“It is very simple: Joe Paterno was a criminal.” —Jeff Passan, Yahoo Sports
After seven months, 400 interviews and the review of more than 3.5 million documents, Louis Freeh has completed his report on the dark underside of Penn State University, and it will stun even the most cynical among us. The former FBI director was given, we were told, “free rein” to investigate the institutional failures that compelled school President Graham Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley, director of campus police Gary Schultz and legendary football coach Joe Paterno, to cover up allegations that revered former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was a serial child predator. In the immediate wake of Sandusky’s conviction on forty-five counts of various acts of child abuse, Freeh’s 267-page report is shocking for what it reveals and shocking, frankly, for what it doesn’t reveal. The report constitutes nothing less than a death blow to the school’s reputation. Its conclusions, that those in positions of power at Penn State showed a “total disregard” for the safety of vulnerable children, will echo for years. We can reasonably expect this school with a $4.6 billion budget, a $1.8 billion endowment and 96,000 students to be inalterably crippled for the foreseeable future. Civil lawsuits, criminal lawsuits and hot pressure on the NCAA to shut down the lucrative football program will all result from this report. It also, as suspected, constitutes a death blow to what was left of the reputation of the most successful, respected coach in the history of college football, Joe Paterno. There were many cynical about the report before its release, saying, “We’ll learn that Joe Paterno covered up Sandusky’s child abuse to protect the football program. We already knew this.” But there is so much in the report we didn’t know. We didn’t know, as Freeh writes on page 39, that “several staff members and football coaches regularly observed Sandusky showering with young boys” before May 1998.
We didn’t know that there was evidence Joe Paterno knew about formal allegations against Sandusky as far back as 1998, four years before his assistant Mike McQueary walked in on Sandusky raping an 11-year-old boy in the Penn State showers, and then reported it to the coach. A supposedly shocked Paterno told Washington Post reporter Sally Jenkins shortly before his death that he didn’t know what to do upon hearing McQueary’s story because he’d “never heard of rape and a man.”
We didn’t know that when Sandusky was forced into retirement in 1999, he received in Freeh’s words, “an unusual lump sum payment of $168,000” as well as full use of team facilities.
We didn’t know that Paterno, well aware of every sick allegation, wanted Sandusky in 1999 to stay as “Volunteer Position Director–Positive Action for Youth.”
We didn’t know that Sandusky had the gall to ask the school to open, in his name, a football camp for middle school boys.
And most criminally, we didn’t know, according to Freeh, that in 2001 Schultz and Curley agreed to go to authorities but changed their mind after Curley discussed their plan with Paterno. At one point, Spanier said that if Sandusky quietly sought help, they’d turn a blind eye.
As Freeh commented, “Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims. The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”
He also accuses Spanier, Curley, Schultz and Paterno of “opting out” of complying with the Cleary Act, the federal law that mandates colleges report crime. That criminal accusation in plain black and white will become a staple of lawsuits for years if not decades.One Penn State alum tweeted this morning, “If you want to take a picture with a Joe Paterno statue, you had better do it now.”
But the report is also striking for what it doesn’t discuss, mainly the role of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett. Louis Freeh is someone who has always been a proud lieutenant of institutional power, and with this report he doesn’t disappoint. As I wrote after the Sandusky verdict,
The Governor is far from an innocent bystander. As the state’s attorney general in 2009, Corbett headed a state investigation into accusations against the revered former coach. Although his office denies it, there are multiple confirmations that Corbett assigned no one from his office to follow up on the charges: just one state trooper, a state trooper “not authorized to bring charges against Sandusky.” In addition, when Corbett was sworn in as governor in 2011, he still had not informed The Second Mile Foundation that their founder was under investigation. Instead, as a candidate for governor, he took $650,000 in donations from members of the Second Mile’s unknowing board, even allowing their chairman to hold a fundraiser for his campaign. Upon being elected, Corbett then moved deftly from doing nothing to immediately try to deflect the entire weight of the scandal onto Joe Paterno and Penn State itself, using his recently appointed position as a member of the school’s Board of Trustees (an automatic appointment for all Pennsylvania Governors) to do so.
As bracing as the Freeh report is, it confirms what we long suspected and Penn State will pay the price. But it’s also bracing that the dead and the indicted get the blame, while the sitting governor gets to have press conferences and praise Freeh for his efforts. I hope that Sandusky’s victims leave room in their deserved litigious appetites for Governor Corbett. We should all hope he has to answer for the banality of his own evil. If that’s difficult for Corbett to handle, maybe he should take the advice he gave to women upset about his support for mandatory vaginal ultrasounds and he can just lie back and “close his eyes.”