By: Jim Hilgen
Poor Penn State.
No matter how they try, the folks in Happy Valley can not leave the shadow of the sex scandal that brought shame to that previously revered institution. The family of the school’s former head coach, the late Joe Paterno released its response to a Penn State report on the Jerry Sandusky scandal on Sunday. In an attempt to restore the coach’s good name the report attacked Louis Freeh’s conclusion that Paterno covered up sex abuse allegations against his longtime assistant.
Former U.S. Attorney General and Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh authored the family’s report. In it he said the investigation by former FBI director Freeh resulted in a “rush to injustice.” The Freeh report was authorized by the university. In it Freeh claimed that Coach Paterno and three former administrators all covered up child sexual abuse allegations against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
The 238-page report was released on the family website Paterno.com. On the site Thornburgh is quoted as saying, “The Freeh report’s conclusion that Mr. Paterno lacked empathy for the victims of Mr. Sandusky’s abuse is unfounded and offensive”
“There is no evidence that Joe Paterno deliberately covered up known incidents of child molestation by Jerry Sandusky to protect Penn State football or for any other reason,” said Thornburgh. “The contrary statements in the Freeh report are unsupported and unworthy of belief.
So with what part of the Freeh report does the Paterno report take issue? Where does one begin?
The critique by the Paternos calls Freeh’s report “speculative and fundamentally flawed.”
“It isn’t a little wrong on the minor issues. It is totally wrong on the most critical issues,” attorney Wick Sollers said. “That the (b)oard (of trustees) and the NCAA relied on this report, without appropriate review or analysis, is a miscarriage of justice.”
The Paterno report has been in the works for several months, and it is positioned as an independent analysis of the work by Freeh.
In a statement issued through a spokesperson, Freeh defends his report, calling the critique by the Paternos’ “self serving.”
“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.” Freeh said, “These men exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well-being, especially by not even attempting to determine the identity of the child who Sandusky assaulted in the Lasch Building in 2001.”
Penn State leaders also distanced themselves from the Paterno report. In doing so they did not even mention the former coach by name in a statement that defined the Freeh report’s purpose as identifying what went wrong in the university’s governance and compliance operations.
“It is understandable and appreciated that people will draw their own conclusions and opinions from the facts uncovered in the Freeh report,” said the statement.
Among the conclusions in the family’s report concluded are that the observations related to Paterno in the Freeh report were both unfounded, and a disservice to Paterno, the university and the victims. Thornburgh and his team also say the Freeh report misses the mark on “the critical mission of educating the public on the dangers of child sexual victimization.”
As for the Freeh reports central claim that Paterno was engaged in a conspiracy, the Thornburgh critique concludes “there’s simply no basis anywhere in the report for that finding. That in my view renders the whole report of very little value,” Thornburgh told The Associated Press. “There’s simply nothing in this record, in the Freeh report, that indicates he was involved in any way.”
One of the Paterno family ‘s report contributors is Jim Clemente, a former top FBI profiler and internationally recognized expert in the fields of sex crimes investigations, sex offender behavior, child sexual victimization and child pornography. Clemente leveled criticism against Jerry Sandusky saying the former assistant coach is a “cunning and deliberate child sex offender” and a “fraud of the highest order.”
Clemente says Sandusky presented himself as an advocate for children, a philanthropist, an altruist and community icon, when in fact, that was not the case.
As could have been expected, the Paterno report re-ignited discussion over the Freeh report, which has already drawn harsh reviews from Penn State reform groups, the attorneys for three senior university leaders who were indicted on cover-up charges, and the university community.
The Paternos’ report is not a re-investigation of the investigation. It is more like the approach a defense attorney might take in a high-profile civil lawsuit. In essence this second report presents the case and attempts to raise doubt about the veracity of the plaintiff’s evidence. The main difference is that in this case, there is no trial and there is no jury, just public opinion and NCAA sanctions.
The Paterno report does not provide documentation of any new interviews or attempt to rewrite history. What it does is try to counter some of the previous conclusions by raising questions about Freeh’s motives, the contradictions in his work, and how little access investigators had to anyone directly involved in the scandal.
Included in the family’s reports are Paterno’s last written words before his death, which focused on Sandusky’s victims.
“Good side of scandal – it has brought about more enlightenment of a situation (sexual abuse of young people) in the country.”
So, now with dueling reports floating around, like a “he said, she said” discussion, what is the likely conclusion?
First of all, the Penn State community gets to bask in the memory of a sex scandal that rocked its prestigious football program, and may have hastened the death of the once revered head coach, Joe Paterno. Undoubtedly, university officials, students and football players would like to see this all put to rest once and for all.
Like the Catholic Church in so many locations, Penn State failed to protect children by not acting on what it may have known about Jerry Sandusky’s actions. And Paterno, too, failed in that same regard. And while the lessons of this episode should never be forgotten, the fact is that Sandusky is in jail for his crimes and Paterno is dead, and rightly or wrongly disgraced.
Perhaps the greater crime here is that innocent members of the Penn State community are now being made to relive pain and shame that may be better left in the past. No matter what the Paterno family does, this final dark moment will forever overshadow even the greatest of his accomplishments. It seems in many ways the last desperate act of some very self-centered people who are trying to make themselves, and Joe Paterno, out to be the victims.
Well, what about the children?