Joe Paterno’s failures, deception cast shadows over eroding legacy at Penn State

July 13, 2012

Four of Penn State University’s preeminent leaders — including revered head football coach Joe Paterno — covered up allegations of sexual abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky for over more than a decade to protect the school from negative publicity according to a report released Thursday. The findings of former FBI director Louis Freeh, collected over eight months of research and interviews, expose the school and its administration for harboring a suspected sex offender and failing to take appropriate action when they were made aware of his alleged crimes. As Amy Shipley and Jenna Johnson reported:

Confronted with horrifying reports that Jerry Sandusky lured boys to the State College campus where he sexually abused them, Penn State’s leadership deferred to a “culture of reverence for the football program” and repeatedly “concealed Sandusky’s activities” from authorities, according to the investigation led by former FBI director Louis Freeh.

“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 during a news conference Thursday.

The probe, which includes previously unknown e-mails, deals a crushing blow to the legacy of Paterno, the late coach who took pride in running an honorable program and whose reputation has been on the line since Sandusky’s arrest last November. It eviscerates Spanier, concluding he failed in his duties as president, and chastises the board of trustees at one of the nation’s largest public universities for being out of the loop as the scandal unfolded.

Particularly damaging to Paterno is the examination of the school’s handling of a 1998 criminal investigation into a woman’s accusations that Sandusky had inappropriately touched her 11-year-old son in the Penn State showers. In addition to Spanier and Paterno, athletics director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz were also aware of the case, according to the report. Criminal charges were never brought in the case.

In his final public media interview and in grand jury testimony, Paterno disavowed knowledge of the incident, telling The Post’s Sally Jenkins, “You know, it wasn’t like it was something everybody in the building knew about. Nobody knew about it.”

But in an e-mail captioned “Joe Paterno” and dated May 5, 1998, Curley wrote to Schultz, “I have touched base with the coach. Keep us posted. Thanks.”

The Freeh report’s findings revealed Paterno’s deception in his final days and refute the lack of awareness of Sandusky’s actions that he described in his final interview. As Sally Jenkins wrote:

Joe Paterno was a liar, there’s no doubt about that now. He was also a cover-up artist. If the Freeh report is correct in its summary of the Penn State child molestation scandal, the public Paterno of the last few years was a work of fiction. In his place is a hubristic, indictable hypocrite.

In the last interview before his death, Paterno insisted as strenuously as a dying man could that he had absolutely no knowledge of a 1998 police inquiry into child molestation accusations against his assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky. This has always been the critical point in assessing whether Paterno and other Penn State leaders enabled Sandusky’s crimes.

If Paterno knew about ’98, then he wasn’t some aging granddad who was deceived, but a canny and unfeeling power brokerwho put protecting his reputation ahead of protecting children.

If he knew about ’98, then he understood the import of graduate assistant Mike McQueary’s distraught account in 2001 that he witnessed Sandusky assaulting a boy in the Penn State showers.

If he knew about ’98, then he also perjured himself before a grand jury.

Guilty.

But the trouble at Penn State went far beyond the football staff and the school administration. On a broader scale, as detailed in the Freeh report, the university fell victim to its own “culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus.” As Tracee Hamilton wrote:

Among the most shocking revelations in the 162-page Freeh report is that there isn’t a shocking revelation to be found. By now even the most skeptical had to realize that Jerry Sandusky had done the horrible deeds he was found guilty of doing, that the late Joe Paterno had known about them and that university and community officials had looked the other way.

If you were a doubter till the bitter end, this is that bitter end. Read the report compiled by former FBI director Louis Freeh and his law firm. If you can make it to the final page and still not see the culpability of the major characters in this dreadful drama, then you’re willfully blind.

The only line in the entire document that brought so much as a glimmer of a smile was this one, which cited one of the causes for the scandal as “a culture of reverence for the football program that is ingrained at all levels of the campus.”

A culture of reverence. That’s what existed in Happy Valley, all right, and not only there. Behind every great football program there is a culture of reverence, and behind many not-so-great ones, too. (At some schools, of course, you need to substitute “basketball” for “football,” but it’s the same difference.) And with this culture comes corruption. You think a culture of reverence didn’t contribute to the recent contretemps at Ohio State, Southern Cal and Miami, just to name a few?

College football is in crisis, at least among thinking fans who have observed the corners cut, the cheating, the players not graduated, the unfairness of the postseason, and have questioned their loyalty to a sport with so many problems and so few solutions in sight. And then came Sandusky, and the revelations of what happened at Penn State. And Saturday afternoons for some went from uncomfortable to untenable.

More on the Freeh Report and Penn State University from Washington Post Sports:

Jenkins: The truth is, Paterno lied

Freeh: ‘Total disregard ’ for victims

Complete report on Penn State investigation

Robinson: Joe Paterno’s shame

Poll: Should PSU football program get the death penalty?

On Leadership: Failings of board of trustees

Photos: Report says Paterno, Penn State failed to protect kids

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