Commentary: Penn State’s Tim Bream: Betrayed by the brotherhood

By Hank Nuwer

You may recall that Penn State’s Beta Theta Pi adviser Tim Bream was serving as a volunteer live-in adviser and was asleep in his room when pledge Timothy Piazza perished after enduring gross alcohol hazing. As an intoxicated Piazza lay dying, Betas callously refrained from phoning 911. 

Hank Nuwer is a professor with Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism.

I carefully have considered whether Bream may have been unfairly vilified by the press (including my Sept. 4 commentary). Media widely have criticized Bream for remaining in his room after allowing alcohol to be legally consumed at a so-called “party” the night of Tim’s death.  

For full disclosure, I have been in touch with both sides of the Piazza case for background. I have drawn some fact-based conclusions from documents and statements made by those testifying at a preliminary hearing, after which a trial judge dismissed felony counts against members for involuntary manslaughter.  

Some lesser charges remain on the books. Bream was never charged. 

Bream has declined comment through his counsel.  

Based on facts, this is what I have concluded: 

In line with Beta Theta Pi national guidelines for its house advisers, Bream, a PSU Beta alum, agreed to help out the chapter by overseeing housing of members and pledges. A lifelong non-drinker, he never socialized with undergrads and urged fraternity members and PSU athletes (in his dual role as athletic trainer) to drink in strict moderation.  

On the night of the fatality, all his advice was ignored. I can argue here that Bream was naïve for assuming there would be no hazing at this party, but there had been many previous parties with an alcohol permit and no injuries had occurred. 

Much media speculation followed the preliminary hearing due to tough questions posed by the lead prosecutor and attorneys defending the individual Beta members. An investigating detective made some comments about Bream that hurt the adviser’s image, but not one shred of evidence implicated Bream in any wrongdoing. In fact, the district attorney chided a defense attorney for trying to lay blame on Bream, saying such a tactic distracted attention away from the defendants.  

House video clearly shows Bream played no part in egregious conduct that led to Piazza dying. He never left his second-floor room during the proceedings. 

When Bream became aware that Piazza was dead, he urged grieving members to stay off their cell phones/social media, but no evidence suggests he ordered a cover-up. Bream went on the stand merely to establish probable cause against the defendants, not to defend himself against non-existent charges. 

Bream has expressed appropriate sympathy for the grieving Piazza parents.  

I have asked why police did not confiscate Bream’s phone. The explanation was there was no probable cause to take it. The police had all the other defendants’ phones and no texts or calls from Bream occurred that fatal night. 

On the other hand, the chapter officers had a clear duty to phone Bream and wake him as Piazza staggered, and the fact they did not do so is just so wrong.  

In conclusion, since1978 I have followed every single hazing death. I could wish that Bream had acted as the chapter policeman as many live-in advisers do, but he was merely doing a little extra service as an alum for his fraternity. It looks as if he was taken in by the aura of responsibility the chapter brethren had concocted.  

I think on my blog I have posted every major media commentary on Bream put out by other commentators. To my knowledge, I now become the only columnist trying to analyze Tim Bream’s side fully. I don’t see why he needs to vacate his main job as a university trainer. His athletes over time have said he has hung the moon for them. 

There is a lesson to be learned; any responsible adult who lives in a chapter house must be wary of covert shenanigans concocted by callow undergrads. 

Tim Bream now must watch as his onetime house charges go on trial for hazing and lesser charges. While I can’t begin to process the unbelievable pain the Piazza family feels now in its loss, Bream himself must feel great pain after his colossal shafting by the brotherhood. Rather than a tarnished Lion like Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky, Bream is a wounded Lion. 

No good deed goes unpunished. 

On Sept. 14, Louisiana State University President F. King Alexander announced that the sudden death of Phi Delta Theta prospective member Maxwell Raymond Gruber, 19, may be caused by alcohol-related hazing. 

And that’s how national Hazing Prevention Week started in 2017.  

Hank Nuwer is a Franklin College journalism professor and the author of “Hazing: Destroying Young Lives,” “The Hazing Reader,” “Wrongs of Passage” and many other books. 


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2 Responses to Commentary: Penn State’s Tim Bream: Betrayed by the brotherhood

  1. Pingback: Upon further review: revising my opinion Beta Theta Pi adviser Tim Bream’s actions based on available facts

  2. To call Jerry Sandusky a “tarnished Lion” after what he personally did to innocent, vulnerable boys gives an indication of your point of view. The PSU Football Team is more important than the individual, than rights, than justice, and fairness.

    At the very least, Tim Bream should have been equally charged as the students charged.

    Look at the Fraternity President, Young. Young didn’t hand Piazza alcohol. Young left the house before Midnight. Young was charged with two hundred counts, including involuntary manslaughter. Bream also didn’t hand Piazza alcohol, and Bream watched the bid acceptance ceremony and then stayed in the fraternity house all night. Bream was not charged with anything.

    Young wasn’t present during either of Piazza’s falls down the stairs and had left the house some time before midnight to go to area bars. Still, Scicchitano said, Young, as the fraternity’s president, had culpability in the hazing ritual. “He had total authority to stop all this,” the detective testified. “He didn’t.”

    Wouldn’t the fraternity’s live-in senior residential advisor have as much or more authority and culpability in the hazing ritual than the fraternity’s president did?

    Secondly, GILMARTIN, ROCKWELL, FOSTER & MCCANN WERE CHARGED WITH TAMPERING WITH EVIDENCE, TIM BREAM WAS NOT. To charge Tim Bream with tampering with evidence would be no skin off of Parks Miller’s back, but she’s afraid to even touch Bream. Bream is in the grand jury report as “Tim” who directs others to delete a GroupMe thread. It doesn’t say he wants to keep frat brothers off social media after the fact in the grand jury report. But either way, why charge four others with evidence tampering and not Bream? Furthermore Parks Miller defends Bream in court.

    Upon detailed questioning, Det. David Scicchitano testified that Kenyon believed “Tim” referred to Bream. District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller objected to the entire line of questioning, saying defense attorneys were trying to distract from the central evidence against the 18 defendants by throwing up other potential defendants. The judge overruled her objections and allowed Fina to continue questioning Scicchitano about Bream.

    At worst, Tim Bream knew everything about the party and turned a blind eye, when he could have prevented the gauntlet, the chugging, and all of the alcohol, and is directly as complicit as all the other young men charged, but even more so because he had authority over them all, and was in a position of power to stop everything. At worst, his inaction has more weight than all the other brothers in Tim Piazzza’s death, because of his position of authority.

    In the very best and most forgiving light, Tim Bream is equally as culpable as everyone else.

    Yet he has no charges even brought forth, is questioned very gently, and takes the stand with well prepared statements that are taken at face value.

    I believe he has more knowledge than he let on, but none of that matters unless one or more of the fraternity brothers throws Bream under the bus in exchange for reduced charges. And even then it won’t incriminate him unless some evidence is provided. And that might not happen, so we’ll never know.

    But don’t call Sandusky a tarnished Lion. A PSU Lion is pride, it is honor. A Lion would not r@pe little children. Would not watch it happen like Mike McQueary and then, to protect THE FOOTBALL TEAM run to Joe Paterno who also protects THE TEAM. It is this culture of putting football first, and anyone associated with football, that gets PSU into these messes.

    To Parks Miller: Charge Tim Beam like the rest of them. If the evades and wiggles his way out, so be it. But don’t charge everyone BUT bream.