Former FBI director Louis Freeh yesterday released his report on the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State, and coverage has focused mainly on the role of iconic football coach Joe Paterno in an apparent cover up.
Freeh's 267-page report concluded that the late Paterno and three high-ranking Penn State administrators tried to bury reports of child sexual abuse because they feared bad publicity for the university and its storied football program.
The most telling part of the report, however, focuses on janitors who worked in and around Penn State locker-room and shower facilities. One of the janitors witnessed Sandusky's abuse of a child, but he and his coworkers feared they would be fired if they reported it.
I know, from first-hand experience, that the janitors were justified in their fears. After all, I was fired from my job in the University of Alabama System for reporting on this blog about corruption in our state's "justice system." I didn't blow the whistle on misconduct within the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where I had worked for 19 years in various editorial positions. Rather, I reported on corruption among various lawyers, judges, and prosecutors in both our state and federal courts. These clearly were matters of public concern, and as a government employee, I had a First-Amendment right to comment on them without facing reprisal.
But I still got fired, and powerful University of Alabama forces apparently are ensuring that my ongoing federal lawsuit will be dismissed in a manner that is grossly contrary to law. I've been without a job for more than four years, and I've presented overwhelming evidence that a U.S. District Judge named William M. Acker Jr. has handled my case in a stunningly unlawful fashion, almost certainly at the instigation of pro-UA forces in our state's legal and political circles.
Does Pennsylvania have similar forces that would have caused the janitors to be fired if they had reported child sexual abuse on the Penn State campus? Would those same forces have exerted their power over federal authorities to make sure the janitors got cheated in any lawsuits for wrongful termination and retaliation?
The answers, in my mind, are an overwhelming yes. I have little doubt that pro-Penn State forces are every bit as powerful in Pennsylvania as are similar forces here in Alabama.
Bruce Feldman, of CBS Sports, addresses the janitors' story in an article titled "Institutional Control? Report Shows Tragic Result of Coach as King Culture." Writes Feldman:
Speaking to the culture of the place and how the football program controlled the school, Freeh brought up a janitor who observed one of Sandusky's attacks. Freeh said the man told him it was the worst thing he ever saw: "This is a Korean War veteran who said, 'I've never seen anything like that. It makes me sick.' He spoke to the other janitors. They were alarmed and shocked by it. But what did they do? They said, 'We can't report this because we'll get fired.' They knew who Sandusky was.
"They were afraid to take on the football program. They said the university would circle around it. It was like going against the President of the United States. If that's the culture on the bottom, God help the culture at the top."
Dennis Dodd, one of Feldman's colleagues at CBS Sports, called for a reappraisal of big-time college football in a piece titled "Let Freeh's Damning Report Ring--King Football Needs to Answer for Sins." Writes Dodd:
King Football must die. It must die a painful and immediate death.
It must be hanged in the public square to show that now and forever King Football can't rule a sport, a school, a society. It is time. It is overdue. If you don't know that the culture has changed after the release of the Freeh Report on Thursday then you are blind to the toxic byproducts of the second-most popular spectator sport in our country.
Those are powerful words, but I contend that Dodd's view is too narrow. Cleaning up football abuses, even killing "King Football," is not going to heal what ails higher education.
UAB has one of the worst football programs in the country--the Blazers are plagued by losing records and sparse crowds--but I witnessed rampant corruption on the campus. And it has nothing to do with football.
The problem stems from placing weak, unethical, dishonest individuals in positions of authority. The real issue at Penn State was that President Graham Spanier and Vice President Gary Schultz were not willing to make sure the athletics department and the football program followed the law.
A similar culture exists at UAB under President Carol Garrison. After all, this is a university that committed an estimated $600 million in research and Medicare fraud, according to a federal whistleblower lawsuit. And with treble damages under the U.S. False Claims Act, UAB should have been on the hook for more than $1.5 billion in penalties. Instead, a friendly Bush-era prosecutor let UAB off in 2003 with a $3.4 million payment--way less than 1 percent of the estimated actual fraud.
As for me, it's not just my imagination that I was cheated out of my job because of the content on this blog. A UAB human-resources official named Anita Bonasera admitted in a tape-recorded conversation that I was targeted because of my reporting on the Bush-era prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman--and there is little doubt that President Garrison knows all about the real reason I was fired. You can listen to a key portion of the Bonasera conversation in a video at the end of this post.
Ironically, I compared my experiences at UAB to the coverup at Penn State in a post written more than eight months ago. And that post includes a word-for-word transcript of Bonasera's statements.
In our state, the University of Alabama Board of Trustees contributes mightily to corruption that permeates higher education. The board is led by a corporate executive who has documented ties to insurance fraud. Paul Bryant Jr. is president of the UA board and serves as CEO of Greene Group Inc., which used to include a company called Alabama Reassurance. That firm that netted a 15-year federal prison sentence for a Philadelphia entrepreneur/lawyer named Allen W. Stewart.
Public documents clearly show that Bryant's company was involved in the scam, but he never has been held accountable. And Alabama Re was quietly liquidated in an apparent effort to help cover up financial crimes. Now, this man with ties to insurance fraud helps manage millions of taxpayer dollars that are funneled to the UA System. Comforting, isn't it?
Bryant's father, of course, is the late Crimson Tide football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant--a man who was Alabama's answer to Pennsylvania's Joe Paterno.
On second thought, maybe the arrogant mindset that comes with football success is the problem. Maybe King Football really does need to be killed.