Paterno family report: JoePa allegations were 'rush to judgment'

Joe Paterno and his wife, Sue. Paterno offered to quit as head coach at Penn State effective at the end of the 2011 season, but was instead fired Nov. 9. Students rioted.
Joe Paterno and his wife, Sue. Paterno offered to quit as head coach at Penn State effective at the end of the 2011 season, but was instead fired Nov. 9. Students rioted. (   JOHN McDONNELL / Washington Post)
Posted: February 11, 2013

The family of Joe Paterno issued a massive report this morning that seeks to rebut, at times point by point and line by line, the damning accusations that the late Penn State football coach covered up sexual-abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky.

The authors of the study exonerate the coach and the university football program, and denounce the accusing Freeh report as inaccurate, incomplete and misleading.

"A rush to judgment," said former U.S. attorney general and Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh, among the experts retained by the Paterno family.

The study, called "Paterno - The Record," was commissioned by the coach's widow, Sue Paterno, and led by her Washington attorney, Wick Sollers. Posted on www.Paterno.com and simultaneously discussed on ESPN at 9 a.m. today, the study represents a major effort by the Paterno family to clear the damaged reputation of the former coach.

He and three other university leaders were found in the Freeh report to have covered up allegations of child-sexual abuse by former assistant coach Sandusky, now in prison. The university leadership accepted the report, which became the basis for extraordinary sanctions against the football program.

Paterno's statue was removed from outside Penn State's Beaver Stadium as the university weighed the allegations against the man who was once its best-known and most-popular employee. The Paterno family's report is almost certain to be challenged as biased - undertaken at the direction of the coach's widow, and compiled by agents selected and retained by her attorney.

In a statement released Sunday through a spokesman, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who investigated the university's behavior in the Sandusky Case at the behest of the school leadership, defended his work.

"I stand by our conclusion that four of the most powerful people at Penn State failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade," he said.

Penn State, in a Sunday statement, said that it was “understandable and appreciated that people will draw their own conclusions and opinions from the facts uncovered in the Freeh report.” But the school was going ahead with implementing “substantially all” of the 119 report recommendations, a process it expects to complete by the end of 2013.

The new study by the family said:

- Paterno participated in no conspiracy to hide Sandusky's actions, neither because of a fear of bad publicity or other reasons.

- There's no evidence that the football culture at Penn State contributed to Sandusky's crimes.

- Freeh investigators had no subpoena power and no one testified under oath. Some witnesses were allowed to speak anonymously.

- The string of e-mails that contributed to Freeh's finding of conspiracy "falls apart under scrutiny." The e-mails show that "Joe Paterno knew few details about Sandusky, that he acted in good faith and that he did what he thought was right based on what he knew at the time."

Family spokesperson Dan McGinn, a public-relations professional in suburban Washington, said  the Paternos  want people – including the board of trustees and NCAA officials -- to read the entire new report “and reexamine the situation.”

People should accept the report as unbiased, he said, because the Paternos played no role in the selection of the experts and had no contact with them as they worked. The record and integrity of someone such as Thornburgh speaks for itself, he added.

This morning on ESPN, Thornburgh and other members of the report team lambasted the Freeh report.

Thornburgh said he respected Louis Freeh, but the report was "full of inaccuracies" and left "much overlooked, much misrepresented."

Former FBI profiler Jim Clemente said Sandusky alone was responsible for the crimes that put him in prison to serve what is effectively a life sentence. "Sandusky got away with what he did because he's a skillful manipulator," in the "top 1 percent" of predators who groom children for abuse, he said.

Wick Sollers, who is Sue Paterno's attorney, said on ESPN that he was not ruling out any option, including a lawsuit, regarding the NCAA's extraordinary penalties against the football program.

MaleSurvivor, a non-profit committed to preventing the sexual abuse of boys and men, issued a statement saying it was “unaware of any specific actions the Paterno family has made to support the needs of the victims of Jerry Sandusky, or sexual abuse victims in general.”

In an interview, Executive Director Christopher Anderson stood by that.

“It’s very telling to me that in a five-page summary of this report, all about trying to clear Joe Paterno’s name, there’s one sentence at the end that barely gives lip service, ‘We’re really concerned about the survivors.’”

On Friday, Sue Paterno released a letter that called her husband's firing by the university board of trustees "rash and irresponsible," and on Monday night she'll appear in an ABC interview conducted by Katie Couric.

In the two-page letter, addressed, "Dear Lettermen," Sue Paterno broke 14 months of silence to harshly criticize the trustees and the Freeh report produced under its auspices. Joe Paterno died in January 2012, and the three former top university officials now await trial on charges that stem from the Sandusky case.

Sue Paterno wrote in the letter that she did not recognize the man Freeh described, and defended her husband as "exactly the moral, disciplined and demanding man you knew him to be."

Paterno said the board panicked in dismissing her husband after Sandusky was indicted in November 2011. Joe Paterno died from complications of lung cancer the following January. The board, the letter said, panicked again when the Freeh report was released in July 2012.

"To claim that this ill-considered and rash process served the victims and the university is a grave error," she wrote. "Only the truth serves the victims."

Paterno said she directed her attorney to review the Freeh report and her husband's conduct at length and in depth. Before the family report was released, she said her attorney's experts "unreservedly and forcefully confirm my beliefs about Joe's conduct."

Joe Paterno's dismissal, and the subsequent allegations against him, continues to anger many members of the university community, who after more than a year speak out at trustees meetings and other forums. The current university leadership has sought to move on from the matter. Others, who likewise love the school, accept the Freeh report and its conclusions concerning Paterno as definitive.

The Freeh report was damning in the evidence it marshaled, including e-mails, interviews and long-hidden notes, concluding that Paterno and three  top administrators conspired for more than a decade to keep quiet sex-abuse allegations against Sandusky. Because they feared bad publicity, the coach and President Graham Spanier, along with athletic director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, a former vice president in charge of campus police, “repeatedly concealed critical facts” and exhibited a “callous disregard for child victims.” That enabled the former assistant football coach to prey on boys for years, Freeh said.

“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State,” Freeh said when his report was released in July 2012. “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect children whom Sandusky victimized.”

Freeh's investigation into one of the biggest scandals in the history of college sports also found that Penn State had a culture of deference to figures such as Paterno and Spanier, even as those leaders failed in their roles.


Contact staff writer Jeff Gammage at 215-854-2415, jgammage@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @Jeff Gammage.

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