The scandal rocked a city, a state and a country. The antagonist was found guilty and locked up for good. Jerry Sandusky wasn’t alone. The university at which he excelled as a football coach was disgraced.
The Penn State assistant was just the beginning. What followed was the fall of top administrators, from the school president down and to an iconic coach. Then the lawyers hovered over the loot due victims like vultures circling their prey. The early story could have been summarized in a page. But in an economy of time it swelled into a chapter and ballooned into a book. The details amassed in the decade since require a tome.
Sandusky was a defensive coach under Joe Paterno for more than 20 years. In 2011, he was charged with 48 counts of sexual abuse of young boys that took place during a span of fifteen years. A year later, he was sentenced to 30-60 years in prison. For Sandusky, Penn State turned into State Pen.
Other top school officials went down with him. Vice President Gary Schultz served prison time as did athletic director Tim Curley. Graham Spanier, the school’s president was sentenced to prison too but he’s in poor health and has been fighting off imprisonment for multiple years. Child endangerment became dirty words in State College.
Joe Paterno, a coach with a glistening record for success on the field and off, was crucified for doing little to stop a miscreant doing nasty things to kids under his nose. A name synonymous with championships and a respectful graduation rate of his players, went from the penthouse to the outhouse.
Papa Joe, a local hero and a national gridiron legend was fired and his name was left to rot. The doomsayers were intractable. They painted Sandusky as a monster. And anything at Penn State Paterno was removed, shredded or expunged. Four decades of success meant nothing. They were wiped out in what seemed like a heartbeat. Like a despot, Paterno was gone.
The Sandusky saga became a monstrosity. Investigations, payouts, destroyed careers, painful testimonies, lawyers and more lawyers. While the stench of the ugliness still lingers somewhat ten years later, Penn State is functioning as a university and the football program is essentially back.
John Ziegler (left) is a passionate, investigative reporter in Southern California. He’s been on television and hosted a talk show on big-signaled KFI Radio. His roots though are in the Keystone State, albeit he was a fan of Notre Dame.
When the story broke his immediate reaction was to question why Paterno. The veteran coach was a man whose ethics were well chronicled. Why would he cover up heinous crimes involving child sex of a former assistant. To Ziegler, something didn’t sit right. He wasn’t convinced of what could be seen as a rush to judgment.
The reporter did what he does best. He spent years digging deep under the hood, conducting interviews and finding evidence that among other things in his view pegged Sandusky as a ‘chaste pedophile,’ one who did not commit sexual acts with his victims. Ziegler’s interviews also revealed that Coach Paterno was not fully informed of the allegations and could not have covered up the charges against Sandusky. John went on to produce a 32 minute mini-documentary on the scandal.
I’ve known Mike Agovino for some 35 years. He interned under me when I was running Katz Sports’ sales division. He continues to have a successful career, most recently in podcasting.
Mike lives out west and has always been a fan of Ziegler’s. When it came to investigative work, Ziegler was the cynosure in SoCal. Right or wrong, Agovino is convinced that John’s probe and analysis are spot-on.
Long story short, Agovino produced a multi-episode podcast that was released in April and is up to part five. You might say that Ziegler is the protagonist. The case is complicated with many supposed victims, politicians, lawyers, hired hands and motives. You’ll need Waze to follow the case, to get from one step to the next and to navigate through the twists and turns of multiple years.
The podcast is well done and worth a listen.
I spoke with Mike and asked him poignant questions:
What got you involved?
I had been a fan of John Ziegler from his work on The John and Ken Show at KFI Radio years ago.
I walked into this meeting (with him) knowing only that Ziegler claimed to have proof that Jerry Sandusky, the convicted pedophile from Penn State, was an innocent man and that he wanted to tell his story as a podcast. I sat for three hours listening to John share his experiences and the evidence gathered during his eight-year investigation into the case and his conviction could not have been stronger.
I took the time to read, listen and watch much of the original coverage of the case. I read Ziegler’s blog posts, watched his mini-documentary, The Framing of Joe Paterno and read the book, The Most Hated Man In America by Mark Pendergrast. I also watched the HBO film Paterno and a documentary called Happy Valley.
What convinced you that Ziegler was up to something-that he might be right and that an innocent man is behind bars?
I met up with John again and this time I was prepared to ask him some specific questions…
Why would Penn State fire Joe Paterno, their beloved coach of nearly 50 years, if they weren’t certain this was all true? Why would Penn State pay settlements to such a large number of victims if their stories were untrue? How could there be this many accusers and it not be true?
John’s answers to these questions and numerous others convinced me that his story needed to be told.
How did you go about telling Ziegler’s version?
This story can’t be told in eight one-hour episodes like so many true crime series. This story is far more complex and the burden of proof is much, much higher. Therefore, we didn’t want to leave anything for chance so we are leaving nothing out. We take you on a journey that begins day one through the first-person account of John Ziegler, a man who has lived it every day for nearly a decade.
Ziegler and his family have endured much pain and ridicule throughout his quest for answers. John is a rare breed of journalist by today’s standards. He steadfastly refuses to go along to get along and refuses to accept his role as anything other than truth seeker. This approach can threaten people with things to hide and his persistence has cost him his career.
How about Paterno?
Joe Paterno (right, with Sandusky) famously said, “With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.” Many news accounts of what Joe said left out the first piece and merely repeated the latter, “I wish I had done more”, declaring it a confession of sorts.
We don’t believe that was Joe’s intent at all so we’ve adopted the former piece of his statement, “with the benefit of hindsight”, as the title of our podcast series. This is particularly apropos because we’ve had the benefit of nearly a decade worth of hindsight to review the evidence, investigate the accuser stories, build an understanding of who Jerry Sandusky is and analyze the motivations of Penn State’s Board of Trustees, state prosecutors, the police, lawyers, therapists, accusers and the media.
Do you believe that Sandusky was falsely convicted and imprisoned?
This will sound as crazy to you as it did to me the first time I heard it but Jerry Sandusky never abused any child and Joe Paterno and the Penn State administrators never covered up any crimes. The entire case is an egregiously frightening example of what can happen when we are stripped of our due process rights. There is an enormous delta between a doctrine that says, “Take all allegations seriously” and one that says, “Believe all accusers.”
Journalism has been reduced to polar narratives and the media are required to shape stories to conform to the narrative pole of their affiliated outlet. It’s a competition for audience not a quest for truth. The Penn State scandal was one of the first major stories contorted to fit this new paradigm. The media instantly went for the clicks generated from a juicy narrative. The waters of public opinion were polluted by a relentless media onslaught and a moral panic ensued that capsized and drowned the truth.
Tell us more please how the media treat the story
The media drove the message and the messaging created a moral panic. Within just a few days not only was Jerry Sandusky convicted in the court of public opinion but so too were Paterno, Spanier, Vice President Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley.
Today, whether you work for a legacy newspaper, an online publisher, a TV network, cable news channel or most any source of news content your job is to deliver ratings because ratings equal revenue. The more listens, views, downloads, streams, clicks, shares, likes, re-tweets etc. your story delivers the more money you and your employer rake in. The fall from grace of the iconic Paterno, a “fraud that enabled a serial child predator for years”, was a juicy narrative that drove the news cycle for months.
Refresh us – why did Sandusky retire as Defensive Coordinator at a relatively young age, 55?
Jerry Sandusky founded the Second Mile in 1979 as a tribute to his father, Art. Jerry vowed to continue Art’s legacy of working with underprivileged kids. The discord between Paterno and Sandusky primarily had to do with Sandusky’s dedication to his charity. Paterno believed Sandusky spent too much time with The Second Mile and not enough on his coaching responsibilities. Paterno’s ire toward Sandusky grew to the point that he informed Sandusky in early 1998 that he would not be Joe’s choice to replace him when he retired.
What was Sandusky’s history like at the Second Mile? Any complaints?
From 2009 through late 2010 police questioned over 600 former Second Mile kids about their interactions with Sandusky. Not a single Second Miler claimed anything inappropriate had ever occurred. Investigators became increasingly frustrated as hundreds of men recalled their younger days in The Second Mile fondly and Jerry as a caring and devoted man who had made a difference in their lives.
Star witness Mike McQueary, what’s your take ?
Mike McQueary was the only eyewitness to an incident involving Sandusky. The attorney general told us in the presentment that McQueary witnessed Jerry Sandusky having anal sex with a 10 year-old boy in a Penn State shower. The entire case hinged on McQueary’s testimony and perceived credibility.
At the time of the infamous “boy in the shower” incident Mike McQueary was unsure of exactly what he had witnessed. He told five different people at the time what he had seen. Those people were his father John McQueary, family friend Dr. Jonathan Dranov, Joe Paterno, Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley and Penn State Vice President Gary Schultz.
Each and every one of these people, including his own father, testified that Mike did not tell them he witnessed sexual abuse or a sexual act! He told five people at the time and each, including his own father, confirmed that he did not claim to have witnessed a sexual act. This is consistent with the fact that he took no action in the moment despite being thirty-some years younger than Sandusky and very fit at 6’ 4” 225lbs.
What was your goal in producing this podcast?
With the Benefit of Hindsight has been a tremendous undertaking. We began with the understanding that the bar to prove Sandusky’s innocence is set much, much higher than the bar to prove his guilt. Therefore, we examine the case in exhaustive detail, we expose the liars and cheats, we relive the biggest moments, we interview key people and we follow John every step of the way in his truth quest.
Millions of people have a narrative of this case deeply engrained in their heads. Twenty-four months ago I had that same narrative in my head-but it’s wrong. It’s clearly, deeply, disturbingly wrong! Ziegler defiantly and selflessly questioned everything and found a truth that presents an existential threat worthy of deep consideration.
Our desire to believe all victims and trust the media runs so deep in modern society that we have surrendered the due process rights of the accused. The pendulum has swung and the burden of proof has traded resting places. We must take hold of that pendulum and swing it back or bear the consequences.