On Sunday, the Paterno family released its response to the Freeh report in an attempt to salvage Joe Paterno’s reputation and discredit the document that came out last July.
Freeh’s report laid out some damning statements against the former Penn State head football coach. But Paterno was more than just the head football coach. He WAS Penn State. So when Freeh’s report revealed that he knew about Jerry Sandusky’s actions, and did nothing about it, his entire reputation collapsed, his statue outside the stadium was removed, and a huge black cloud has been hovering over State College ever since.
Since November 2011, when the Sandusky scandal came to light, there have been two distinct, polarizing groups of people.
In Camp A, we have the people who think Paterno is just as culpable as Sandusky. A man who knowingly let a child molester roam free for the sake of his football program is just as culpable as the man who engaged in such horrible acts.
In Camp B, we have the fervent Paterno supporters who will never, for one second, believe that Joe Pa would have any knowledge of what was going on, and if he did, would never cover it up. They continue to believe Paterno is the saintly grandfather they always knew and loved.
Although the truth, as always, is likely somewhere in that large middle ground, the Paterno family’s response is merely catering to Camp A. Only the most die-hard Joe Paterno supporters would believe the accuracy of this report with the same enthusiasm those in Camp A embraced Freeh's report.
"Titled "Critique of The Freeh Report: The Rush to Injustice Regarding Joe Paterno," a Washington, D.C., law firm hired by the Paterno family has produced a 238-page sweeping and provocative indictment of former FBI chief Louis J. Freeh's university-commissioned inquiry of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal.
“…the Paterno family report raises troubling questions about the findings, motives, independence and investigative techniques of Freeh's investigators. The Paterno family's report concludes there is no factual support for Freeh's "inaccurate and unfounded findings" that Paterno participated in a conspiracy of silence allowing Sandusky to run amok on and off campus sexually abusing young boys for more than a decade.”
The Paterno family has been churning out PR statement after PR statement trying to salvage the reputation of the family patriarch. Even though some of Freeh’s report is based off circumstantial evidence, the hundreds of pages can be boiled down to this paragraph with regards to Paterno's responsibility:
"The evidence shows that these four men (Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley) also knew about a 1998 criminal investigation of Sandusky relating to suspected sexual misconduct with a young boy ina Penn State football locker room shower. Again, they showed no concern about that victim. The evidence shows that Mr. Paterno was made aware of the 1998 investigation of Sandusky, followed it closely, but failed to take any action, even though Sandusky had been a key member of his coaching staff for almost 30 years, and had an office just steps away from Mr. Paterno’s. At the very least, Mr. Paterno could have alerted the entire football staff, in order to prevent Sandusky from bringing another child into the Lasch Building. Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley also failed to alert the Board of Trustees about the 1998 investigation or take any further action against Mr.Sandusky. None of them even spoke to Sandusky about his conduct. In short, nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity."
Paterno put his reputation, his football program's reputation, and the university's reputation above the safety of children. This has been engrained in the public's understanding of what happened at Penn State for months and an obviously biased report from the Paterno family is going to do little to nothing to change that truth. The ones who believe the validity of the Paterno family's response already believed JoePa knew nothing, and this report is a way for them to embrace those beliefs and have evidence to support them.
Wick Sollers, the attorney for the Paterno family, notes that “The Freeh report was oversold to the public…consequently, Penn State officials, the NCAA and other bodies detrimentally relied upon it in a rush to judgment about Joe Paterno. The limitations of the investigation, which were numerous and fatal to fundamental fairness, were not adequately explained or understood before that rush to injustice solidified the false public narrative about Joe Paterno."
This whole thing is turning into a game of telephone over Joe Paterno's legacy that won’t end. I wholeheartedly agree with this tweet from CBSSports.com’s Gregg Doyel, who called the 238 page Paterno family response a "waste of everyone's time."
It's far from surprising the Paterno family would commission a report like this. They are in an absolute scramble trying to restore JoePa's legacy and the media push from Katie Couric to First Take is in full effect. (Jay Paterno has made 17 appearances on ESPN today alone.) But it's too late. While ESPN notes that “In the emphatic defense of his work, Freeh does not address many of the specific criticisms made by the Paterno family report,” Doyel counters with this argument in his column:
"The Freeh investigators, concluded Paterno investigators, "produced a report that fit their expectations despite contrary evidence or a more reasonable interpretation."
It would be comical, if it weren't so sickening.
The Paterno report did the exact same thing it accuses the Freeh report of doing. You understand that, don't you? The Paterno report did. The. Exact. Same. Thing."
For what it's worth, Freeh released a response to the Paterno family response yesterday as well. Still with me? Freeh once again states:
"Mr. Paterno was on notice for at least 13 years that Sandusky, one of his longest serving assistants, and whose office was steps away, was a probable serial pedophile. Mr. Paterno was aware of the criminal 1998 investigation into Sandusky's suspected child sexual abuse. Indeed, the evidence shows that Mr. Paterno closely followed that case. Later, in 2001, another one of his assistants, Mr. McQueary, directly reported to Mr. Paterno that Sandusky was sexually abusing a young boy in Mr. Paterno's Penn State football locker room. The evidence shows that Mr. Paterno purposefully ignored this evidence."
Lost in the midst of the Paterno family report and the renewed battle over his legacy is concern for the actual victims. Nobody wins with the focus on the Paterno family report and their effort to salvage the myth of JoePa. As the Penn State-Sandusky scandal is once again thrust into the spotlight this week, as columns are written and the media debates Joe Paterno's role and legacy once again, any real concern for the victims is pushed further into the shadows. It's as true now as it was when Paterno's statue came down several months ago. The victims have already been largely forgotten. Perhaps it's fitting the Paterno family report would place the disservice done to Joe Paterno and Penn State ahead of the victims of Jerry Sandusky:
“There is no other way to say it: on the most critical aspects of the Sandusky investigation, the SIC report is a failure. It does a tremendous disservice to Penn State, Joe Paterno, and the victims of Jerry Sandusky.”