Graham Spanier wants to be heard

Updated: July 24, 2012, 3:39 AM ET
By Don Van Natta Jr. | ESPN.com

Former Penn State president Graham Spanier wrote a letter to the Board of Trustees on Sunday night excoriating the Freeh report and imploring board members to believe that he did all he could as the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case unfolded over the past 14 years.

Spanier also requested to meet with board members "to set the record straight," according to the letter, which was obtained by ESPN's "Outside the Lines."

According to the Freeh report, Spanier, coach Joe Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz "failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade." The conspiracy of silence enabled Sandusky, convicted last month of 45 counts of sexual abuse of young boys, to continue to prey on his victims, often on campus or on trips to bowl games, the Freeh report concluded.

Spanier, who has not given a media interview since Penn State's board of trustees fired him as president in November 2011, vehemently disagrees with the Freeh report's findings.

"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, including service on the boards of four such organizations, two as chair of the board, would have knowingly turned a blind eye to any report of child abuse or predatory sexual acts directed at children," Spanier wrote to trustees. "As I have stated in the clearest possible terms, at no time during my presidency did anyone ever report to me that Jerry Sandusky was observed abusing a child or youth or engaged in a sexual act with a child or youth.

"This conclusion should have been abundantly clear to Mr. Freeh and his colleagues who interviewed me for five hours before their report was finished and interrogated scores of employees about me. Yet the report is full of factual errors and jumps to conclusions that are untrue and unwarranted."

A spokesman for the Freeh Group declined to comment Monday. David La Torre, a spokesman for Penn State, also declined to comment.

Spanier's wide-ranging letter, which offers the most complete defense of his actions, centers on three key points:

• His knowledge of and response to a 1998 report that Sandusky had showered with an 11-year-old boy on campus.

• His knowledge of the 2001 incident in which Penn State graduate assistant Mike McQueary entered the locker room at the Lasch Football Building and saw a naked boy, about 10 years old, being assaulted by a naked Sandusky.

• His discussions in 2011 with trustees and university counsel once the Sandusky allegations had been made public.

Spanier, former chairman of the NCAA Division I Board of Directors and a former member of the association's executive committee, said he was merely copied on two emails from Schultz to Curley about the 1998 report. "I have no recollection of any conversations on the topic or any other emails from that era sent to me or by me," he wrote. "It is public knowledge that the district attorney decided there was no crime to pursue. I don't understand how one could conclude from such evidence 'concealment' of a known child predator."

Spanier wrote that his knowledge of the 2001 incident was explained in detail to Freeh investigators. During that year, Spanier wrote, "I never heard a word about abusive or sexual behavior, nor were there any other details presented that would have led me to think along those lines."

Once the Sandusky criminal investigation escalated throughout 2011, Spanier wrote that he kept then-board chairman Steve Garban informed "to the fullest extent I was able, beginning on the Sunday after my grand jury appearance and in other discussions with trustee leaders." Spanier testified before the grand jury investigating the Sandusky allegations on April 13, 2011.

Garban, a longtime and influential member of Penn State's Board of Trustees, resigned last week, bowing to pressure by some of his fellow trustees who were angry at him for failing to alert them about the Sandusky criminal investigation.

Spanier further wrote that all of his actions were guided and followed by the university's general counsel at the time, Cynthia Baldwin. An attorney who represents Baldwin also has said that the Freeh report contains numerous inaccuracies.

In the letter, Spanier also points out that he has undergone significant background checks and received national top security clearance from the federal government in his new job -- clearance that required a review once the Sandusky matter became public last fall, he wrote. Spanier told Freeh investigators of this during a five-hour interview earlier this month, but it was omitted from Freeh's report, he wrote to the trustees.

Spanier, who wrote that he has a "heavy heart for the children who were victimized by Sandusky," said his reputation has been "profoundly damaged" by the Freeh report and individual trustees who have spoken negatively about him in public.

Don Van Natta Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He can be reached at don.vannatta@espn.com and on Twitter @DVNJr.

Don Van Natta Jr. | email

Senior writer, ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com