Former Penn State President Graham Spanier has waited more than a decade to share his side of what many refer to as the university’s child sex abuse scandal.
On a recent Thursday morning, inside his condo still just a stone’s throw from campus, Spanier expressed an eagerness to explain his perspective and his new book, “In the Lions’ Den: The Penn State Scandal and a Rush to Judgment.” The 512-page book, which officially released Sept. 6, serves as a memoir focused on the criminal justice system and the university fallout involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted on 45 of 48 sex abuse charges in 2012.
“My motivation for writing this book was really, somebody had to get the truth out,” he said. “And it’s not even all in the book because the book would be 1,000 pages if I had done it all.”
He understands it won’t be accepted by everyone. He questions the legitimacy of the Freeh Report, an independent investigation commissioned by the university trustees; criticizes the motives of then-Gov. Tom Corbett; faults the media for inaccurate reporting in the rush to be first; and insists he was not aware of any sexual abuse. It’s a narrative many are familiar with, but filled with new details that — depending on one’s perspective — will either cause jaws to drop or eyes to roll.
When it came to Corbett, for example, Spanier said the the attorney general-turned-governor wanted Spanier gone from his post prior to the Sandusky case — in part, he implied, because Corbett wrongly believed Spanier supported the Democratic candidate. (In an email to the CDT, Corbett responded by saying “That is an assumption on his part that is completely wrong.”) Spanier also explained relevant information he believed Freeh intentionally left out of his report. And he described his two months in jail, writing that he was strip-searched more than three dozen times.
Surrounded by walls of books, many written by his wife, Spanier leaned back and appeared relaxed on a sunny morning. He also calmly described his intention and inspiration in publishing his memoir, 10 years after Sandusky’s conviction and one year after serving most of his own 60-day sentence for a misdemeanor child endangerment charge.
“I had never, as president of Penn State, planned to write a memoir,” Spanier said. “And initially, in the weeks following November of 2011, I was saying to myself, I never want to write about this. It’s just too painful an episode in my life. But then as things started to unfold in 2012, I realized there was a lot of misinformation.
“People needed to know the truth. Somebody had to tell the truth, and what I saw in those early months was a lot of things happening where people were not telling the truth.”
Spanier said he wrote about 75% of the book within a year or two of Sandusky’s conviction but, at the advice of his lawyers, waited until the justice process completely played out before publishing or speaking to media. A day after he finished two months of house arrest, following his 58 days at the Centre County Correctional Facility last year, Spanier’s attorneys finally gave him the go-ahead.
Writing the memoir was no easy task.
“During my entire career in higher education, I was a television talk-show host and constantly writing — so I write easily and I write pretty fast,” added Spanier, who’s authored nearly a dozen books. “But I can tell you this: Honestly, I spent more time on this book than all of the other 10 books before this put together, which are all academic kinds of books.”
Spanier, who served as Penn State’s president from 1995 until he was forced to resign in 2011, called his latest work both painful and therapeutic. He struggled reliving the events, he said, but his mind was put at ease knowing that, even if the book was never published, at least his grandchildren would have a written record of his truth.
The native of South Africa ultimately elected to start his own publishing company, Gryphon Eagle Press, after he said the initial offer from a publisher fell through due to a merger/acquisition and after others wanted to limit the book to about 300 pages.
In the book, Spanier opens by describing his childhood — and the physical abuse from his father — and closes by discussing, in detail, his time in jail. But, given the impact and scope of the Sandusky fallout, most of the memoir focuses on the scandal and related issues.
30-city appearance tour
Getting what he sees as his side of the story out has nothing to do with sales from his self-published book — or his 2,000 pre-orders, he said — but about discussing it and the events a decade ago.
He scheduled 20 public appearances through November — from Pennsylvania to Florida to Iowa — in addition to 10 private appearances (so far), for alumni groups and others. He’s also done several podcasts and committed to numerous interviews.
“It’s a commitment to get the truth out there to people who care about the truth. It is,” Spanier said. “A lot of the people who will be at these events around the country — not just a lot, probably the majority — are Penn State alums. And I feel I owe it to them if they’ve asked me to appear and to talk about this. I want to do that. I want to do it for them.”
Locally, Spanier is set to appear at Hyatt Place State College (219 W. Beaver Ave.) from 5-7 p.m. Sept. 30 and then again Oct. 1 at a Beaver Stadium tailgate two hours before kickoff at Reserved Lot 18; Row 19; Spots 1961 and 1962.
The former president said he still misses his old job, which would sometimes include 20-hour days. He also said he met with about 75 donors the year after he was forced to resign, persuading them to continue donating to Penn State.
He now works as a consultant on national security matters with corporate entities, remaining vague because he said his work involves confidential/classified matters. He lives in the State College area but often travels to New York to visit his grandchildren.
“I’ve said to people: You can take me out of Penn State, but you can’t take Penn State out of me,” he said.
Where to get the book
Spanier narrates the audiobook, which is available on audible, an Amazon company.
For more information, and a complete list of public tour dates, go to spanierinthelionsden.com.