Report by Paterno's family unlikely to change many minds

Dick Thornburgh
Dick Thornburgh
Posted: February 12, 2013

Those who choose to see Joe Paterno as a blameless scapegoat now have their own thick report to wave in the air and cite as proof.

Those who believe that Paterno and other Penn State officials failed to act properly in 2001, allowing Jerry Sandusky to continue to prey on children, have the Freeh report and the grand jury presentment. As of Sunday, when the results of an investigation commissioned by the Paterno family were released, Paterno loyalists have their own gospel from which to preach.

We have reached the point with this issue where no minds are likely to be changed. Positions have hardened. Opinions are set. Counterpoints no longer are being entertained.

The Paterno report concludes that Paterno was a great man who did nothing wrong. It reaches this conclusion by taking the evidence revealed in Louis J. Freeh's 2012 report and applying the opposite interpretation at every turn.

The Paterno report criticizes Freeh for reaching damning conclusions about Paterno's actions and motives based on scant evidence, then uses the same scant evidence to assign exculpatory motives to Paterno. The Paterno report accuses Freeh of attempting to read Paterno's mind to conclude he participated in a cover-up of the 2001 incident witnessed by a graduate student in the Lasch Building showers, then reads Paterno's mind to conclude he "did not appreciate the gravity of the 2001 incident."

There are pages and pages of this. The analysis by a team led by former U.S. Attorney General and Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh raises some pointed questions about the thoroughness of Freeh's investigation. But it never provides any new evidence of its own to counter Freeh's scathing conclusions about Paterno, former Penn State president Graham B. Spanier, and administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz.

Paterno died last year. Spanier, Curley, and Schultz face charges resulting from their actions in 2001 and their testimony before the grand jury that indicted Sandusky. All three have too much at stake to be credible or unimpassioned witnesses at this point.

The new report puts huge emphasis on the nature of serial pedophiles, casting Sandusky as a master of manipulation and secrecy. Surely there is much to be learned from this episode to prevent future predators from operating for such a long time. But Sandusky was almost reckless, using public areas for his crimes and parading his victims around a major college football program. The idea that he was some kind of evil mastermind does not line up with the bumbling creep we saw and heard in interviews and in court.

The bottom line is and always will be this: Assistant coach Mike McQueary saw Sandusky molesting a still-unidentified boy in the shower of the Penn State football building in 2001. McQueary told Paterno. Paterno told Curley and Schultz. Those two administrators told Spanier.

None of those five men called the police or child protective services. Sandusky went on sexually assaulting young boys for years.

There is no excusing this or explaining it away. There is no denying it. Those basic facts were acknowledged by McQueary, Paterno, Spanier, Curley, and Schultz. The rest - who knew what and the motive for the lack of action - is quibbling. There may be criminal consequences for the administrators, but it is quibbling.

The most damning thing of all isn't in the grand jury testimony or the Freeh report. It is in the simple truth that not one of those five men can tell you the name of the child in the shower. They did nothing to learn it or to protect that boy. And for that, they share responsibility for all the victims who came afterward.

It is understandable for the Paterno family to seek to repair their patriarch's reputation, to restore, even metaphorically, the JoePa statue to its place on campus. It is ultimately a doomed pursuit, however. Sandusky's ghastly crimes have left a permanent stain on the university, the football program, and the men who ran both.

That is just the heartbreaking reality here. Dredging up the details is not going to change it. All it will do is create fresh pain for the real victims, the young men Sandusky attacked.

Their tormentor will die in prison. There should be some peace for them in that knowledge. But if there is going to be true healing, it is past time to stop picking at the scabs.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow @Sheridanscribe on Twitter.

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