It's a scandal that rocked penn state university, brought a community to its knees, destroyed lives. Jerry sandusky sits in jail now, awaiting sentencing after being convicted on 45 accounts of... See More
It's a scandal that rocked penn state university, brought a community to its knees, destroyed lives. Jerry sandusky sits in jail now, awaiting sentencing after being convicted on 45 accounts of abusing boys over 15 years. Legendary coach joe paterno died in january, his reputation tarnished. Tonight, however, one of the central figures at penn state is speaking out, for the first time, about what he knew, his regrets and the report that implicated him in the coverup. Penn state: An insider speaks. We didn't know. Ill certainly didn't know. Reporter: It was a drum beat, over and over again, a steadfast refusal by former penn state president graham spanier to concede that he failed in any way to protect the children who were victims of abuse by long-time assistant football coach jerry sandusky. An iconic figure on campus, who was able to repeatedly molest young boys in the locker rooms of one of the nation's most respected sports programs. And in his home, where he claimed to be mentors kids who saw him as a hero. The tragedy that unfolded would transfix the nation, bring bun of the country's leading universities to the brink. And leave even the school's most ardent supporters wondering, did an institution dedicated to education really care more about its storied football team than did about sandusky's unfortunate victims? This is tough on the whol family. Reporter: The man with the answers to these questions, the president of the university, who resewn ed resigned in november of last year and has not spoken publicly about how this could have happened, until today. He was a child predator who fooled a lot of people. Reporter: Spanier says he didn't note about sandusky's actions, actions that would lead to can dusky's conviction of 45 counts of sexual ail abuse of young boys. Never in my time as president of penn state did I ever, ever once receive a report from anyone that suggested that jerry sandusky was involved in any child abuse, in any sexual abuse, in any criminal act. RorteNE REASON HE SAYS He didn't know is because of what he wasn't told bill two of his trusted lieutenants. Athletic director tim curley and senior university official gary schultz, about sandusky's actions on two occasions. The first was in 1998. There was an e-mail that i was copied on, one of about 30,000 e-mails a year that i didn't respond to. Just a piece of information saying somebody was being interviewed. There was a followup e-mail five weeks later saying the matter had been concluded. Reporter: Sandusky was cleared of any criminal wrong doing in that incident. But then there came a second incident, reported in 2001, when mike McQueary witnessed what he would later testify was some sortle of intercourse between sandusky and a young boy in a locker room shower. That's now how spanier says it was described to him. It was described as horse play. And I said to them, are you sure that's how it was described, as horse play, or horsing around? And they said yes. Reporter: When you hear horse play, what do you think? I guess I was thinking back to my own childhood, where horse play involved throwing water around, snatpping towels. I didn't ask about it. That's what I was conjuring up. Reporter: Shouldn't that have set off sirens, do you think? We all have the advantage now of hindsight, knowing about jerry sandusky. Reporter: The attorney general believed it was much more than just horse play. BASED IN PART of McQueary's testimony, curley and schultz were later indicted. Meanwhile, spanier came under suspicion because of a single e-mail which seemed to indicate that he was part of an effort to keep from reporting the incident to authorities. I want to read it to you. This approachs acceptable to me. The only down side for us is, the message isn't heard, you put quote marks around the word heard, and acted upon. And then we become vulnerable for not having reported it. The approach you outline is humane and a reasonable way to proceed. Do you remember writing this e-mail? I don't remember it, but it sounds like me. Seemed almost in light of the two things that we agreed would happen. Reporter: You used the word vulnerable. It may not have been the best choice of a term. Reporter: It peoples to t s Reporter: It peoples to peaks to the idea that the impact it would have on someone or something, other than the children. It was a reaction to the possibility that we didn't want this to happen and if he didn't accept that and understand it, we would be disturbed by it and perhaps need to take further action. But the message we got back was that he heard the message and was agreeable. Reporter: For spanier, he says it's inconceivable that he would not have abouted on behalf of the victims, had he known about any sexual abuse. For he is not only a taped family therapist, he, too, is a survivor of childhood abuse himself. Well, ooich hi've had, for example, four operations as an adult to correct injuries from my childhd that were inflicted by my father. But I can tell you from that personal experience that I've never met anyone who has had a higher level of awareness about such issues than I have had. Reporter: Over his long career, spanier provided himself in running the university in what he calls the penn state way. And the football program was its heart, with joe paterno, the winningest coach in major college football history and a spotless reputation for winning clean. It was one of my great privileges in life to have an opportunity to work with joe paterno. Reporter: They would find themselves out of their jobs on the same way. Paterno, fired. Spanier, he says, gone on his own term. Do you feel like you failed those kids? I wish, in hindsight, that i would have known more about jerry sandusky and his terrible, terrible hidden past so that i could have intervened, if i would have known more about him, but I did not.
This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.