Graham Spanier Makes the Rounds

August 23, 2012 at 4:40 pm 4 comments

Graham Spanier broke a more than nine-month silence yesterday, and began to tell his version of the events that brought his tenure as Penn State’s president to an abrupt end last November.

First, his attorneys held a news conference in Philadelphia to blast the Freeh report. (You can watch that news conference in its entirety here.) Then, ABC announced that correspondent Josh Elliott had conducted an interview with Spanier and that the network would show excerpts on World News Tonight, on Nightline, and on Good Morning America. Yesterday afternoon The New Yorker published substantial excerpts from a conversation Spanier had with Jeffrey Toobin last month. And this afternoon the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a short article quoting Spanier from a telephone interview conducted earlier today.

Here are a few highlights from Spanier’s media interviews.

On the 2001 shower incident. Spanier says he never was told that the incident involving Jerry Sandusky and a young boy in the Lasch Building showers was sexual in nature—only that there had been “horseplay” or “horsing around.” He told ABC’s Elliott: “I guess I was thinking back to my own childhood, where horseplay involved throwing water around, snapping towels. I didn’t ask about it, but that’s what I was conjuring up.”

On learning of the grand jury presentment Sandusky. Spanier told The New Yorker‘s Toobin that when he learned late last October that Sandusky about to be charged criminally, “I presumed it was about the one incident in the shower. Had I known then that it was going to be 45 counts of child molestation, I would have mobilized even more strongly to prepare for it.”

On his relationship with Joe Paterno. Spanier says it was one of his “great privileges in life” to have the chance to work with Paterno. “We occasionally disagreed on things,” he told ABC, “and Joe could be a handful. But he was, in my estimation, a person of great leadership ability. He wanted Penn State to be a great university; he always put academics first—we were always at or near the top in graduation rates. He didn’t break rules; Penn State was only one of two universities in the country that never had a major NCAA infraction. Joe was very committed to that; he would keep players out of an important game if they missed a class; he disciplined players.”

On the 2004 visit to Paterno’s house. Much has been made of the Sunday in the fall of 2004 when, as the story goes, Spanier and several others showed up on Paterno’s doorstep to tell the coach it was time to retire—and Paterno rebuffed them. In both the ABC interview and the New Yorker story, Spanier says that’s not what happened. Instead, it was Paterno who initiated talk of retiring: “We had had some down seasons, we were not doing well at that point in time,” Spanier told ABC, “and Joe knew that the football program was struggling and he was thinking very seriously about retirement—that maybe now was the time for change.”

Spanier, Paterno, and several others met several times about the possibility—at Paterno’s request, Spanier says—and Paterno went as far as to contact several coaches at other schools to assess their interest replacing him. “At the end of the last discussion, Joe said … ‘I can turn this around; I’d like another season to turn it around, and if we end up at 8-4 or 7-5, then I know it’s time. But I think I can do better.'” The following season, Penn State went 11-1, including an Orange Bowl win over Florida State. As Spanier told ABC: “[Joe] came back and did better. So I supported him in staying on.”

Obviously that’s a very different version of events from the one that Paterno has told. You can read Paterno’s version in this Post-Gazette article from December 2005, and it also appears in the new Joe Posnanski biography of Paterno.

On the NCAA sanctions. “The NCAA sanctions go well beyond the NCAA’s authority,” Spanier told the Inquirer today. “What they did to Penn State is unprecedented. It was done without a hearing and due process. I believe it to be wrong.” The problem, Spanier says, is that the Penn State trustees accepted the Freeh report. “I would have ‘received’ the Freeh report,” he told the Inquirer. “I would not have ‘accepted’ it. By accepting it, they have put themselves in a difficult situation with the NCAA, the Big 10, and other entities.”

The New Yorker interviewin particular is worth reading in its entirety. And you can watch video clips from the ABC interview here and here.

You probably need to take all of this new information—and, really, anything anyone says these days about the scandal—with a grain of salt. For any given event in this ongoing crisis, it seems like there are as many different versions of what happened as there were participants, and then some. And with practically everyone lawyered up, you know that legal considerations are probably influencing much of what’s being said. But Spanier’s take is worthy of consideration, and at the very least it contributes another piece of the bigger puzzle.

It’s not clear what prompted this media mini-blitz of the past 36 hours, or whether there’s any significance to the timing of it. Legal experts have speculated that the former president could still face criminal charges, and some in the media have wondered if he’s trying to get out in front of that. It’s also possible that it just took some time for Spanier and his attorneys to parse the 267-page Freeh report and do the legwork to develop a detailed rebuttal.

Guess we’ll just have to wait and see what develops from here.

Tina Hay, editor

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. John Denne  |  August 23, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    I thought the timing of this with respect to the Paterno biography was also interesting.

  • 2. Tina Hay  |  August 24, 2012 at 6:49 am

    John, that’s a really good point. I hadn’t thought of that.

  • 3. Nancy Valemtine  |  August 24, 2012 at 11:26 am

    Everyone in the Penn State Sandusky mess including the school ate being railroaded. This is the only polite way to put it. The board wanted things their way, so like the goverment of that unfair state, they bent in the direction the money told them to.

  • […] under which Graham Spanier stepped down as president: Spanier’s version, as told in media interviews this past week, and that of the trustees who spoke to the New York Times last […]

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