Perhaps the Paterno family-commissioned report, "Critique of the Freeh Report: The Rush to Injustice Regarding Joe Paterno," won't change your mind on the former Penn State coach's culpability in any cover-up regarding the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Since the scandal started to dominate the news about 15 months ago, strong opinions have already been formed on both sides.
But as the family-commissioned review blasts the accuracy of the Freeh report and its widespread acceptance of the report as fact, and also the NCAA's use of it to levy major sanctions on Penn State that may have overstepped its jurisdiction, it at very least brings up some questions about the Freeh report and its findings.
Some will use the review of the Freeh report to strengthen their belief that Paterno has been singled out and unfairly treated for his role. Others will probably dismiss it as a one-sided account looking to restore Paterno's tarnished legacy that doesn't look closely enough into what missteps Paterno actually did take during the ordeal.
The Washington D.C.-based law firm of King & Spalding released the review of the Freeh report, citing independent expert reports by former U.S. attorney general Dick Thornburgh, former FBI profiler, prosecutor and child sex crimes expert Jim Clemente, and Dr. Fred Berlin, a physician, psychiatrist and psychologist at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and School of Medicine. The review pounds on the flaws in the findings of former FBI director Louis Freeh, and his "headline grabbing theories" based on little or no evidence, and even takes time to personally criticize some of Freeh's missteps when he was FBI director. The King & Spalding review states "The Freeh report is based on numerous errors and unsupported opinions." Among the King & Spalding review's accusations and claims:
• The review states the Freeh report based most of its findings on emails that Paterno never authored or received, and Freeh takes liberties in assuming what the emails were about and Paterno's involvement in the conversations that led to the email messages. For example, regarding a 1998 incident with Sandusky in which an email says "Coach is anxious to know where it stands," the King & Spalding report argues there is reasonable doubt that "coach" doesn't refer to Paterno could just as likely refer to Sandusky. The review is critical of Freeh for reporting his "opinions" as fact and not acknowledging any gaps in them or possible differing explanations based on incomplete evidence.
• The King & Spalding review repeatedly points out that Freeh did not speak to many of the key figures involved. The review says Freeh "never afforded meaningful opportunity for Joe Paterno, his representatives, or any neutral third party to assess or even respond to Mr. Freeh’s opinions before he announced them as proven at a national press conference." Freeh said in a statement Sunday that through Paterno's attorneys, Paterno declined to talk to him. The review pointed out that while Freeh uses the email threads as a large basis of his report, the only person involved with the emails or any key witness he ever spoke to was former PSU president Graham Spanier, which points out the possible flaws in his final findings. Freeh said multiple interview requests were made for former Penn State officials Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, but they declined to speak on the advice of their attorneys.
• The review says Freeh calling a press conference less than 45 minutes after releasing his report was to ensure there was a "rush to judgment" before a meaningful review of the report could be done by the media.
• The review paints Paterno as not being close to Sandusky outside of work, and fooled by Sandusky's manipulations and lies, as were others.
"Between 1998 and 2001 alone, the following trained experts were fooled by Sandusky’s deceptions: a detective, a police officer, a caseworker for the Department of Public Welfare, a caseworker for the Centre County Children and Youth Services, an outside counselor who did contract work for Children and Youth Services, and apparently everyone at a kids charity, The Second Mile, including its executive director, Jack Raykovitz, who is a licensed psychologist," the review stated.
The review also brought up Sandusky being allowed to adopt six children without being exposed as a sex offender on six different occasions, saying "Sandusky was evaluated by state officials and a Pennsylvania judge for fitness to adopt; and six times Sandusky passed that expert scrutiny."
It says former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary's vague comments to Paterno about what he saw at the Penn State football facility in 2001 with Sandusky in the shower with a young boy could not lead Paterno to make the assumption Sandusky – who had manipulated an entire community to trust him – was a predatory child sex offender. In a statement on Sunday, Freeh said Paterno's grand jury testimony in which he said McQueary told Paterno he saw Sandusky "fondling" a young boy and Paterno said, "[o]bviously, he was doing something with the youngster. It was a sexual nature. I'm not sure exactly what it was. I didn't push Mike to describe exactly what it was because he was very upset" was critical in his report.
• The review's criticism of the NCAA say it overstepped its bounds in issuing such an unprecedented and heavy-handed punishment on Penn State for "Sandusky's personal crimes" even though there were no infractions of NCAA rules, and also points out the NCAA's improper conduct in its investigation on Miami's possible improper benefits, its handling of former USC assistant coach Todd McNair that has led to a defamation lawsuit against the NCAA and accusations of prejudice in the case of UCLA basketball player Shabazz Muhammad. The King & Spalding report says the Penn State sanctions, based largely on a Freeh report it claims was flawed, had nothing to do with the NCAA's core mission of "ensuring competitive balance in amateur athletics."
Parts of the Paterno family-commissioned review come off as transparent public relations pleas. The review delves into the well-documented good deeds that Paterno did at Penn State, including mostly irrelevant tidbits like Paterno turning down NFL jobs decades ago to stay at the school, as evidence that he couldn't be part of a cover up. The review scolds Freeh for missing an opportunity to educate the public on identification and prevention of sexual molestation by child predators, while the 238-page review mostly focuses on clearing Paterno's name. It also goes through lengths to paint the review as an unbiased view compared to Freeh's opinions and says it would have accepted the experts' findings even if they were negative against Paterno, although it's logically difficult to believe the Paterno family would have paid to commission such a project and then released a report that criticized Joe Paterno.
The Paterno family-commissioned report tries to paint Freeh as injecting his personal opinions into his damning accusations against Paterno, when the review claims he didn't have the evidence to do so.
“(I)t is clear that the Freeh report’s key findings regarding Joe Paterno are unsubstantiated by the evidence, are the product of Mr. Freeh’s personal opinions, and are entitled to no more weight than any other observer’s views of these events,” the review said.
Freeh himself released a lengthy statement defending his report, including his use of Paterno's grand jury testimony, and Freeh's statement can be seen in full here from ABCNews.com.
"I respect the right of the Paterno family to hire private lawyers and former government officials to conduct public media campaigns in an effort to shape the legacy of Joe Paterno," the statement began.
"However, the self-serving report the Paterno family has issued today does not change the facts established in the Freeh Report or alter the conclusions reached in the Freeh Report."