Graham Spanier spent more time as president of a public college than most. In an era where leaders of public colleges rarely last more than a few years, Spanier lasted 17 and was only ousted as Penn State University's president once the child molestation crimes of former football coach Jerry Sandusky came to light.
Spanier was implicated in a cover up of Sandusky's sex crimes in the Freeh report, and is awaiting trial two years later for a criminal conspiracy charge in the matter. Spanier has fought back and insisted he's innocent.
But Spanier finally spoke, as the legal drama continues, to The New York Times magazine in a new piece posted online Wednesday. The story describes Spanier as someone in limbo, waiting for a trail on his alleged cover up of Sandusky's crimes, and a rallying point for defenders of Penn State, replacing the late Joe Paterno.
The Times described Spanier's nose as crooked, and "the space between his eyes and cheekbones sunken."
"I didn't always look like this," Spanier told the Times. "I've had to have four operations to correct serious deformities inside my head from beatings that my father gave me. They had to rebuild me from the inside out."
The Times explained how Spanier, a man charged with covering up child sex abuse on campus, was physically abused by his father when he was growing up:
“Everything caused him to fly into a rage,” he said. “If my sister made an ‘eek’ noise, she’d be beaten. Or it could be a slight infraction. We had very strict rules in the house. At 5:30 everybody had to be in their seat at the table for dinner. Not 5:31. And not just in your seat. The curtains had to be closed, the slippers needed to be put out, the table needed to be set. . . .
“Or it could be there was something left on your plate. Food was so important in our home that if you didn’t eat something or didn’t like something, you would be beaten. You didn’t talk while you were eating. Eating was eating.” Spanier said that his father sometimes hit him with his hands or fists, “but 90 percent of the time, it was what’s called a strapping. He would undo his belt, double it up and would strap you with it. You’d be cowering in the corner, and he would continue doing that until I assume he got tired. He just couldn’t do it anymore.” The abuse was not a secret, he said, because his bruises were often visible. “Back in the ‘50s, someone like my father would be described as a strict disciplinarian. Nowadays, you’d be in jail for what he did.”
Spanier’s sister, Anita Koszyk, a special-education teacher, told me that all three children were beaten but that her father gave the worst of it to his oldest child. “I have a visual image of Graham on the floor, with his hands up, trying to protect himself from the thrashing,” she said. She remembers him being sent to bed without dinner. Their mother, who sometimes tried but rarely succeeded in stopping the beatings, would sneak food to him.
According to the Times, the beatings ended when Spanier was 15 or 16. Spanier never forgave his father.