Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Tennessee's courtship of football coach Greg Schiano, botched because of his supposed ties to Penn State's Jerry Sandusky scandal, is a legal screw-up for the ages

Greg Schiano
(From Associated Press)
The University of Tennessee, in its never-ending quest to secure a football coach who can win at least nine or 10 games a year, has created one of the most gross injustices in recent memory -- at least in the employment arena.

Over the weekend, UT officials worked out a memorandum of understanding for Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano to become the Vols new head coach. Word of the agreement leaked on Sunday morning, and protesters promptly gathered on campus -- with various political and social-media types joining in from a distance.

What were they protesting? Schiano, it turns out, had worked as an assistant coach at Penn State during the time convicted child sex abuser Jerry Sandusky was on the football staff there. A court document unsealed last year suggested Schiano had witnessed Sandusky engaging in inappropriate acts with a boy in a shower at a Penn State locker-room facility. UT protesters apparently took that to mean Schiano had witnessed a heinous crime and failed to report it, meaning he did not have the bedrock principles required of a Vols' head coach.

With protesters blowing hot air down their necks, UT officials broke their agreement with Schiano -- booting him out of a job he essentially had been offered and accepted. There is a slight problem with this rush to judgment. Not one shred of evidence suggests Schiano had anything to do with the Sandusky scandal, not even as a bystander. The unsealed court document certainly provides no such evidence.

So Greg Schiano is unworthy of working at UT simply because he and Jerry Sandusky shared air space for a few years. What's next? Are all Penn State grads from that era supposed to be fired from their jobs? Does UT have faculty members or administrators who are Penn State grads? You can almost bet the answer is yes, so are they going to be fired? Will UT no longer accept Penn State grads in its graduate or professional programs?

Not only is this a moral outrage, it's a journalistic train wreck. I've seen reports that the court documents were from a trial; they weren't. I've seen reports that Schiano testified; he didn't. Here's how The Centre Daily Times, the closest daily newspaper to the Penn State community, described the unsealed court documents:

Court documents released in the summer of 2016 included a deposition from former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary, who indicated former Penn State assistant Tom Bradley said Schiano went to him in the early 1990s "white as a ghost and said he just saw Jerry doing something to a boy in the shower."

Two key points here:

(1) This was from a deposition, not a trial. Depositions are taken under oath, but they can be filled with statements that would not be admissible in court;

(2) This was a statement by Mike McQueary, as heard from Tom Bradley, about Greg Schiano. That sounds like hearsay to the third degree. Even under the worst of judges, such a statement would not be allowed in court.

So, there is no admissible evidence regarding Greg Schiano's actions, and nothing about Schiano and Sandusky ever has been adjudicated in a court of law. But the U of Tennessee allows campus mobs and social-media cranks to make its personnel decisions? What a show of courage.

Here are a couple of other factors the public often does not consider:

(1) Even if true, the statement regarding Schiano gives no indication he knew he had witnessed a criminal act. A coach who happened upon a disturbing scene in a shower -- as Penn State defensive coordinator, Sandusky was Schiano's direct supervisor -- is likely to think, "My God, I didn't just see Jerry doing what I thought he was doing, did I? No way, one of the most respected defensive coaches in the country could have been doing that. I mustn't have seen that right." It's highly unlikely that Schiano stood there for several minutes, assessing the shower scene. He probably averted his eyes and hustled away as soon as possible. After a taking a few deep breaths, he maybe said to himself, "That couldn't have been what it appeared to be."

(2) Reporting crimes, especially when you aren't sure what you saw, can come with high risk. I know because I was sued for "malicious prosecution" by our criminally inclined neighbor in Alabama, Mike McGarity, after he was "acquitted" on criminal trespassing charges. (That's the Mike McGarity with both a job at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama and an extensive criminal record; perhaps BC/BS spokesperson Koko Mackin can explain that soon.) I was absolutely sure about what I saw (and what my wife, Carol, saw), and McGarity even unknowingly confessed to trespassing. But Judge Ron Jackson found him not guilty -- after reading McGarity the riot act about staying off our property in the future -- so that gave McGarity the opporunity to sue, with the help of corrupt lawyer Bill Swatek. If Schiano had reported Sandusky as a child molester -- and Sandusky had been acquitted at trial, no matter how unlawful the verdict -- Schiano would have been subject to civil liability that might have cost him several million dollars.

I know from personal experience that reporting crimes is not worth it. Judges and prosecutors cannot be trusted to do their jobs, and that can leave victims or witnesses hanging. It's likely I never will report another crime. And even if Greg Schiano knew he had witnessed a criminal act -- and there is no admissible evidence that he did -- I would not blame him one bit for refusing to report it.

Who will be the big loser in all of this? Probably the U of Tennessee. From 2001-2011, Schiano compiled a 67-66 record at Rutgers, a school where it has been notoriously difficult to win in the modern era. The coach before Schiano went 11-44 at Rutgers.

Schiano probably would have done an outstanding job at UT, and he is highly respected in the coaching profession. But, hey, he once breathed the same air as Jerry Sandusky, so he can't possibly deserve a fair shake. 

No comments: