Penn State University football coaches and past players attended events sponsored by the foundation for needy children started by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky for years after head coach Joe Paterno was told of child-abuse allegations against Sandusky, according to the charity’s newsletters and a grand-jury report.
Then-current Penn State players also participated in the Second Mile charity’s Nittany Lion Tips program, in which trading cards with inspirational sayings were given to school children, and Paterno was listed as an honorary member of the Second Mile board of directors as recently as 2010 -- eight years after the grand-jury report said he was told about improper activity involving Sandusky, the newsletters and past versions of Second Mile’s website show.
The revelations come as Second Mile board members resigned, donors including Bank of America Corp. and The Hershey Co. suspended financial support, and the future of the charity is in doubt after Sandusky was charged Nov. 5 with 40 criminal counts tied to alleged sexual molestation of eight boys from 1994 to 2009. Paterno and Penn State President Graham B. Spanier were fired Nov. 9, and Jack Raykovitz, Second Mile president and chief executive, resigned this week.
Lisa Powers, director of public information at Penn State, didn’t respond to e-mail and telephone requests for comment on why the university kept ties with the charity.
“The organization has been tarred and feathered by the image of Jerry Sandusky,” Daniel Gifford, an eight-year member of the Second Mile’s south central board of directors, said in a telephone interview. Gifford, 71, of Camp Hill, said he resigned last week because he thinks the allegations against Sandusky are “the death knell” of the charity.
Second Mile, which Sandusky founded in 1977, serves children with physical, emotional and academic needs and is “committed to helping young people achieve their potential as individuals and as community members,” according to its website. Sandusky used the charity to find his victims, according to the grand-jury report.
Sandusky, 67, who was a top defensive assistant for Paterno until 1999, said in an interview this week with Bob Costas on the NBC News “Rock Center” program that he isn’t a pedophile and denied the charges against him. Paterno was unavailable for comment, said Les Zuke, director of communications for the law firm King & Spalding LLP, which represents the former coach.
In 2002, a graduate assistant saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in the Penn State locker room showers and reported the incident to Paterno, according to the grand-jury report. Paterno has said he wasn’t aware of specific details of the attack and referred the matter to university officials because Sandusky was no longer a member of the coaching staff.
In the years that followed, Second Mile’s annual fundraisers and events drew support from the university’s football program with coaches and former players in attendance. A March 2007 event called “A Salute to Linebacker U” featured Sandusky along with former Penn State players Lance Mehl, John Skorupan, Chet Parlavecchio, Paul Posluszny and Greg Buttle, who all went on to play professionally in the National Football League.
Mehl, 53, spent his eight-year career with the New York Jets, and Skorupan, 60, played from 1973-1980 with the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants.
Posluszny, 27, was a two-time Associated Press All-American in college. He has spent his five-year NFL career with the Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars. Parlavecchio, 51, played two professional seasons before coaching high school football in his native New Jersey. He is now the assistant special teams coach of the Tennessee Titans.
Buttle, 57, played for the Jets from 1976-1984 and is now an on-air analyst for WEPN-AM radio in New York, an ESPN station. He declined to comment. Buttle also participated in a June 2004 Second Mile Golf Classic along with Larry Johnson Jr. and Galen Hall, according to the Centre Daily Times of State College, Pennsylvania. Hall, 71, a former Nittany Lions quarterback, is in his eighth season as an assistant coach at Penn State, according to the university’s athletics website.
Former players Johnson, a two-time Pro Bowl selection and now a free agent, and Stephen Pitts, 38, and former assistant coach Joe Sarra attended the event on Penn State’s golf courses. Sarra spent 16 years as an assistant coach under Paterno and five years as administrative assistant before retiring in 2005, according to the university website.
Penn State athletics spokesman Jeff Nelson didn’t respond to a voicemail seeking comment. Attempts to reach Posluszny and Parlavecchio through their NFL teams were unsuccessful, as were attempts to reach Mehl, Skorupan, Johnson Jr., Pitts and Sarra.
Paterno had ties to the charity dating back to at least 1997, when the Second Mile held an event honoring the coach at the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center, according to a March 20, 1997, article in the files of the Lancaster New Era newspaper. Among those attending the event were former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge and former Penn State football players including Kerry Collins, according to the article. Ridge could not be reached and Collins, who is on injured reserve with the Indianapolis Colts after suffering a concussion, declined to comment.
“It should be a tribute to Jerry Sandusky and the volunteers in The Second Mile,” Paterno said at the event, according to the newspaper article. “These are special people, it’s a special project and I just feel privileged to be a part of it tonight.”
Two years later, according to the grand-jury report, Paterno told Sandusky he wouldn’t get the top job in Penn State’s football program. An unnamed sexual assault victim remembered Sandusky “being emotionally upset after having a meeting with Joe Paterno in which Paterno told Sandusky he would not be the next head coach at Penn State and which preceded Sandusky’s retirement,” the report said. The meeting was in May 1999, according to the report.
The Nittany Lion Tips program began in 1988 with the distribution of 20,000 sets of trading cards featuring Penn State football players, according to the newsletters and the charity’s website. The program, described by the foundation as a collaboration with the university, grew to include other sports teams, including men’s and women’s basketball and men’s and women’s gymnastics, the newsletters said.
The cards are given to youth services professionals and school counselors as an educational and motivational tool, according to the charity, which touted the cards’ popularity in a 2007 newsletter. The group gave out 130,000 sets of Tips cards to more than 1,500 school counselors that year and cited one school official as saying that kids will do “special” things to gain cards for their collection, according to the newsletter.
The Philipsburg Osceola Area School District in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, about 25 miles northwest of State College, has decided to stop distributing the cards, spokeswoman Dena Cipriano said in a Nov. 15 telephone interview.
“The cards say ‘Second Mile’ on them, and with everything going on with the organization, we thought it was a good decision,” Cipriano said.
Besides Gifford’s resignation from the Second Mile regional board, Mike Fiaschetti, senior vice president of Highmark Inc.’s Highmark Blue Shield, has stepped down from the board in response to the scandal, Aaron Billger, a company spokesman, said in a telephone interview.
The Second Mile removed the names of board members from its website last week, and when the list was reposted this week, four names were missing from the state board: Fiaschetti; Jerry Burton, a certified brain injury specialist; Neal DeAngelo, of DeAngelo Brothers Inc., and Eddie Dunklebarger, vice chairman and president of Susquehanna Bancshares Inc. Burton and DeAngelo didn’t respond to telephone messages seeking comment, and a woman answering Dunklebarger’s home phone said he would have no comment.
DeAngelo, Dunklebarger and Fiaschetti were on the board since at least August 2009, according to the group’s non-profit tax filings. Burton is listed as a board member on the Second Mile 2010 annual report.
Dave Woodle, vice chairman of Second Mile’s board of directors who has assumed responsibility for day-to-day operations, said he doesn’t know how many board members have resigned and how many may have left because their terms expired. He also couldn’t say how many donors have pulled their support for the group.
“I think we’ve got some people that are saying, ‘I’m not sure I can support this,’” Woodle said in a Nov. 15 interview at the Second Mile office in State College. “Other people are saying, ‘We need to do it,’ and there’s a balance there, and we understand that.”
Discussions about Second Mile’s future will take place with donors and other supporters in the next few weeks, Woodle said in a Nov. 14 interview. While he said the charity may not survive the scandal, he added that he hopes programs that have popular support can continue in some form.
Bank of America Corp., a regular contributor to Second Mile since 2006, has suspended all philanthropic and volunteer gifts to Second Mile until more is known about the scandal, spokesman T.J. Crawford said in a Nov. 15 telephone interview.
“The decision was made based on the ties between Second Mile and its founder and the nature of the allegations,” Crawford said. He couldn’t provide details of how much Bank of America has contributed in the past.
Hershey is listed in the Second Mile’s 2010 annual report as having given $50,000 or more. The company won’t make further contributions to the foundation “until there is clarity around the organization’s future leadership and direction,” Kirk Saville, a spokesman, said by e-mail.
Highmark, which also has provided support in the past and is listed in the 2010 Second Mile annual report as giving $50,000 or more, is “saddened by the allegations” and doesn’t plan to contribute to Second Mile “for the foreseeable future,” Billger said.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, at a press briefing yesterday after a speech at a Philadelphia charter school, said Second Mile had “good purposes” and that “a number of children probably did very well” with its programs.
The governor said his administration pulled back on a $3 million grant to the charity to build a new learning center after support from Legislators and elected officials waned. He hoped there would be a “successor organization” to serve children, he said.
“I would like to see it go forward,” Corbett told reporters. “I don’t know if it’s going to be able to continue to go forward.”