2011-12-12 / Focus

At Penn State, those in the know explained away Sandusky, or looked away

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — The warning signs were there for more than a decade, disturbing indicators that Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was breaching boundaries with young boys — or maybe worse.

Yet the university’s top administrators kept allowing, even encouraging, Sandusky to invite some of those boys into campus sports buildings — locker rooms, showers, a sauna and a swimming pool — where prosecutors now say he fondled, molested and sexually assaulted some of the most vulnerable in the place known as Happy Valley.

Too many, from the university president to department heads to janitors, knew of troubling behavior by this revered, longtime coach who founded a charity for children with hardscrabble backgrounds. But at this school whose sports programs vow “success with honor,” the circle of knowledge was kept very limited and very private.

Year after year, Penn State missed opportunity after opportunity to stop Sandusky. Secrecy ruled, and reaction to complaints of improper sexual behavior was to remain silent, minimize or explain away — all part of a deeprooted reflex to protect the sacred football program.

The fact that so few say they knew is all anyone needs to know about the insular culture that surrounds Penn State — a remote and isolated community in a central Pennsylvania valley, a university cloaked in so much secrecy, in large part, because it is exempt from the state’s open records law, and a football program that has prided itself on handling its indiscretions internally and quietly, without outside interference.

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