When I was just starting out as a sports writer, the Jerry Sandusky molestation scandal rocked the Penn State campus along with the rest of the sports world. I spent a few hours examining my thoughts and reflecting on a sad and inconceivably horrifying tragedy.
The result was one of my first columns, which both held up and tore down the man that was Penn State head coach Joe Paterno.
Now, In February 2013, I’m one year older and about 20 years more cynical. And while I stand by my original conclusions that Paterno is nothing more or less than the sum of his actions, good and bad, it is becoming increasingly obvious to me that Paterno’s family has no grasp on reality whatsoever.
The family of the late Joe Paterno commissioned a “Paterno Report’” earlier this week, intended as a rebuttal to former FBI director Louie Freeh’s report on the Sandusky scandal. Freeh, who was tapped by the Penn State Board of Trustees to lead an internal investigation into the crimes committed in Happy Valley, compiled 267 pages of information that cited hundreds of documents and relied on the testimony of dozens of material witnesses.
Freeh concluded that Paterno was among a handful of men — among them, PSU president Graham Spanier, vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley — who were complicit, if not explicit, in “conceal[ing] Sandusky’s activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community and authorities.”
But if the Freeh Report is the rational good son, then the Paterno Report is its wiley half-brother who keeps getting suspended from school for texting in class.
Unlike the findings unearthed by Freeh, and the subsequent, logical conclusions that are formulated, the Paterno report prefers to operate unobstructed by nuisances like “facts” and “evidence.”
Much like American hero Stephen Colbert, the Paterno family is operating purely based on what their gut tells them. And it tells them that their patriarch did no wrong.
Among other things, the Paternos points out that many of the conclusions reached by the Freeh Report are nothing more than speculation. They are not incorrect. Many of Freeh’s most damning accusations are conclusions based on uncovered evidence, not inarguable facts.
I’m not saying the Paternos fail to raise good points, and I’m not saying that Freeh is infallible. In fact, if we’ve learned anything this week, it’s that only one man is infallible. And he’s retiring.
Obligatory papal references aside, the Sandusky scandal is too large a social crisis to allow one man to monopolize the fact-checking. That being said, don’t mistake the Paterno report for a set of facts.
Freeh made a concentrated and methodical attempt to discover the truth, benign or otherwise, behind the events of the Penn State showers; the Paterno report is nothing more than public relations, a report with a clear agenda.
I can’t fault JoePa’s sons for making an effort to clean their late father’s image up, but I can fault them for not seeing the Pennsylvania forest through the trees. At this point, well over a year after the initial media frenzy, the focus of the conversation has shifted rather definitively from the “doling-out-blame” stage to the “let’s-make-sure-this-never-happens-ever-again,-ever” stage.
Chances are that, if you’re a resident of Pennsylvania or related to a PSU grad, you believe JoePa is a saint and always will. Conversely, if you live elsewhere and watched the Freeh report unfold, you likely believe Paterno was dangerously apathetic while a pedophile molested children unperturbed.
Rehashing old wounds and deflecting blame way after the 11th hour doesn’t make JoePa look any better. It just makes his family look pathetic.
Contact Chase Kiddy at email@example.com.