Penn State looks ahead but scandal fallout lingers

Penn State looks ahead but scandal fallout lingers

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Almost every time Penn State leaders try to move forward, some event or milestone invariably renews focus on its recent, painful past.

A year after retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's arrest on child sex abuse charges, the fallout from one of the worst scandals ever in higher education promises to linger still for months, if not years, to come. New charges that former university president Graham Spanier and two other officials conspired to conceal allegations against Sandusky provided the latest agonizing reminder.

Sandusky, 68, was sentenced last month to at least 30 years in prison after being convicted in June on dozens of criminal counts covering allegations on and off campus. He has maintained his innocence and is pursuing appeals.

Speaking Friday in Washington, university president Rodney Erickson said ``we can expect more fallout'' with civil lawsuits and more criminal proceedings on the horizon.

Many alumni, students and State College residents are weary of the seemingly endless trickle of developments since Sandusky's arrest on Nov. 5, 2011.

Most students at the Hetzel Union Building lounge paid no attention Thursday to the news about the charges against Spanier airing on the big-screen television. They were more engrossed in texting friends or working on laptops.

Others questioned before a Bruce Springsteen concert that night in State College expressed a mix of apathy and anger about the latest charges, fatigue over yet another development in a year full of shocking ones. Many said they were tired of the media scrutiny.

Asked to describe the Sandusky investigation, Joe McDonald of State College said, ``Let's wait until it all plays out, and then we'll know more.''

And how has the school handled the aftermath of the scandal a year later?

``I think treading water, but let's wait until everything comes out,'' McDonald said before walking away.

Lawyers for Spanier and the other officials charged, athletic director Tim Curley and retired vice president Gary Schultz, have maintained their clients' innocence.

``People of this character do not do, have not done what they're charged with,'' Schultz's attorney Tom Farrell said after his client and Curley were arraigned on the new charges Friday. Curley and Schultz have also maintained their innocence to earlier charges of perjury and failing to report an abuse allegation.

In the year since Sandusky was first charged, the school has appeared to accept the inevitable tide of changes but worked to maintain control where it could. A ``moving forward'' message established from the stately Old Main administration building is part of a $2.5 million contract with public relations firms to repair the school's image.

Erickson, who took over after Spanier left under pressure four days after Sandusky's arrest, promised this week at the university's inaugural conference on child sex abuse prevention research and treatment that the school would be a leader on such issues.

And many recommendations that resulted from the school's investigation into the scandal have been put in place, including tighter security restrictions around athletic facilities. The new leaders of the board have promised to closely study the report's recommendations to improve governance and oversight.

The most popular move university leaders made was the hiring of new football coach Bill O'Brien. In the face of NCAA sanctions that could weaken the marquee football program, he has galvanized support among alumni, students and fans.

``We've really rebuilt as a university,'' senior Ingrid Kaplan said Thursday at the campus student union. ``There's still a lot of rebuilding because of the new charges ... but I think overall we've really come together as a university to show that this will not bring us down regardless of how bad the situation is.''

Sophomore Alexandra Busalacchi of Bethlehem, said she thought the school's new leadership has done a good job in tackling the problem of child abuse and reaching out to abuse victims, and that Freeh's report ``was a good acknowledgement of the situation.''

``We're focused on efforts to get better and better,'' Busalacchi said while volunteering a table selling ear warmers for the THON student charity for pediatric cancer patients and research. ``I'm definitely proud to be a member of our student body, and I think we've responded well.''

But for some, another casualty of the scandal was faith in the university and its governing board of trustees. Penn State drew negative reviews from outside Pennsylvania, and a groundswell of distrust remains among many in an alumni base of about 560,000 and the untold thousands of others whose only ties to the school are as football fans.

It stems in large part from the trustees' firing of the late Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno on the same day that Spanier left his job. Paterno was beloved as much in the community for his philanthropic efforts and focus on education as for his two national titles and hundreds of victories.

Anger bubbled over again after the publication of the report summarizing the school's investigation into the scandal, headed by former FBI director Louis Freeh. The university-sanctioned report accused Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz of covering up allegations to protect Penn State's image. Paterno's family and the school officials firmly contend the allegations are untrue.

Alumni were irritated that trustees accepted Freeh's report without doing a detailed review of it and that they also left unchallenged the NCAA's assertion that Penn State had a ``football-first'' culture. NCAA data released last month showed the Penn State football team had a record graduation rate of 91 percent, well above the major college average of 68 percent.

``We're not going to lose sight of the past, but this is about the future,'' said Larry Schultz, a 1980 Penn State graduate who has organized two ``Rally for Resignations'' this fall. ``What we're asking for is very, very simple. ... We want answers. We want the truth.''

The fallout from the scandal was not limited to campus. The criminal investigation into Sandusky has become a political issue, too. The probe began in early 2009 while Gov. Tom Corbett was Pennsylvania's attorney general. Corbett, a Republican who was elected governor in 2010, has said politics played no role in the investigation.

Kathleen Kane, the Democratic candidate for attorney general, has vowed that, if elected, she would demand an investigation into why it took years for Sandusky to be charged. Her Republican challenger, David Freed, has not ruled out a review of the case and has said that, if he were to come across any evidence that required a review, one would be done.

The fate of any investigation, yet another effect of the sex abuse scandal, will be decided in Tuesday's election. And the next day, Spanier is expected to be arraigned.



Penn State Progress site:

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How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

The Capitals found themselves in deep trouble on Saturday.

Game 5 at Capital One Arena provided Washington a golden opportunity to take a 3-2 lead in their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. A loss -- another home loss -- would have been a devastating blow.

After battling back from a 2-0 series deficit, to lose in Washington would mean facing elimination in Columbus. Game 5 was the game the Caps needed and it would have slipped away from them if not for Nicklas Backstrom.

The Caps’ most underrated superstar -- the one who is constantly overshadowed by the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby -- took center stage on Saturday as he tipped a Dmitry Orlov shot past Sergei Bobrovsky at 11:53 of overtime to seal the victory for Washington.

“It was just a good shot from [Orlov],” Backstrom said after the game. “I thought before he had a chance to block it, and I got a tip on it, and it’s usually what happens in the playoffs. Tip goals or rebound goals. That’s the way it is. It was nice.”

Backstrom’s overtime goal capped off a three-point night for the veteran center, who also scored in the first period and assisted on a goal from T.J. Oshie.

The team ended up needing every one of his points.

From the start, Columbus outplayed Washington. With the series tied 2-2, a best-of-three mentality took over and the Blue Jackets pushed hard for the pivotal Game 5 win.

It is in those very moments that team needs its superstar players to step up. In Game 3, it was Holtby who stole the show to help Washington steal a win in Columbus.

On Saturday, it was Backstrom.

Columbus converted a shorthanded goal to seize a 1-0 lead in what was shaping up to be a dominant first period. A fluke goal from Backstrom, however, made sure the score was knotted up, 1-1, after the opening frame.

With the puck behind the goal line, Backstrom tried to slip a pass through the crease. Bobrovsky got a piece of the puck with his stick, but the amount of spin on the pass forced the puck to carom off the stick, off the back of Bobrovsky himself, and into the net.

“I was trying to make a pass,” Backstrom said. “Honestly, got lucky. I don’t know who came back-door there but I was trying for him. I’ll take it.”

After a back and forth game, the Blue Jackets came out swinging to start the third. Down 3-2, Columbus tied the game just 2:30 in and made a real push to win the game in regulation. Washington was outshot 16-1 in the third and looked like they had no push at all.

But the Caps looked like a different team when they took the ice for the extra frame. What happened in between periods?

“As I was leaving the room after the period, I could hear guys, the right guys, all saying the right things,” head coach Barry Trotz said.

When later asked if one of those guys was Backstrom, Trotz said, “Absolutely. He's one of the leaders on our team. They were all talking about let's make sure we're doing the right things. There's a lot of pride, lot of good leadership in that room.”

Whatever Backstrom and the other leaders said did the trick. Washington made a strong push in overtime leading to Backstrom’s game-winning goal.

This isn’t the first time Backstrom has delivered. Saturday’s overtime tally is the fourth of his career. That’s the most in franchise history and tied for fifth in NHL history.

Through his efforts on the ice, the Caps were able to erase a bad first period and steal the win in overtime. But it also took a big effort off the ice to get the job done.

“If you just look at the scoresheet, that doesn't say enough of about Nick Backstrom, his contribution from in the dressing room to on the ice to key moments to key faceoffs,” Trotz said.

“I've been on his soapbox about how complete a player he is and I never really worry about Nick Backstrom. He's got enough games under his belt, he's got enough stats to back it up and he's played huge minutes and he's one of our leaders. He's a tremendous hockey player.”

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John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

After losing Game 1 and Game 2 at home, Alex Ovechkin declared "It’s going to be fun when we bounce back and going to tie the series and come back here and play Game 5 at home.”

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella seems to be taking a similar tactic.

The Capitals won Game 5 in overtime on Saturday in a game that could prove to be emotionally draining for the Blue Jackets in a number of ways.

  • It was Washington's third straight win
  • Columbus was the better team for the majority of the game, but still took the loss
  • The Blue Jackets now face elimination despite holding a 2-0 series lead to start and losing only once in regulation

Tortorella has become famous for his fiery postgame press conferences in the past, including abruptly walking out after Game 4's presser when he declared "We sucked" to the media.

Saturday's was another fun one.

In a presser that lasted less than two minutes, Tortorella twice said, "We'll be back here for Game 7."

After such a draining game, Tortorella was asked how he would get them ready for what is sure to be an emotionally charged Game 6.

"I won't have to say a damn word to them," Tortorella said. "No. We'll be back here for Game 7."

The Blue Jackets will have to win Game 6 in Columbus to make that happen.

Barry Trotz was asked for his reaction after Tortorella's comments.

"What else are you going to say? That's good. He wants to get it out there, he believes in his team just as I believe in my team. It's our job for that not to happen."