cover-up of a sexual molestation scandal involving Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant football coach.

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In a letter sent to university trustees and published by ESPN Tuesday, Mr. Spanier says he “hadn’t the slightest inkling” about the systematic abuse by Mr. Sandusky until the release of a grand jury report last year that revealed systematic abuse by Sandusky over a 15-year period.

“Never would I stand by for a moment to allow a child predator to hurt children. I am personally outraged that any such abusive acts could have occurred in or around Penn State and have considerable pain that it could perhaps have been ended had we known more sooner,” he writes.

An internal investigative report prepared by former FBI Director Louis Freeh concluded that the decades of hero worship associated with Penn State’s football program resulted in top university officials – including Mr. Spanier and famed football coach Joe Paterno – looking the other way when it became apparent that Sandusky, an associate football coach, was molesting minors in athletic department lock room showers.

Also Tuesday, Spanier attorney Peter Vaira told the Associated Press that Spanier himself was a victim of physical abuse by his father, who broke his nose on several occasions.

In his letter to the trustees, Spanier referenced his early professional life in private practice, writing that 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.”

Spanier’s letter to the trustees came to light as Penn State tried to come to grips with the punishment meted out to the school’s athletic program Monday by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Following the release of the Freeh report, the NCAA imposed a $60 million fine on the school, temporarily banned the football team from bowl games, limited the number of athletic scholarships that could be awarded, and erased the team’s wins under Mr. Paterno, whose once glorious legacy has been damaged beyond repair.

The Freeh report found that Spanier “failed his duties as president” for not “promptly and fully advising the Board of Trustees about the 1998 and 2001 child sexual abuse allegations against Sandusky and the subsequent Grand Jury investigation of him.”

The report said that Spanier failed to report the abuse because he feared negative publicity. He was fired last November.

In his letter, Spanier said he had “no recollection of any conversations” related to e-mails the Freeh report says were copied to him relating to a 1998 incident. Regarding a 2001 incident, in which assistant football coach Mike McQueary reported witnessing Sandusky molesting a minor in the locker room showers, Spanier said the descriptions related to him did not reference any “abusive or sexual behavior” and he was told that “the witness wasn’t sure what he saw, since it was around a corner.”

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