The Other Penn State Cover-Up: Death Threats Against Black Students
1 year ago
Hate mail to black students and a death, all swept away by PSU
As news unravels around the grand jury report revealing charges against former Penn State football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky for raping and sexually molesting underage boys, some former black Penn State students are now painfully reliving a scandal that occurred at their university ten years ago. In 2000, the year a janitor witnessed a boy younger than 13 (“Victim 8” in a grand jury report) “pinned against a wall” while Sandusky performed oral sex on him, black students and football players on Penn State’s campus began receiving hate mail.
The hate mail sent to black students had nothing to do with Sandusky’s proclivities, but the two incidences shared something in common: both were ultimately covered up by the university, even as both chain of events grew worse. Sandusky went on to molest and possibly rape more boys, according to a grand jury report (Sandusky denies foul play), and hate mail against black students became death threats.
Ultimately, a black man’s dead body was found by police near Penn State as one of the death threats said it would. And some black students had to attend their graduation the following May with bulletproof vests on in fear of their life.
[WATCH: The Janitor Who Stepped Forward]
But few know about the death threats because Penn State and Joe Paterno were not willing to allow bad publicity to ruin the university’s image, say some of the black students at the center of the tragic events.
LaKeisha Wolf was president of Penn State’s Black Caucus ten years ago, and she received the lion’s share of life-threatening letters. Today, she watches the news about Sandusky’s rape charges, the firing of Joe Paterno and Penn State president Graham Spanier, and the student riots that ensued, and it takes her right back to her days dealing with the university.
In fact, Wolf and other concerned black students met with Paterno back in 2001 because of information circulating that black football players, like then-quarterback Rashard Casey, had been receiving death threats. Wolf recalls Paterno as almost emotionless.
“He didn’t necessarily blatantly show concern,” says Wolf. “He was just really composed -- kinda non-emotional I would say. It was like he would have had the same amount of energy and response whether we were talking about death threats or what was for lunch. It was just a non-descript kind of demeanor.”
Images of the letters received by Wolf & Lang
Paterno is known for his deadpan deliveries during press conferences after Penn State games, win or lose. But this wasn’t a game. Students were fearful for their lives. That year, Penn State was experiencing an unusual losing season – a big deal in the college franchise that spawned multiple national championships and undefeated seasons under Paterno’s 45-year reign. Much vitriol was aimed at Penn State’s black quarterback – also unusual in Penn State’s mostly white quarterbacked history – Casey, who along with losing games was arrested in the off-season for fighting a white cop, allegedly over the cop’s African American date. Casey was cleared of those charges, but even Paterno admitted that the quarterback remained the target of hate mail.
But Paterno wasn’t so moved to have Penn State confront the hostile climate.