By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) He was too late, of course, because this wasn’t a movie.
The good guy in this story couldn’t prevent the human tragedy, only arriving on the scene after terrible things had already happened. It was all he could do to urge the proper responses and corrective, protective steps from the moment he was aware of the horrors on the campus of Penn State.
“It was about these norms of society that I’m talking about: that every adult has a responsibility for every other child in our community,” Kenneth C. Frazier said. “And that we have a responsibility not to do the minimum, the legal requirement. We have a responsibility for ensuring that we can take every effort that’s within our power not only to prevent further harm to that child, but to every other child.”
Frazier sits on the Board of Trustees at Penn State. He is a 1975 alumnus of the school, and received a degree from Harvard Law School in 1978. He is the CEO of Merck & Co., Inc.
He spoke those words to the New York Times in January, as the board explained its unanimous decision to fire Joe Paterno, forced to answer to unending howls of outrage from his supporters. Six months ago, Frazier was the voice of wisdom and reason, providing a quote that should be etched into the outer wall of Beaver Stadium, heeded in perpetuity.
As soon as it became known what school president Graham Spanier had withheld about Jerry Sandusky and the conspiracy to protect him, Frazier has been taking the strongest, most public actions to do what is right. And he is continuing to do so with each passing day.
Frazier was the chairman of the special investigations task force created by the board to investigate how this all could have happened, and why it was never stopped by those in power. It was he who selected former FBI Director Louis Freeh to lead the probe – in large part due to Freeh’s lack of previous ties to Penn State as much as his impeccable reputation – and he who instructed Freeh to shine a harsh light on the trustees, themselves, if need be.
Frazier’s courage to ask that of the investigation resulted in a withering outcome, one that laid waste to Paterno, Spanier, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, exposed the trustees for failing to meet their duty as overseers, and shamed a culture that has long cared too much about a football team.
Naturally, it was Frazier who stood at the lectern to respond after the historic report was released. “Our hearts remain heavy,” he said, “and we are deeply ashamed.”
“We allowed the former administration to characterize to us the issues and we failed to ask the right questions, the tough questions, or to take definitive action,” he said. “Put simply, we did not force the issue.”
It seems that Frazier has tried to make up for lost time by forcing issues, now, in the right direction. These are, however, complicated, conflicted times for the board: Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett still serves, and is under scrutiny for not investigating Sandusky sooner when he was Attorney General, running for his current office. He also was involved in sweetheart deals benefiting the Second Mile.
The bizarre, unfortunate Anthony Lubrano was recently elected to the board on his promise to symbolically, posthumously re-hire Paterno as Head Coach, a position that has gone from merely misguided to now morally repulsive.
They have put off difficult decisions on such things as scrubbing Paterno’s name from the library and/or removing his statue. Even tougher calls loom, as civil suits and criminal investigations are only beginning. National public opinion is increasingly against the idea of Nittany Lion players soon running onto the field in front of 106,000 cheering fans, reinforcing the culture that enabled the crimes, directly against the warnings of Freeh’s conclusions.
Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Bob Costas spoke for many when he said “If they play football at Penn State come September, something’s wrong.” He urged the board to make the call, not waiting for an investigation by the NCAA.
It is at least good to know that Frazier will play a large role in these discussions. No matter what happens, at least we know his voice will be heard in that room, and that should please anyone who truly cares about the future of Penn State.
The Freeh report included the handwritten notes Gary Schultz kept about Sandusky in a secret file. In one he scribbled, “Is this the opening of Pandora’s Box?” and “Other children?”
In the classical Greek myth he cites that is now so painfully apt, Pandora could not control her curiosity enough to keep from opening a container that held the world’s evils, unleashing them to spread far and wide. One thing remained at the bottom, though: the Spirit of Hope.
As a school and a community take the first steps to rebuild themselves from wreckage, that fact can be remembered, too.
There is hope as long as there are those we trust to fight the good fight, especially against ugly, irrational enemies.
“Let me be absolutely clear,” Kenneth Frazier said. “An event like this can never happen again in the Penn State University community.”
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.
The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM (or you can listen online).
Listen to The Boers and Bernstein Show podcasts »