Rodney Erickson is a Gutless Idiot Who Admitted Being Forced to Sign the NCAA Consent Decree
I have had a lot of very strange and unique experiences in my career when it comes to trying to confront public figures and hold them accountable when no one else in the media would for things that they have done wrong. I have gone after the likes of O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Barbara Boxer, Katie Couric, David Keene, Tiger Woods, Mark Schwartz, and Mark Emmert (among others), but I have never had an experience quite like what occurred when I went to “visit” Penn State President Rodney Erickson last night.
I was an invited guest (by Penn State Alum Jim Mannion) to attend “An Evening with the President” in Los Angeles. Since Erickson has never really answered questions about the circumstances behind his signing the NCAA consent decree, which essentially was a guilty plea on the Sandusky cover up charge on behalf of the university, I decided that it was worth the hour and a half drive through rush hour traffic to attend. I figured that there was a chance that I would at least get to ask him some sort of question, but I also realized that, for numerous reasons, the venue was unlikely to provide a setting conducive to an actual confrontation (for the record, if I had him tied down with the chance to ask just one question it would be: You approved Sandusky’s retirement package and the NCAA consent decree, were you part of the cover up or did you sign the consent decree knowing that it was based in a complete falsehood?).
After chatting with three PSU alums at a cocktail table for about 20 minutes, all of a sudden Erickson walked right up next to me and introduced himself to all of us. It was obvious that he had no idea who I was or why I was there, so much so that when Dr. Greg Vernon pulled out his camera in awe of the bizarre situation he was witnessing and told Erickson that he simply had to get a photo of the two of us together, it still didn’t dawn on him that maybe I was somebody he should be aware of ( I hardly think of myself as a noteworthy person, but if I was the president of Penn State I think I might at least be aware of someone who had been on the Today Show in the capacity that I was, especially given the obvious significance of this overall story to the university).
After we posed for what I am sure was a hilarious photo, I immediately took advantage of what I was certain would be an extremely small window of opportunity to speak with Erickson. What follows is as close to a “transcript” that I can piece together from the remarkable conversation which quickly ensued.
Ziegler: Do you believe that there was a cover up in the Sandusky case?
Erickson: I will wait to let the courts decide that.
Ziegler: If you didn’t know for sure there was a cover up, then why did you sign the consent decree?
Erickson: You presume that I had any choice in the matter.
At this point Erickson quoted from the consent decree itself though I can’t remember exactly which part. However, I have a VERY strong impression that either he was citing a section which implies he had no choice or one that claims that his choice was freely made and that he was saying this section was clearly not true.
Ziegler: Why not? Were you coerced?
Erickson: There was nothing else I could do… unless you wanted the death penalty.
Then Dr. Vernon, who along with attorney John Lapinski, were listening intently to the conversation, asked Erickson whether that means that the NCAA “extorted” him into signing the decree.
Erickson: I don’t want to talk about this.
Ziegler: So are you going to testify to this effect in the Paterno lawsuit against the NCAA?
Erickson: I don’t want to discuss this any more.
Erickson then, rather rudely (since we were all being extremely polite to him, especially given the treatment he actually deserved), walked away to the next table without even exchanging pleasantries or departing salutations.
It takes a lot to stun me, especially when it comes to the Sandusky story, but I was honestly shocked. While his actual words may not have been 100% decisive, Erickson gave me (as well as Vernon and Lipinski) the VERY clear impression that he had indeed been extorted by the NCAA to sign the consent decree. He may have muttered “death penalty” as an after thought, but there was absolutely ZERO doubt in our minds that, in a relatively unguarded moment (as unbelievable as it may sound, my extensive experience in this area tells me that there is a very good chance that no one has ever asked him those simple questions point blank in a setting like that before) that he had essentially admitted that the heart of the Paterno lawsuit against the NCAA was completely accurate. He made it very obvious that, at least in his mind, the decision to sign the consent decree was not made with free will.
I spent the next several minutes discussing this extraordinary development (I wasn’t sure which part was most amazing, Erikison’s admission or the fact that he would impolitely walk away and refuse to discuss with alumni in a private setting the most important act perhaps in the history of the school) with Lipinski and Vernon to make sure that I had not somehow misinterpreted what I had just heard. While we all had slightly different recollections of exactly what was said (the “transcript” I put together was done partly during this conversation), we all seemed to be very much in agreement on the overall take away. It was just that obvious.
Later Erickson spoke to the group of about 70 Penn Staters in an address which was remarkably boring and which never directly referenced the biggest story in the history of the university or the act for which he will be known into eternity. This wasn’t just ignoring the elephant in the corner of the room; it was more like the captain of the Titanic giving a speech after they hit the iceberg and never mentioning why the ship had stopped moving.
During his sleep inducing remarks (literally the only moment that was remotely memorable was when he suddenly threw in a quick, out of context, and utterly weird, compliment of Joe Paterno’s “Grand Experiment”) John Dietz, the Director of Alumni Relations came up to me, grabbed me by the arm, and asked me if I was planning on “causing trouble.” I asked him what he meant and he pointed to my handheld camcorder and told me that I wasn’t allowed to record (even though several other people there had their phones out and appeared to be doing just that). I explained to him that I was not recording and that if he would like to see the video from my daughter’s first birthday party he was free to do so. When he acknowledged that I was telling the truth, I assured him that it was okay because “it certainly wasn’t the first time you guys have rushed to judgment.”
He then told me that I would be removed from the event if I “caused any trouble” and I when I tried to get further clarification on what that meant he asked me to come outside and he would explain it. Not being born yesterday, I refused.
As Erickson was finally finishing his speech it suddenly occurred to me that he was not going to answer questions, which I found to be absolutely astonishing. I have never in my life been at any event in which someone gave a short speech to a small crowd and didn’t answer even one question from the audience. Instead, he referred those gathered to remaining desserts and coffee while claiming that he had to catch a “red eye” flight even though it was only 8:20 pm at this point, the event was scheduled to go until 8:30 pm and “red eyes” don’t leave until at least 10:30 pm (we were only 15-20 minutes from the airport).
At this point I was pretty ticked off at Dietz and he and I started to get into a rather heated exchange. I just couldn’t believe that a guy who I (correctly) presumed had been there through the Paterno years and benefitted greatly because of them was now acting like I was a criminal because I simply wanted to find out why his president pleaded guilty to a crime that Paterno and his school didn’t commit.
I remember asking him how many millions of dollars he raised in his position in Alumni Relations off the name of Joe Paterno and how it was that he could sleep at night now pretending like the man was a pedophile protector when he had to know damn right well that this just wasn’t true. I even called him a “piece of shit” for being such a hypocritical coward.
Much to my surprise, instead of getting even more upset, Dietz then apologized to me for having come on so strong and, in response, I apologized to him for calling him a piece of shit. He then made some further comments that were even more shocking to me than even his apology.
He proceeded to tell me three remarkable things. I don’t have his exact quotes written down, but here was the highly accurate gist of what he said:
In a year or so, after the trials, you may very well be very right and everyone will be thanking you for what you have done, but right now it is too early and we have to do what we have to do.
At that time I can assure you that the university will do right by Joe Paterno.
We needed someone like you around to fight for us in November of 2011.
While I would have loved to have stayed to get a better understanding of what he meant by all of that, I sensed that any chance to get Erickson on camera was quickly slipping away. I could see that Lipinski and Gary Werkheiser (a strong supporter of the cause who tried to help in the Emmert “sting”) were questioning him in the aftermath of his speech and so I went over to see what was going on.
I urged Gary to ask a question about whether Erickson would testify on behalf of the Paterno lawsuit that he was indeed coerced/extorted into signing the consent decree. I then turned on my camera just ask Lipinski was finishing giving Erickson a very strong talking to about how he didn’t properly defend the school (Gary told me later that Erickson’s “eyes were glazed over” and it was very obvious that the NCAA would have had an easy time running over him during the “negotiations”).
Here is the video that I took of what happened next.
There are several important things to note here for context. First, the event was clearly over. Secondly, Werkheiser never even gets out any sort of statement because Dietz, seeing that I was now in position with a camera, immediately comes over to Erickson to bail him out with the excuse of needing to get to the airport (though oddly, seconds before Dietz seemed to be in no hurry to leave when I was speaking to him without a camera rolling). He then purposely blocks me from getting close to Erickson and when the hotel official comes over to tell me to stop recording it is Dietz who takes responsibility. Why the hotel officials then threaten to call the police, I have no idea.
Here are my bottom line take aways from this remarkable evening:
Rodney Erickson is both a gutless and stupid man.
Rodney Erickson was clearly forced to sign the NCAA consent decree and that he needs to testify to that effect in the Paterno lawsuit.
There needs to be extreme pressure put on Erickson by Penn State alumni to for him to do exactly that.
Getting Erickson to do so may be the last hope for justice here.
John Dietz has an awful lot of guilt about what the university has handled all of this (and he should).
I really need to get a lawyer on retainer for these events.
And, once again, as has happened EVERY time I have been involved in something like this in the Sandusky case, I am now more certain than ever that our side is right about what really happened here.