Pictorial essay on how Penn State’s “football culture” adversely affects disabled students

[Readers: Sadly, in July 2012 nothing has changed to guarantee the safety of disabled students regarding the hazards described in this photo essay written in 2006. See note at the end of the essay for more information on how this essay came to be written and why nothing has yet been done to secure the safety of disabled students.]

Unmarked dangers to disabled students

October 8, 2006

TO: Dr. Richard Devon
FROM: Joel Solkoff
SUBJECT: Unmarked dangers to wheelchair, scooter, power chair riders and the blind immediately to the left of the Leonard Building.

The Leonard Building is a useful landmark for people going from the White Course graduate dormitories in the direction of the Atherton Bridge and the crossings on Atherton Road that do not involve going across the bridge’s steep incline.

 Photo 1: Front of the Leonard Building.

Looking at the map, if you go left and then across the Applied Sciences building, there appears to be a convenient right at the bridge at the Information and Technology building. Or, working one’s way through the White Course Parking lot, there eventually is a street cut, making it possible to cross Atherton on a level area.

My concern in September, 2006 was that after frequent crossings on the bridge, I would wind up on the sidewalk at Burrowes Road, going in the direction of College Avenue, only to find, on one of several occasions as many of three wet/drying pieces of sidewalk concrete and no place for a scooter to comfortably get around the often heavy traffic. So, I was driving my scooter around Leonard in the hope of finding a more convenient path to College Avenue.

Photo 2: It looks safe enough. No warning signs. Well-maintained concrete. Well-tended grass.

Photo 3: You can see my shadow as the scooter continues.

Photo 4: I am trying to give you a sense of how innocent this passage appears.

Photo 5. It suddenly is not innocent any more.

Photo 6. I don’t see these steps until my scooter nearly falls down them.

Power chairs and wheelchairs are similarly low to the ground. Indeed, the blind have no way of knowing about this likely danger.

Photo 7. A graduate student running up these stairs to go to classes passes me and watches me taking photographs.

“Can I help you?” she says. “Yes, take my picture.” She does, rushing back up the stairs, wishing me luck.

[Note: The reference to “football culture” in the title of this post refers to the Freeh Report on the scandal at Penn State released in July 2012. It is my contention, as a former graduate student at Penn State with a disability and as one who is part of the elderly community, that the focus by powerful officials on football-above-all has also been used to cover up exploitation of disabled and elderly students and students who are veterans (especially disabled-veterans) and to discourage recruitment of such individuals to become students.

[During the Fall Semester of 2006, I successfully completed a graduate-level independent study course at the Department of Engineering with Dr. Richard Devon. The focus of my study was access for individuals with disabilities on Penn State‘s University Park campus. The photographic essay above is one of several documents provided to Dr. Devon, whose sponsorship provided me with the ability to interview Penn State officials responsible for disability services and the construction and maintenance of the physical design of the campus to meet the special needs of individuals with disabilities.

[I showed this essay to officials responsible for correcting hazards to individuals with disabilities. I received detailed confidential explanations that correcting them to assure safety was impossible since it would involve putting up signs and drawing attention to the presence of disabled individuals which President Graham Spanier had personally prohibited because of his concern that parents of prospective football players would be dissuaded from attending Penn State if they thought the school appeared to have too many individuals with disabilities.

[The dangers described in this essay continue despite the awareness of responsible officials. The requirement to change the “culture of football” which continues these abuses to disabled students continues to pose a challenge to the Trustees and Administrators at Penn State who are under the illusion that the findings of the Freeh report are limited to the sexual predatory practices of an individual who is now in jail and to former officials who failed to protect children.

[I plan to continue documenting details on the wide-ranging abuses by Penn State toward individuals who are disabled (including veterans), the elderly, and the community which is economically dependent upon Penn State until these abuses are recognized as part of what is popularly known as the Sandusky sex scandal and until these abuses are corrected. As Judge Freeh observed, wide-range reform is required for Penn State to recover from the worst scandal in its history and once again demonstrate that it is an institution devoted to education and the welfare of its students, faculty, employees, and community. “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.”] 


Report by former FBI director Louis Freeh’s on the scandal at Penn State

Beaver Stadium where Penn State plays football at home

The following Executive Summary, Findings and Recommendations are six pages from the downloadable 267 page:

Report of the Special Investigative Counsel Regarding the Actions of  The Pennsylvania State University Related to the Child Sexual Abuse committed by Gerald A. Sandusky

[Note: The Board of Trustees of Penn State hired former FBI director Louis Freeh’s firm Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan, (FSB) LLP, (with offices in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Wilmington Delaware), to conduct this report. Freeh said, “In performing this work, we adhered faithfully to our original mandate: to investigate this matter fully, fairly, and completely, without fear or favor. We have shown no favoritism toward any of the parties, including the Board of Trustees itself, our client.” The New York Times reported: “In an investigation lasting more than seven months, Louis J. Freeh, a former director of the F.B.I., found a legendary football coach bending his supposed bosses to his will, a university staff that was mostly unaware of its legal duties to report violence and sexual abuse, and a university president who hid problems from the board of trustees and was guided by a fear of bad publicity.”

[Louis J. Freeh is a former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) and a former federal judge. At the FBI, one of the investigations he conducted was of the 1996 explosion and crash of TWA Flight 800 killing all 230 persons on board shortly after it took off from John F. Kennedy International Airport. “FSS has an unmatched ability to provide key strategic counsel to obtain optimum results for its clients in myriad situations, including those requiring resolution of complex litigation-related issues, creative and practical crisis management solutions, or judicious and effective interaction with the most senior foreign and domestic government officials,” according to its website.

[“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State, ” Judge Freeh said in remarks introducing the release of the report on July 12, 2012. “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized. Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky’s victims until after Sandusky’s arrest.”]



On November 4, 2011 the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (”Attorney General”) filed criminal charges against Gerald A. Sandusky (”Sandusky”) that included multiple counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, corruption of minors, unlawful contact with minors and endangering the welfare of minors. Several of the offenses occurred between 1998 and 2002, during which time Sandusky was either the Defensive Coordinator for The Pennsylvania State University (”Penn State” or ”University”) football team or a Penn State professor Emeritus with unrestricted access to the University’s football facilities. On November 4, 2011, the Attorney General filed criminal charges against the University’s Athletic Director (”AD”) Timothy M. Curley (”Curley”) and Senior Vice President Finance and Business (”SVP-FBh”), Gary C. Schultz (”Schultzh”) for failing to report allegations of child abuse against Sandusky to law enforcement or child protection authorities in 2002 [This date was later determined by the Special Investigative Counsel to be 2001.] and for committing perjury during their testimony about the allegations to the Grand Jury in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, in January 2011.

On June 22, 2012, a Centre County jury in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania found Sandusky guilty of 45 counts of the criminal charges against him. As of the date of this report, the charges against Curley and Schultz have not been heard by the court.

The criminal charges filed against these highly respected University and community leaders are unprecedented in the history of the University. Several senior University leaders who had knowledge of the allegations did not prepare for the possibility that these criminal charges would be filed. In the days and weeks surrounding the announcement of the charges, University leaders (referred to on campus as “Old Main”) and the University’s Board of Trustees (“Board” or ”Trustees”), struggled to decide what actions the University should take and how to be appropriately transparent about their actions. The high degree of interest exhibited by members of the University community, alumni, the public and the national media put additional pressure on these leaders to act quickly.

On November 11, 2011, the Trustees formed the “Special Investigations Task Force (“Task Force”) of the Board of Trustees of The Pennsylvania State University” and selected Trustees Kenneth C. Frazier and Ronald J. Tomalis to lead its efforts. On November 21, 2011 the Task Force engaged the law firm of Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan, LLP (”FSS”) as Special Investigative Counsel, to conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the criminal charges of sexual abuse of minors in or on Penn State facilities by Sandusky; the circumstances leading to the criminal charges of failure to report possible incidents of sexual abuse of minors; and the response of University administrators and staff to the allegations and subsequent Grand Jury investigations of Sandusky. In addition, the Special Investigative Counsel was asked to provide recommendations regarding University governance, oversight and administrative procedures that will better enable the University to effectively prevent and respond to incidents of sexual abuse of minors in the future.

The Pennsylvania State University is an outstanding institution nationally renowned for its excellence in academics and research. There is a strong spirit of community support and loyalty among its students, faculty and staff. Therefore it is easy to understand how the University community was devastated by the events that occurred.


The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims. As the Grand Jury similarly noted in its presentment, there was no ”attempt to investigate, to identify Victim 2, or to protect that child or any others from similar conduct except as related to preventing its re-occurrence on University property.”

Four of the most powerful people at The Pennsylvania State University–President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade. These men concealed Sandusky’s activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community and authorities. They exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well-being, especially by not attempting to determine the identity of the child who Sandusky assaulted in the Lasch Building in 2001. Further, they exposed this child to additional harm by alerting Sandusky, who was the only one who knew the child’s identity, of what McQueary saw in the shower on the night of February 9, 2001.

These individuals, unchecked by the Board of Trustees that did not perform its oversight duties, empowered Sandusky to attract potential victims to the campus and
football events by allowing him to have continued, unrestricted and unsupervised access to the University’s facilities and affiliation with the University’s prominent
football program. Indeed, that continued access provided Sandusky with the very
currency that enabled him to attract his victims. Some coaches, administrators and
football program staff members ignored the red flags of Sandusky’s behaviors and no
one warned the public about him.

By not promptly and fully advising the Board of Trustees about the 1998 and 2001 child sexual abuse allegations against Sandusky and the subsequent Grand Jury investigation of him, Spanier failed in his duties as President. The Board also failed in
its duties to oversee the President and senior University officials in 1998 and 2001 by
not inquiring about important University matters and by not creating an environment
where senior University officials felt accountable.

Once the Board was made aware of the investigations of Sandusky and the fact
that senior University officials had testified before the Grand Jury in the investigations,
it should have recognized the potential risk to the University community and to the
University’s reputation. Instead, the Board, as a governing body, failed to inquire
reasonably and to demand detailed information from Spanier. The Board’s overconfidence in Spanier’s abilities to deal with the crisis, and its complacent attitude
left them unprepared to respond to the November 2011 criminal charges filed against
two senior Penn State leaders and a former prominent coach. Finally, the Board’s
subsequent removal of Paterno as head football coach was poorly handled, as were the
Board’s communications with the public.

Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley gave the following reasons for taking no action to identify the February 9, 2001 child victim and for not reporting Sandusky to the authorities:

  • Through counsel, Curley and Schultz stated that the ”humane” thing to do in 2001 was to carefully and responsibly assess the best way to handle vague but troubling allegations. According to their counsel, these men were good people trying to do their best to make the right decisions.
  • Paterno told a reporter that ”I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was. So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”
  • Spanier said, in his interview with the Special Investigative Counsel, that he never heard a report from anyone that Sandusky was engaged in any sexual abuse of children. He also said that if he had known or suspected that Sandusky was abusing children, he would have been the first to intervene.

Taking into account the available witness statements and evidence, the Special
Investigative Counsel finds that it is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid
the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the University–Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley– repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the Universityfs Board of Trustees, the Penn State community, and the public at large.

The avoidance of the consequences of bad publicity is the most significant, but not the only, cause for this failure to protect child victims and report to authorities. The investigation also revealed:

  • A striking lack of empathy for child abuse victims by the most senior leaders of the University.


From the results of interviews with representatives of the University’s Office of Human Resources, Office of Internal Audit, Office of Risk Management, Intercollegiate Athletics, Commonwealth Campuses, Outreach, the Presidentfs Council, Faculty Senate
representatives and the Board of Trustees, and benchmarking similar practices at other large universities, the Special Investigative Counsel developed 120 recommendations for consideration by University administrators and the Board in the following eight areas:

  • The Penn State Culture
  • Administration and General Counsel: Structure, Policies and Procedures
  • Board of Trustees: Responsibilities and Operations
  •  Compliance: Risk and Reporting Misconduct
  • Athletic Department: Integration and Compliance
  • University Police Department: Oversight, Policies and Procedures
  • Programs for Non]Student Minors and Access to Facilities
  • Monitoring Change and Measuring Improvement

These recommendations are detailed in Chapter 10 of this report, and include several that the Special Investigative Counsel recommended to the Board in January 2012. The recommendations made at that time were designed to assist the University in  preparing for its upcoming summer programs for children. These steps should assist the University in improving structures, policies and procedures that are related to the protection of children. Some of these recommendations will help the University more fully comply with federal and state laws and regulations dealing with the protection of children. Other recommendations support changes in the structure and operations of the Board, or promote enhancements to administrative processes and procedures. Most importantly, the recommendations should create a safer environment for young people who participate in its programs and use its facilities.

One of the most challenging of the tasks confronting the Penn State community is transforming the culture that permitted Sandusky’s behavior, as illustrated throughout
this report, and which directly contributed to the failure of Penn State’s most powerful
leaders to adequately report and respond to the actions of a serial sexual predator. It is
up to the entire University community – students, faculty, staff, alumni, the Board, and
the administration – to undertake a thorough and honest review of its culture. The current administration and Board of Trustees should task the University community,
including students, faculty, staff, alumni, and peers from similar institutions and outside experts in ethics and communications, to conduct such a review. The findings from such a review may well demand further changes.


Old Main, Administration Building at Penn State


New column speaks to disabled, elderly issues–from Voices of Central Pennsylvania

July 2017. State College/University Park, PA. Years later, this reflection on the Sandusky scandal still rings true:

“As a former graduate student at Penn State with a disability and as one who is part of the elderly community, the focus by powerful officials on football-above-all has also been used to cover up exploitation of disabled and elderly students and students who are veterans (especially disabled-veterans) and to discourage recruitment of such individuals to become students. Also, this exploitation has extended to the community economically dependent on Penn State.”

Note: I am in the process of critiquing the report issued by former FBI Director Louis Freeh issued in July of 2012. The report, which was commissioned by the Board of Trustees at Penn State, concerned what is popularly referred to as the Sandusky sex scandal. Freeh, in issuing the report, pointed out the danger of the "football culture" at Penn State which gave license to officials in power to ignore predatory sexual practices on children. 
As a former graduate student at Penn State with a disability and as one who is part of the elderly community,the focus by powerful officials on football-above-all has also been used to cover up exploitation of disabled and elderly students and students who are veterans (especially disabled-veterans) and to discourage recruitment of such individuals to become students. Also, this exploitation has extended to the community economically dependent on Penn State. As partial background regarding this contention, I am here republishing the monthly column I wrote for Voices of  Central Pennsylvania, then edited by the gifted Suzan Erem. The column appeared from October of 2009 until February of 2011. What follows is the first column.

From Where I Sit

In high school I was a junior befriended by a sensual senior who shared her physical love with others, but talked philosophy to me. I would have preferred it the other way around, but I had no choice. If I wanted to benefit from the privilege of being in her presence (and I did), then I had to sublimate my lust by talking about existentialism—
Sallie’s philosophical passion.

Existentialism is not as chic today as it was when I was 15 or 16. Jean Paul Sartre had not yet refused the Nobel Prize in Literature, nor had he turned his back on literature—deciding finally to complete Being and Nothingness and other non-fiction. The central philosophical question that haunted us adolescents—Why am I here?—remains through our old age.

For me the question takes on an added dimension. At 28 I was diagnosed as having a relatively rare form of cancer that a generation earlier killed virtually everyone who had it. For much of my early adulthood, an astonishingly large number of physicians believed the disease was universally fatal. Oxford University Press published an impassioned plea to physicians to reconsider their notions of doom. Today, the disease is nearly universally curable. For a while, the people who began the cure with radiation machines underestimated its power and a large number of radiologists died while curing others. My radiologist at George Washington University Hospital in Washington D.C. died before I reached the five-year disease free mark. Seymour Kaplan, the Stanford University radiologist who published the Oxford medical text, suffered a similar fate.

I lost the ability to run, walk, or stand without assistance, but the disease and its consequences did not prevent me from fathering two beautiful daughters. Why am I here? has become a consistent theme in my life. Consistent themes make it possible for people to become columnists for newspapers and for publications such as
Voices of Central Pennsylvania. So, what you are reading is the first in a series of monthly columns on the subject of having physical disabilities and being elderly here in Centre County.

I will not pretend that physical disabilities and old age are inherently fascinating subjects. However, one of the advantages of being a columnist is that I do not have to come to the point too quickly—as long as I get there. So for my readers, beginning
October, 2009 I plan to use my wiles to make me part of your life. I plan to start here at Addison Court, the 89-apartment complex in downtown State College, where at 3 a.m. nearly every day drunken students out of control (half a block from the police station) walk east in groups of 20 shrieking men and women who pause to urinate and vomit in our parking lot.

I plan to find out why the police do not interfere with drunken activity and how it makes Addison Court residents feel.

I can’t wait for you to meet my neighbors. A few weeks ago, Lillian (83), Audrey (80), Hilda (90), and I had a lively Corner Room breakfast talking about what it is like when most of one’s friends are dead or too-far-gone to remember the same old stories.

Addison Court residents, with the exception of those with physical and emotional disabilities, are 55 or older, live in rent-subsidized apartments, have little money, not enough to do, and most vote out of a sense of patriotic obligation.

From Addison Court, half a block north on Allen, is Webster’s Bookstore Café. Webster’s proprietor Elaine Meder-Wilgus surrounds herself with serious reformers who are not afraid to have fun. This column will discuss reform and fun from my distinct perspective. I am 62. I am a paraplegic. I have rotten teeth—17 cavities.

I have strong ideas about the importance of uniting with others such as myself because as Al Smith once said, “The only cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy.”

In the November column, I will tell you why I came to State College, how much money I earn, and how I plan to survive financial disaster.  [October 2009]

Joel Solkoff is the author of The Politics of Food.