Saturday, August 11, 2012

Joe Paterno: Still the scapegoat?

Media asserts Paterno guilty of cover-up

The Freeh Report was an investigation on Jerry Sandusky's crimes at Penn State University and those involved. After it was released, the media swelled with comments such as these:
Jerry Sandusky was accused of a 15-year reign of pedophilia on young boys ... Paterno knew. He knew all about it. He'd known for years. He knew and he followed it vigilantly. That's all clear now after Penn State's owninvestigator, former FBI director Louis Freeh, came out Thursday and hung the whole disgusting canvas on a wall for us. (Rick Reilly, ESPN)
Another example:
Paterno did nothing to stop Sandusky. He was, said former FBI director Louis Freeh, who wrote the report, "an integral part of this active decision to conceal." (Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN)
The Freeh report determined top Penn State officials, including Joe Paterno, had intentionally tried to cover up Jerry Sandusky’s child sex abuse. (Anne Danahy, Centre Daily Times)
In short, it seems to be a forgone conclusion among the media and those who embrace their account that Joe Paterno willingly covered up sexual crimes against children.

I first wrote about this Sandusky incident as it pertained to Paterno back in November 2011, questioning the amount of evidence incriminating Paterno as an accomplice in covering up sex crimes against children. I mentioned the Catechism's definition of justice as giving God and neighbor their due.  The sentiment, of course, still applies.

In perusing the Freeh Report, I have found it difficult to locate any smoking gun against Paterno, that he knowingly covered up sex crimes as journalists like the above assert.

The above mentioned Wojciechowski believes the following is the incriminating portion. He quotes a January 2011 exchange by Paterno before a grand jury:
Question to Paterno: "Other than the [2001] incident that Mike McQueary reported to you, do you know in any way, through rumor, direct knowledge or any other fashion, of any other inappropriate sexual conduct by Jerry Sandusky with young boys?"
Paterno: "I do not know of anything else that Jerry would be involved in of that nature, no. I do not know of it. You did mention -- I think you said something about a rumor. It may have been discussed in my presence, something else about somebody. I don't know. I don't remember, and I could not honestly say I heard a rumor."
In May 1998, the Freeh Report states that there was an email from A.D. Curley stating "Anything new in this department? Coach is anxious to know where it stands." The email is said to be in reference to an incident that Curley and vice president Gary Schultz (who was also head of campus police) were investigating regarding the eventually-found-guilty perpetrator Jerry Sandusky from 1998. (And by the way, the Freeh Report admits that it assumes the reference to "Coach" in that email pertains to Paterno. p. 49)

In reading Paterno's reply to the grand jury question, he mentioned that a rumor "may have been discussed in [his] presence, something else about somebody." He said he didn't remember and didn't consider what little he claimed to remember as a "rumor." The media has incriminated Paterno. That much is obvious. But there are key statements in the Freeh Report itself that bring a grayness to Paterno's involvement that the media, and combox commentators have not given much attention.

Lesser-known claims from the Freeh Report about the 1998 incident
University Police Department Chief Harmon emails Schultz:  “We╩╣re going to hold off on making any crime log entry.  At this point in time I can justify that decision because of the lack of clear evidence of a crime.” (p. 20)
Personally, I have not found an article mentioning the investigation by campus police about how the police did not find "clear evidence of a crime." Further, the Report mentions local police's involvement:
Sometime  between  May  27,  1998  and  June  1,  1998,  the  local  District  Attorney  declined  to  prosecute  Sandusky  for  his  actions  with  the  boy  in  the  shower  in  the  Lasch  Building  on  May  3,  1998. (p. 46)
But very little has been stated by those angry at Paterno about police involvement. None of the articles I cited at the start even mention "police." But keep in mind the above statements about the police involvement in 1998 and consider this thought exercise. Let's assume for a moment that Paterno was fully aware of this 1998 police investigation and that they dropped the case. Common arguments like Wojciechowski's that "Paterno did nothing" are out the window. Police were involved at the start. They investigated, they didn't find evidence, and the local D.A. dropped it. What is Paterno, in 1998, supposed to have done at that point? He should go to the campus and local police and tell them they are wrong? He should interfere with the investigation? Those would be rather nonsensical expectations, Paterno not being a detective notwithstanding.

Remember, the 2011 question before the grand jury to Paterno asked him "do you know in any way, through rumor, direct knowledge or any other fashion, of any other inappropriate sexual conduct by Jerry Sandusky."  Sandusky had not been found guilty at the time of that question. The question is actually rather awkward. On the one hand, it's asking Paterno if he "knew" of sex crimes, including through "direct knowledge," but in the same breath it asks if Paterno "knew" by way of "rumor." At that point, barring evidence that Paterno first-hand knew Sandusky's guilt (which no one asserts), Paterno could not say he "knew." He mentioned there may have been conversations in front of him but he didn't consider them rumors. The meat of the question was wether or not Paterno "knew" Sandusky was guilty of some crime in the past. He may well have been wishy-washy on the "rumor" part of the question, because even with that, he couldn't really say he "knew" Sandusky was guilty. I think it is possible that writers like Wojciechowski assume too much when they claim Paterno "lied," or at least make more of Paterno's awkward answer than it is.

The Freeh Report's non-specific comments about what Paterno knew about the 1998 and 2001 investigation

In the Freeh Report's timeline and account of the 1998 incident, these are excerpts from which people apparently conclude Paterno was fully aware of what was going on with Sandusky:
[Sometime between May 4-30, 1998] Curley notifies Schultz and Spanier that he has “touched base with” Paterno about the incident. Days later, Curley emails Schultz:  “Anything new in this department? Coach is anxious to know where it stands.” (p. 20)
The above comment tells us nothing of what Paterno was told. Is it possible that Curley gave every waking detail about the accusations against Sandusky? Yes. Is it possible that Curley updated Paterno without giving much detail? Yes. One thing is certainly apparent between this information and the statements about police involvement––Paterno was not involved with the investigation. Even the Freeh Report only describes him receiving undisclosed updates of some kind from A.D. Curley. Even if Paterno did know everything, as my above thought exercise noted, the police found no cause. How can Paterno be involved in a cover-up? What sort of clairvoyant 20/20 hindsight is he supposed to have come up with at the time? Why should we expect Paterno, who is not a policeman, to overrule an investigation of which he wasn't part?

Even though Paterno was not involved in the investigation, and even though the Freeh Report is consistently vague as to what Paterno was actually told by those conducting the investigation, the Report still bundles Paterno along with the others as if their knowledge was equal. The Report states:
While  no  information  indicates  University  leaders  interfered  with  the  investigation,  Spanier [then-Penn State president], Schultz, Paterno and Curley were kept informed of the investigation. (p. 39)
Regardless of this statement's lack of specifics, the Report elsewhere suggests that the chain of information varied among these persons. In fact, the Freeh Report, referring to its already vague statements about what Paterno knew about the 1998 incident added this comment:
After  Curley’s  initial  updates  to  Paterno,  the  available  record  is  not  clear  as  to  how  the  conclusion  of  the  Sandusky  investigation  was  conveyed  to  Paterno. (p. 51)
One accusation made by the Freeh Report suggests that the Paterno family lied about Paterno's knowledge of the 1998 incident. The Report states:
Paterno’s family has publicly denied that Paterno had knowledge of the 1998 incident. (p. 53)
The footnote for that assertion points to the following family statement:
[O]ne outrageous and baseless claim that cannot go unchallenged is that Coach Paterno knew about a 1998 incident involving Jerry Sandusky that was investigated by local law enforcement. There is indisputable evidence showing that Coach Paterno was not informed about that investigation, as well as the Coach’s own sworn testimony to that effect.
On the one hand, the family could be mistaken. Granted. However, when comparing the two statements closely, it could be the family is referring to Paterno's knowledge of "local law enforcement's" investigation, whereas the Freeh Report blanketly refers to Paterno's knowledge about the incident in general. It may be possible the Freeh Report read too much into the family's statement, because the Freeh Report does not produce specifics that Paterno was told about local police involvement.

Vague statements about Paterno's knowledge of the 2001 Sandusky incident can also be seen in the Freeh Report and elsewhere. Paterno learned of the 2001 incident when assistant coach Mike McQueary told him about what he saw in the showers. It is unclear exactly what McQueary told Paterno at that time. According to Paterno's grand jury testimony, he was not given details. Paterno testified:
Well, he had seen a person, an older — not an older, but a mature person who was fondling, whatever you might call it — I’m not sure what the term would be — a young boy. [He said it was] Jerry Sandusky ... Obviously, he was doing something with the youngster. It was a sexual nature. I’m not sure exactly what it was. I didn’t push Mike to describe exactly what it was because he was very upset. 
To complicate matters, it seems McQueary's own claims about what he saw have varied.

The Freeh Report continues with non-specific second-hand assertions about what Paterno knew about the incident:
Spanier, Schultz and Curley meet and devise an action plan, reflected in Schultz’s notes: “3) Tell chair of Board of Second Mile 2) Report to Dept of Welfare. 1) Tell JS [Sandusky] to avoid bringing children alone into Lasch Bldg who’s the chair??” The plan is confirmed in a subsequent email from Schultz to Curley. Curley emails Schultz and Spanier and says he [Curley] has changed his mind about the plan “after giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe [Paterno] yesterday.” Curley now proposes to tell Sandusky “we feel there is a problem” and offer him “professional help.” “If he is cooperative we would work with him to Curley emails Schultz and Spanier and says he [Curley] has changed his mind about the plan “after giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe [Paterno] yesterday.” Curley now proposes to tell Sandusky “we feel there is a problem” and offer him “professional help.” “If he is cooperative we would work with him to handle informing” the Second Mile; if Sandusky does not cooperate, “we don’t have a choice and will inform” DPW and the Second Mile. (p. 23-24)
Somewhere on the radio or in a news article, I heard a member of the media make much ado about the bold part of the above statement. This media member was suggesting that Paterno told Curley to soften the plan to protect Sandusky. Yet the Freeh Report tells us nothing like that. As in the 1998 incident, all we have are notes from Curley talking about how he said something to Paterno, but we don't know what. We don't know if Paterno suggested anything to Curley. Assuming Curley's statement is true, he may have changed his mind of his own accord after talking with Paterno. And as in the 1998 incident, Schultz, the head of campus police, was involved. There's no real "evidence" of Paterno covering up anything.

One other statement the Freeh Report includes also indirectly indicates its inability to produce any specific knowledge Paterno had that demonstrated that he covered up a crime:
Witnesses  consistently  told  the  Special  Investigative  Counsel  that  Paterno  was  in  control  of  the  football  facilities  and  knew  “everything  that  was  going  on.” (p. 51)
What does that mean that he knew "everything"? If that is verifiable, then there should be no problem demonstrating that Paterno knew Sandusky was guilty. Yet the Report produces no such evidence. It just sounds a little like they couldn't find anything against Paterno so they gathered unnamed witnesses who simply said, "He knew everything!" Such "evidence" would hardly hold up in court.

Paterno knew he wasn't a detective

It is quite possible that people who criticize Paterno for not "doing something" treat him with 20/20 hindsight. He's not a detective and may not have considered it his place to trump those in charge of campus investigations. In fact, that's what Paterno was quoted as saying shortly before his death:
I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was,” he said. “So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.” (Joe Paterno, Jan. 2012, commenting on the 2001 incident he learned from McQueary)
And to the grand jury in January 2011:
Q: You indicated that your report was made directly to Tim Curley. Do you know of that report being made to anyone else that was a university official?Paterno: No, because I figured that Tim would handle it appropriately.
In other words, it is rather plausible that Paterno did not consider it his place to go around trumping the decisions of authorized investigators, such as the campus and local police, or the director of campus police himself. And yet Paterno comes under fire from the media as being involved in some kind of cover-up, willingly protecting a pedophile.

The Paterno family feels the same way. In July 2012, after a media frenzy incriminated Paterno, the family released the following statement:
[W]e want to take this opportunity to reiterate that Joe Paterno did not shield Jerry Sandusky from any investigation or review. The 1998 incident was fully and independently investigated by law enforcement officials. The Freeh report confirms this. It is also a matter of record that Joe Paterno promptly and fully reported the 2001 incident to his superiors. It can certainly be asserted that Joe Paterno could have done more. He acknowledged this himself last fall.* But to claim that he knowingly, intentionally protected a pedophile is false.

Many members of the media have filled in the blanks in the Freeh Report where non-specific information is given regarding Paterno. But it seems more reasonable that it's tricky to make a conclusion. This is not to be obtuse and refuse to see any guilt in Paterno if any evidence should surface that points to him actually committing a cover-up crime or even gross negligence that can be identified without the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. If that evidence exists, I have not seen it. On the other hand, if Paterno did not engage in a cover-up, which I think is still a viable possibility given the non-specifics in the Freeh Report, then it speaks to a media, current Penn State officials, and a duped public's emotionally charged reaction to incriminate him without cause.

Meanwhile, according to Yahoo Sports, both Paterno's family and former Penn State President Graham Spanier have claimed there are "inaccuracies in Freeh's report." The family intends to conduct its own investigation of the Freeh Report's claims.

Another paragraph in the Catechism may serve as a nice closing:
CCC#2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor.
So far, I think this case pertaining to Paterno may well lack that sufficient foundation.

EDIT August 26, 2012: A new biography called Paterno suggests that Paterno did not have the motive to cover up for Sandusky. The book contains quotes from Paterno indicating that he did not involve himself in the investigations, nor did he show knowledge of Sandusky's crimes, insisting even to his son that he's "not omniscient." (sample story at ABC News)

*Paterno was quoted as stating "With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more." I think the key to this quote is "with the benefit of hindsight." Unfortunately, at the time of these incidents, Paterno did not have that benefit.


  1. Nice article. People are so misinformed. I just hope the full truth comes out and all of the Joe haters are proven wrong. Anyone who follows this story closely knows this goes way beyond Joe.