April 6, 2012

The Risks of Poor Governance: The Case of Penn State/Second Mile Scandals

             Last November, the worlds of sports, nonprofits, and higher education were rocked by an abuse scandal involving Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach for Penn State and founder of The Second Mile, a charity serving at-risk children. According to the grand jury report, Sandusky founded Second Mile in 1977 and was its primary fundraiser. He solicited his victims from young men served by the agency, inviting them to professional and collegiate football games, giving them gifts, coaching them in sports and weight lifting, and having them sleep at his home. He is accused of routinely fondling boys, demanding they shower with him, and seeking physical contact through back rubs and wrestling, all of which are considered strategies by which pedophiles “groom their victims”. (See article below.)

            In 1998 Sandusky was investigated after a mother questioned why her son had wet hair upon returning from an outing with him. In a surveillance phone call, Sandusky admitted showering with her son, expressed remorse, and promised never to do so again. No charges were filed against Sandusky and it is not clear whether Second Mile was notified of the incident. However, Wendell Courtney, who served as Counsel for both Penn State and Second Mile, reviewed the investigation report at the time.

            In the fall of 2000, a janitor named Jim Calhoun observed Sandusky in the showers of the football facility performing oral sex on a boy. Calhoun, upset and crying, reported it to his colleagues and supervisor. The supervisor advised him of where to report the incident, should he choose to do so. It appears no report was made.

            In 2002, Mike McQueary, a 28-year-old Penn State graduate assistant heard a shower running late at night in the football building and saw a naked boy being subjected to anal intercourse by Sandusky. McQueary reported it to his father, and the next day to the Head Football Coach, Joe Paterno, who in turn reported it to the Athletic Director and a Penn State Senior Vice President. Approximately 10 days later, the graduate assistant gave his account directly to the administrators, and two weeks after that, he was told that Sandusky’s keys had been taken away and that the incident had been reported to Dr. Jack Raykovitz, the Executive Director of Second Mile.

            In November, 2011, Jerry Sandusky was charged with the sexual abuse of eight boys, The Penn State Athletic Director and Senior VP were arraigned on making false statements to a grand jury and failure to report child abuse. They lost their jobs, as did the Head Football Coach and the University President. Raykovitz, who had served as Executive Director of the Second Mile for 28 years, resigned. Since then, at least two task forces have been empaneled to examine the institutional responses to this case, more victims have been identified, more staff have been suspended, fired or have resigned.

Like other scandals, this has far-reaching effects for the nonprofit sector. It erodes philanthropic support for charitable causes. It creates suspicion on the part of those who entrust nonprofits with care of vulnerable individuals. It diminishes public trust and casts a pall on the positive impulses that draw many to social service work. It also raises questions that can be instructive to others who wish to avoid and mitigate future scandals. For example:

·       Why was Jerry Sandusky allowed ongoing access to Second Mile clients?

·       In whose interests was Wendell Courtney acting when he reviewed the 1998 abuse report? Did he take any further action with either organization?

·       Why did Penn State and Second Mile fail to act on explicit reports of child abuse?

·       How could the harms to children, organizations and careers have been avoided?

Next week’s blog will address these questions and identify the lessons nonprofits and their boards can take away from the PSU/Second Mile case.
Moral Courage,
Apr 6, 2012, 2:00 PM