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Joe Paterno's role in covering up the Jerry Sandusky scandal was unfairly overstated by the Freeh Report and, in fact, Joe Paterno acted in the same proper and righteous manner Joe Paterno lived the rest of Joe Paterno's life, according to Sunday's release of an investigation funded by Joe Paterno's family.
None of that is a surprise. What else was it going to say?
Much like the original July 2012 Penn State-funded Freeh Report, this "Critique of the Freeh Report" is a masterful testament to unnecessary declarative statements, the creation of straw men and everything else one gets when lawyers are hired by wealthy clients to prepare a "thorough" report.
Both reports have flaws. Both are, at times, comically overstated. Both made someone a lot of money.
Still, amidst all the back and forth, Joe Paterno's situation can mostly be boiled down to a single question, and nothing in the 238-page "Critique" changed or challenged the Freeh Report's conclusion surrounding it.
Did Paterno know that Sandusky was investigated in 1998 by police for inappropriately touching a local boy while showering in the Penn State locker room?
In the end, the Centre County district attorney declined to prosecute. In June 2012, Sandusky was later convicted of his actions involving so-called Victim No. 6, part of 45 guilty verdicts that sent him away to state prison for a minimum of 30 years.
While, in hindsight, the decision not to prosecute was a terrible one, in a vacuum, the evidence involved in the case of Victim No. 6 was not overwhelming. The victim testified that he essentially blacked out in panic when Sandusky hugged him from behind while they were showering naked together. It was a case that was troubling – the detective testified he was extremely frustrated – but not necessarily prosecutable without the other victims to provide support and perspective.
Any criticism of Penn State's administrators or Paterno over the 1998 allegation is unfair and always has been.
It's why the NCAA was wrong to strip Paterno's victories dating back to that season. What else would you want Penn State officials to do? The proper authorities didn't prosecute their defensive coordinator. Were they supposed to overrule the district attorney on such a sensitive accusation?
The 1998 allegation only becomes critical because in 2001 then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary showed up one Saturday morning at Joe Paterno's door and told him he stumbled upon Sandusky the night before acting inappropriately with a boy in the showers in the coaches' locker room in an otherwise empty Penn State football building.
Taken with the knowledge of the 1998 allegations, the 2001 testimony by a completely separate person who was an adult witness – not a victim – would send off every warning bell known to man.
Let's say Sandusky was innocent in 1998 after the district attorney declined to prosecute – and, at that moment, everyone at Penn State with knowledge of the allegation could reasonably conclude he was just the victim of a child who was either confused or made up the story. Let's say it was just a terrible misunderstanding.
Anyone wrongly accused of such a horrific incident would probably do everything in his power to avoid the possibility of being accused again. They'd be terrified of being alone with any child, anywhere, let alone doing the exact same unnatural and easily avoidable things (showering) with a different boy under even more suspicious grounds: in a locker room that at that time of night Sandusky would expect to be empty.
The Penn State officials who knew of the 1998 case – president Graham Spanier, vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley are all facing criminal charges on this – should have reasonably acted in a different manner in 2001 than when they heard police were looking into Sandusky in '98. They should've immediately called in authorities, alerted child welfare services and attempted to find the victim. Sandusky should have enjoyed not a moment of administrative benefit of the doubt.
In 1998 the police were involved before Penn State administrators learned of the charges. Victim No. 6 had come home with wet hair and explained he'd just showered with the Nittany Lions' defensive coordinator. The mother went directly to the cops.
In 2001, Penn State authorities heard of a similar act and never turned McQueary's allegations into a police investigation, even though Schultz actually oversaw the campus police.
As such, Sandusky continued his reign of terror until his November 2011 arrest. Paterno was fired days later and died in January 2012. He's never been charged with a crime.
When it comes to Paterno's legacy, what remains for all but the most intense followers of the case is one question: Did he know about the 1998 investigation into Sandusky? That's it. That's pretty much the whole deal here because there are no criminal charges. Any action or inaction of Paterno has to stem from this truth.
If Paterno didn't know about 1998, then what McQueary told him that Saturday morning in 2001 would've been a shock. Maybe he would've looked at his young grad assistant and presumed that perhaps there was some confusion. He understandably could've had no idea what to do. Passing it up the line of command and never following up is, while profoundly lacking in leadership, morality and concern for children, not a wholly inexplicable reaction.
If Paterno did know about 1998, then a second allegation that Sandusky was showering with boys, let alone engaging in what McQueary, at the very least, conveyed as inappropriate conduct, should've sent a man of even weak moral convictions into a flurry of activity.
No one gets innocently accused of fondling boys twice – three years apart.
The Freeh Report concluded that Paterno knew of the 1998 investigation based on a number of items. There was the common-sense argument that little happened inside Penn State football without JoePa's knowledge, and a serious police investigation into his current defensive coordinator would never be kept from him. Later, there were Paterno's handwritten notes on Sandusky's retirement agreement where he agrees with Sandusky being allowed to use Penn State workout facilities, but writes "No to 2nd Mile [kids]. Liability problem," referencing the Second Mile children's charity Sandusky operated.
Then, most specifically, there were two email chains that suggested Paterno was briefed on the 1998 incident. They included Curley, Schultz and Spanier. Paterno never used email, although his secretary maintained an account for him.
One email, dated May 5, 1998, came from Curley and read, "I have touched base with the coach. Keep us posted. Thanks."
The next day Schultz emailed back with the subject line "Re: Joe Paterno" and wrote, "Will do. Since we talked tonight I've learned that the Public Welfare people will interview the individual Thursday."
There is a later second email chain that includes the campus director of police under the subject line "Re: Jerry." It deals with numerous Sandusky developments, including him eventually being cleared of charges.
One May 13 email from Curley to the group reads: "Anything new in this department? Coach is anxious to know where it stands."
The Freeh report concluded that the "coach" in the aforementioned emails was Joe Paterno. "The reference to Coach is believed to be Paterno," Freeh, the one-time director of the FBI, wrote.
The Paterno family response says that isn't fair because there is no conclusive proof that "Coach" is Coach Paterno.
It goes so far as to take a multi-pronged defense of Paterno. The authors of the "Critique" suggested on ESPN that we have no idea who the coach is because Penn State has many different coaches. But really, would all the administrators at Penn State avoid telling Paterno that his current defensive coordinator was under investigation but instead discuss it with the field hockey coach? Come on.
Former Pennsylvania governor Dick Thornburgh, who worked on the "Critique," suggest that maybe Curley was speaking with Sandusky directly and that was the coach involved.
"[A]round this time, for example, Mr. Sandusky had proposed to the University administration the possibility of starting a football team at the University's Altoona campus where he could be the head coach," Thornburgh suggests in the report.
While it's common for an assistant coach to also be called "Coach," is this really viable? Sandusky is under police investigation for molesting children, and the athletic director is willing to be used as a conduit for potentially classified and sensitive information? While possible, this doesn't seem probable. It certainly suggests a dangerous level of involvement for Curley, who would be essentially picking sides by working as an information agent into an active investigation for an accused sexual predator.
If that's the case, Curley is certainly going to be convicted and will likely finish his life behind bars. At the time, it would have meant that in 1998 he was purposefully circumventing the legendary Paterno in breathtaking fashion. If Paterno found such a thing out, wouldn't it have cost Curley his career?
Finally the "Critique" suggests that even if Curley was speaking to Paterno in 1998 about the Sandusky investigation, it wasn't clear what he was telling JoePa. Maybe things were so vague that Paterno knew very, very little.
"The Freeh report offers no evidence about what Mr. Curley meant when he wrote this email, what if anything he conveyed to 'Coach,' what 'Coach' said in response, whether minors were referenced, whether showers were mentioned, whether a general description of an issue with a Second Mile participant was provided, such as 'poor judgment' or 'an administrative issue,' or if more specific details were provided."
Again, this is possible, but is it probable? Would Curley really tell Paterno just a little bit of the story? And wouldn't Paterno, upon hearing something small about the situation – again, this, at the time, involved his top assistant coach being accused of a heinous crime inside the football building – not say, "wait, hold up, what are we talking about," and then demand more information? Would he really just nod and not care that his defensive coordinator might be arrested?
Let's say the case involved a more benign crime, such as tax evasion. Wouldn't Paterno be infinitely curious, because if Sandusky was charged he might need to hire a new assistant coach?
On this subject, which again is far and away the critical subject when it comes to Paterno's involvement in the Sandusky scandal, the "Critique" offers nothing else of importance.
Instead it goes on and on about how the Freeh Report didn't speak to the people directly involved – namely Curley and Schultz. The "Critique" didn't directly do that, either, of course, because both men are still facing criminal charges. It repeats over and over how Sandusky fooled everyone, which isn't something any reasonable person doubts.
Did we really need a seemingly endless discussion from a retired FBI investigator about how Sandusky was skilled at grooming child victims? Gee, really? Thanks for clearing that up.
It's a lot of billable-hour fluff. No surprise, a lawsuit against the NCAA is likely forthcoming.
Much is made of a switch of the Penn State email system in 2004 that eliminated almost all exchanges from that time period which presumably could've cleared Paterno. The emails mentioned in the Freeh Report came from a file on the situation that Schultz kept in his desk for years and years.
While there may, indeed, have been emails written that could exonerate Paterno, the fact Schultz didn't have them suggests that throughout this 13-year time frame the vice president purposely kept a file that specifically excluded anything that might help Joe Paterno, just in case it blew up into a scandal larger than anyone at Penn State could've imagined.
Why would he do that? Why would he specifically try to hurt Paterno? Possible? Anything is possible. But again, is this even remotely probable?
This is an emotional situation, and it is understandable the Paterno family would go to great lengths to restore the image of their husband and father. That's what families do. The man passed away and was unable to defend himself against the Freeh report conclusions.
However, the "Critique" is mostly full of arguments and answers to questions that few are actually asking.
The "Critique's" most reasonable point isn't a new one, but bears repeating: Why not wait until the criminal trials are done to conclude what did and didn't happen? That would have been a reasonable course of action, especially for the NCAA, which decided to boldly declare jurisdiction over what is a criminal, not compliance, matter.
The Paterno family appears to be responding to a sentiment in some parts of the public that these men fully knew Sandusky was out abusing boys and they didn't care because they simply wanted to win football games. That also defies common sense. Whatever cover-up occurred was likely based on hoping for the best and closing their eyes.
That doesn't make it right, and three men rightfully face grave criminal charges. But the idea that these four sat around knowing kids were getting raped and had zero concern is also, while possible, not probable. That would require true, unequivocal evil.
However, to assume Paterno knew nothing in 1998 requires a very, very thin look at the reasonable facts that we have at this time. To believe the Freeh report is "grossly inaccurate" on the key question, as the "Critique" concludes, at least you have to believe in a series of improbable assumptions. Not just one, but repeated improbable assumptions.
Some Paterno loyalists, and some Penn State fans bitter at the NCAA sanctions and who believe it is the Nittany Lions' birthright to go 10-2, will no doubt do just that. It's their choice. This report will feed off that sentiment.
In the end, though, the "Critique" did little to nothing to suggest Paterno didn't know in 1998. The report brought to light no new facts. So, barring further evidence being uncovered during the criminal cases expected later this year, the Freeh conclusion remains the far most likely scenario.
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