Even the staunchest Penn State alumni have been rocked by trial testimony and by the revelations of the 162-page Freeh report released July 12. In it are e-mails that make plain that university officials were aware of Sandusky’s actions and looked the other way. And that includes Paterno. Penn State’s Board of Trustees hired former FBI director Louis Freeh to compile the report, and the school announced it accepted the findings. But the school failed to do anything to punish, curtail or in any way diminish the football program, despite the fact that the football program and the reverence with which it was treated created an icon so powerful that a statue was erected to him long before his death in January.
That program eventually was seen as untouchable, so much so that when Sandusky’s horrible actions were made known to people at the highest levels of the university, instead of taking action, they consulted Paterno.
Why? In what way should Paterno have had any say in what was a criminal matter? Paterno, too, did nothing. Former athletic director Tim Curley and retired vice president Gary Schultz have been charged with perjury for lying to the grand jury investigating charges against Sandusky. Former president Graham Spanier has not been charged with anything, for whatever reason.
Paterno defenders will haul out the tired argument that he is not as much to blame as others in the case. The problem is this: There is no scale to measure such blame. He knew. He did nothing. Oh, I’m sorry, he told Sandusky not to shower with young boys any more. The attempt to make Paterno a victim in this dreadful scandal is becoming tiresome. He is not a victim. The victims were the children. Period. End of story. That clearly was the NCAA’s thought in vacating all those victories.
The statue was the 900-pound elephant in the room, and it wasn’t helped by the fact that behind it were inscriptions that called Paterno a “humanitarian” — eerily echoing the idea expressed in the Freeh report that Sandusky needed to be treated humanely even after it was known that he was a pedophile — and a quote from Paterno that in part said “I hope they write I made Penn State a better place . . .” How could the school leave the statue in place with those words behind it?
But the statue is a red herring on this day. The issue is the NCAA’s newfound muscle, and the mark it has left on Penn State — and truthfully, there will never be another situation like this, so perhaps there will never be a need again for this much muscle. But if the NCAA would handle all violations with strong sanctions, tough language and an understanding that the public at large is losing faith in a sport with a lot of warts, then maybe it can be redeemed along with Penn State. I hope so, in both cases.
For previous columns by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.