The idea that Paterno paid no attention to the '98 incident "is completely contradicted by the evidence," Freeh said.
In addition to raising doubt about Paterno's statement that he was unaware of the assault, the report contains evidence suggesting the former coach was the key to a decision by top university officials to back away from alerting state authorities to a 2001 shower incident involving a boy.
Officials initially planned to alert the state Department of Public Welfare about the allegation, which would have triggered an official, outside investigation.
But according to e-mails made public in the Freeh report, Timothy Curley, the athletic department director now awaiting trial in the scandal, urged the university to abandon this plan "after talking it over with Joe."
Instead, Curley, then-university president Graham B. Spanier, and then-vice president Gary Schultz decided to inform the charity Sandusky founded, the Second Mile, but were equivocal about alerting the state. In the end, state officials were never contacted.
Freeh said he found particularly troubling a 2001 comment Paterno made to an assistant coach, Mike McQueary, after he told Paterno he had seen Sandusky attacking the boy in a Lasch Building shower.
"You did what you had to do," Paterno had said he told McQueary. "Now it's up to me to decide what we want to do."
Subsequent e-mails cited in the report appear to show that what Paterno wanted was as little disruption as possible.
"I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Paterno," Freeh said. "But the facts are the facts. He was an integral part of an active effort to conceal."
Paterno, with 409 career victories - the most in NCAA history among major college coaches - retired shortly after Sandusky was arrested last year, with games still left to play on the schedule. He died in January.
His legacy, listing badly since his resignation, took on considerably more water as a result of Freeh's findings.
There were renewed calls, on Twitter and various Penn State-related websites, that the university do what less than a year ago would have been unthinkable - disassociate itself from Paterno.
"Louis Freeh's findings confirm Paterno is no legend & he's no role model. He's a disgrace & enabled a sex predator. Tear down his statue," wrote one Tweeter who used the name @Faivitus.
One indication of the report's potential impact on Paterno's reputation came Thursday when Nike, whose chairman, Phil Knight, had been one of the coach's staunchest supporters, decided to change the name of the Joe Paterno Child Development Center at its Oregon headquarters.
And the coach's family, in what appeared to be a strike at the report, issued a statement earlier this week and released an even lengthier one just minutes after Freeh's Westin Hotel news conference in Philadelphia ended.
"It can be argued that Joe Paterno should have gone further," the statement conceded. "He should have pushed his superiors to see that they were doing their jobs. We accept this criticism. At the same time, Joe Paterno and everyone else knew that Sandusky had been repeatedly investigated by authorities who approved his multiple adoptions and foster children. Joe Paterno mistakenly believed that investigators, law enforcement officials, university leaders, and others would properly and fully investigate any issue and proceed as the facts dictated."
The report's sobering contents include a highly critical glimpse of the once-sacrosanct coach's behavior between 1998 and Sandusky's 2011 arrest. Investigators portrayed Paterno as an active participant in an administrative effort to "conceal critical facts" and preserve the reputation of the university's signature athletic program.
By doing so, the report says, Paterno, Spanier, Curley, and Schultz displayed "a striking lack of empathy" for Sandusky's victims.
After a glory-filled run as Penn State's head coach, during which he won a pair of national titles, Paterno was fired on Nov. 9, just days after Sandusky's arrest blew the lid off what many are now calling the worst scandal in college sports history. He died of lung cancer two months later without having talked to Freeh or his investigators.
Since Paterno can no longer defend himself, those for whom his bespectacled face was long the image of the state's largest university were left to puzzle over some of the unanswered questions raised in the report.
Why, for instance, when Paterno learned of the 1998 allegation against his then-defensive coordinator - which resulted in no criminal charges - did he never discuss the matter with Sandusky, even though their offices, as Freeh said, were "just a few steps away"?
"There was no indication Coach Paterno called in his assistants and said, 'Let's make sure Sandusky doesn't bring any more kids into the showers,' " Freeh said.
Could Paterno really have delayed reporting what McQueary had seen to administrators for a few days because, as Freeh said, he "did not want to interfere with their weekend"?
And why, between the initial allegations in 1998 and Sandusky's arrest last fall, would Paterno have given the retired coach free rein at Penn State's football facilities and, in his role with the charity the Second Mile, other university campuses?
Several of the post-1998 assaults for which Sandusky was convicted in June took place at the Lasch Building.
Even after those 1998 allegations roiled athletic administrators, the report said, Paterno had been willing to find a job for his longtime defensive coordinator.
"Joe did give him the option to continue to coach as long as he [Paterno] was the coach," Curley wrote in a 1999 e-mail to Spanier.
Paterno even suggested, the report said, a job for Sandusky, writing "Volunteer position director - positive action for youth" on a memo related to the matter.
And when Sandusky retired in 1999, a statement from Paterno praised him as a "person of great character and integrity".
Sandusky, the report said, was allowed to retire "not as a suspected child predator but as a valued member of the Penn State football legacy."
Investigators found no evidence that the retirement and the related $168,000 payment to Sandusky were part of an attempt to force him out or cover up his behavior. Paterno said in an interview shortly before he died that Sandusky retired when he was told he would not be Paterno's successor.
According to Freeh, there was no indication that Paterno knew before 1998 about any aberrant behavior of a man who had been a key aide for three decades. The probe, he told reporters, turned up nothing relevant about Sandusky from the 1970s or 1980s.
The football program
The football culture Paterno helped create at Penn State was as much a target of the report as the coach and the school administrators. In defending his program, Paterno, in a sense, even came back from the grave. On Wednesday, a Penn State football website published a letter he had written to ex-players in December.
The criticisms that this is a Penn State football scandal "are simply unsupported by the five decades of evidence to the contrary - and succeed only in unfairly besmirching both a great university and the players and alumni of the football program who have given of themselves to help make it great," Paterno wrote. "This is not a football scandal and should not be treated as one."
But Freeh told the story of a Lasch Building janitor who had witnessed a "horrific" Sandusky assault but was afraid he might lose his job if he reported an incident involving the much-admired coach.
"He was afraid to take on the football program, and if that's the culture on the bottom [of the Penn State football food chain], then God help the culture on top," Freeh said.
Freeh's probe, in which 430 witnesses were interviewed and 3.5 million documents examined, found that Penn State football was held in such "reverence" that it often ignored or circumvented university disciplinary guidelines as well as federal and state regulations on reporting child abuse.
Those latter regulations, Freeh said, required that Paterno and Curley file a report on the child sex abuse McQueary said he had witnessed. No record of a such report was found.
The coach's legacy
In a related matter, Freeh's investigators noted that many trustees were unhappy with the way Paterno's dismissal was handled. After 62 years at the school, he was fired by the board of trustees in a brief phone call late on the chaotic night of Nov. 9.
Some trustees apparently were upset that since Sandusky's arrest, Paterno had been acting independently, holding his own news conference and announcing that he planned to retire after the 2011 season. Others decried his handling of the Sandusky affair after the first allegations surfaced, noting that the former assistant had been allowed to keep his key to the Lasch Building.
Still other trustees wanted Paterno placed on administrative leave while the board figured out how best to balance his long history of service to the university with what one board member called "the worst day of his life."
What action the university might now take is anyone's guess.
Child-welfare advocates and disgruntled alumni could push for a purge of the enormous legacy Paterno established in State College.
The library bears his name thanks to a multimillion-dollar donation he and his wife, Sue, made. There had been an effort to rename Beaver Stadium in his honor, though the trustees insisted nothing would be done until Freeh's findings were made public. Already, several Penn State alumni have suggested removal of Paterno's statue from outside the stadium.
The reaction to the report was surprisingly muted, especially when compared with the riotous behavior Paterno's firing triggered.
The lowering of the university's most iconic figure from the pedestal he occupied so long continues to be emotionally wrenching for graduates and students of the school whose alma mater, sung at virtually every home game Paterno coached, contains this line:
"May no act of ours bring shame to one heart that loves thy name."
Contact Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068, email@example.com, or on Twitter @philafitz. Read his blog, "Giving 'Em Fitz," at www.philly.com/fitz.
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