Phil Sheridan: Freeh report should begin to answer some lingering questions

Posted: July 12, 2012

Freeh at last.

The long-awaited report from Louis Freeh and his investigators will be released at 9 a.m. Thursday. It is unknowable whether it will mark real closure for Penn State in the Jerry Sandusky matter or open up fresh wounds for a university community that has been bleeding since November.

The report is awaited with both hope and skepticism - hope that Freeh's group will answer some of the nagging questions surrounding Sandusky's crime spree and skepticism that an investigation commissioned and paid for by Penn State can be truly independent.

The scurrying for position that took place this week shows some of the principals in this tragic affair are very worried about the report. Former Penn State president Graham B. Spanier reportedly contacted the Freeh group late last week and volunteered to tell his side. His attorneys then told reporters that Spanier had never been made aware of any crimes committed by Sandusky, which strains credulity given everything that has been revealed before now.

Meanwhile, the family of the late Joe Paterno has moved to discredit the report before knowing exactly what it contains. The family said bluntly that Paterno never knew Sandusky was a pedophile.

On Wednesday, current and past football players received a letter Paterno wrote late last year. The letter makes a passionate case that Sandusky's crimes should not diminish what the football program accomplished over Paterno's long career.

The scandal, Paterno wrote, "is not a football scandal."

That mantra has been repeated for months by Penn State loyalists. And it is correct, as far as it goes. The generations of players and coaches who won all those games should not be tainted by the actions of Sandusky or the inactions of the men who ran the university, its athletic department, and its football program. Paterno makes a compelling argument. It just doesn't address the relevant issue.

That issue is simple. Did Spanier, Paterno, vice president Gary Schultz, athletic director Tim Curley, and possibly others act to protect the football program and the university instead of acting to stop a serial child rapist?

What is the alternative? They were told, at the very least, of troubling and inappropriate behavior involving the longtime assistant coach and a young boy - in the shower room of their football building - and they did nothing to investigate it or report it to outside authorities. Either they thought Sandusky's behavior was acceptable or they chose to protect the football program and university.

One possibility makes them monsters. The other may make them criminals, but at least it makes sense.

We can only hope the Freeh report presents some clarity on a few issues:

Who knew about the 1998 investigation into Sandusky? If Schultz did indeed keep a file on Sandusky, as reports have indicated, it could help clear up this murky issue. It has always seemed more than coincidental that Sandusky retired a year after this case was dropped. Was it?

Did Paterno persuade Curley to keep the 2001 incident, in which graduate assistant Mike McQueary saw Sandusky with a boy in the shower, from outside authorities? A leaked e-mail exchange - which Spanier and Paterno's family have criticized as "out of context" - suggests the three administrators changed their course of action after Curley talked with Paterno.

How does that fit Paterno's claim that he never discussed the matter again after telling Curley and Schultz what McQueary saw?

How was Sandusky able to parade his victims around Penn State's campus, football practices, and games, and even take them on road trips, without raising any questions? Did Penn State pay for plane tickets and hotel rooms that Sandusky shared with minors?

The Paterno family's attorney, Wick Sollers, hastened to announce that Paterno never used e-mail and didn't even have an account. What of subsequent reports that Paterno sent e-mails via his assistant, Sandi Segursky? Is this an honest oversight or an example of a broader effort to create a misleading picture of a naive and innocent Paterno? It is relevant because the e-mails on Segursky's account, signed "Joe," were part of an exchange about the handling of a 2007 incident involving Penn State players.

Paterno insisted on handling discipline himself, while university officials tried to assert their authority and apply the same code of conduct that governed other Penn State students.

Paterno won. His players were disciplined his way.

All of these episodes and exchanges offer a peek into the culture at Penn State. Jerry Sandusky was able to operate, very much in the open, within that culture. There is no disputing that. Even his defense witnesses, fellow former assistant coaches, acknowledged seeing Sandusky shower with little kids almost routinely.

Sandusky has been brought to justice. He will die in prison.

Life isn't that simple for everyone else caught up in this mess. We can hope for some answers when Freeh issues his report. At last.


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Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

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