Monday, February 11, 2013

Commentary: Paterno legacy little changed by family's commissioned report

By David Jones
The Patriot-News
February 10, 2013

When Joe Paterno's family announced it was releasing a report today that would ostensibly clear him of any wrongdoing in the Jerry Sandusky scandal, I had a pretty good idea what its aim would be: To persuade people that Paterno did nothing to hide the pedophile's acts or impede his investigation.
That's never been the issue with me. Based on any evidence, including the Freeh Report, it's hard to know whether Paterno played a role in any active cover-up. That's been the debate ever since its release last July.
What I believe Paterno should be held accountable for is not what he did but what he didn't do. Not his actions, his inactions. You don't need the Freeh Report to see that, you only need Paterno's grand jury testimony and the information available in the state attorney general's presentment.
Joe PaternoView full sizeJoe Paterno
The findings in those documents led to Paterno's firing in November 2011, as well as the ouster of Penn State president Graham Spanier, athletics director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz.
Nine months later, the Freeh Report led to the NCAA's Keystone Kops act in which it bypassed its own process and levied unprecedented sanctions against the PSU football program based on a criminal case for which it was not built to handle.
These are separate issues. Viewing the two together is a mistake.
The connector is former FBI director Louis Freeh's conclusions about Paterno. They raised the suggestion that the coach may have been involved in a cover-up so as not to smudge the Penn State football brand.
This is the heart of contention of the report commissioned by the Paternos. Former Pennsylvania governor and attorney general Dick Thornburgh, speaking this morning on ESPN's Outside The Lines, pointed out, as many have, that Spanier, Curley and Schultz were not interviewed by Freeh. They couldn't be due to their involvement in the ongoing investigation. Their lawyers were interviewed by the Paterno group:
“Personal interviews with interested parties were most important here. None of the interviews were among the principals involved in these events. And therefore, conclusions about those individuals must be viewed as pure speculation.”
Fair enough. The Paterno group, after speaking with the attorneys of the three charged Penn State officials, assessed in its statement released this morning that:
“(1) Joe Paterno never asked or told anyone not to investigate fully the allegations in 2001, (2) Joe Paterno never asked or told anyone, including Dr. Spanier and Messrs. Curley and Schultz, not to report the 2001 incident, and (3) Joe Paterno never asked or told anyone not to discuss or to hide in any way the information reported by Mr. McQueary. Joe Paterno reported the information to his superior(s) pursuant to his understanding of University protocol and relied upon them to investigate and report as appropriate.”
Then, nothing happened. It all just faded away. And that, apparently, was just fine with all involved. This is what I have a problem with. Not the question of motive. Just the very apparent aura of sheer negligence and apathy by all involved. Not action but inaction.
I like both Scott and Jay Paterno. I can try to imagine what it must be like to have your father's reputation harmed in public. I have reason to believe the last year and a half has been an inordinate shock to both of them. I don't think Joe regularly told them much about anything he did in his day-to-day job above what was necessary from a functional standpoint when Jay became an assistant coach. They are going to fight for their dad's image, as one would expect from any sons.
That is one thing. Then, there are separate issues of Penn State's reputation and the NCAA sanctions. They should not be intermingled because they deal with separate dynamics. Yes, the Freeh Report was the basis for the NCAA's misguided foray into a criminal case. What does that have to do with Paterno's reputation?
Sandusky's crimes and those who enabled them so far transcend in magnitude of importance the health of Penn State's football program and the image of the school that it's absurd to mention them in breaths less than hours apart. But for those of you so concerned, I think you should consider this:
One man who would love not to be dragging the Paterno sycophants behind him is the successor to their hero. Bill O'Brien is a not only a smart guy, he's savvy. He knows it would be counterproductive to yell out, “Enough, already! Can we move forward, please?” Even though I suspect he would love to.
For those left heartbroken that Penn State's good name has been smeared, I would suggest that the best course of corrective action would be to allow O'Brien to do what he's been doing. Unfettered by the cackling magpies debating his predecessor's legacy, unburdened by the yoke of constant regression.
I can tell you from receiving the unsolicited opinions of those around the Big Ten and around the country that O'Brien is the best ambassador you could possibly hope for. People like him in spite of their animosity toward Penn State.
The longer Paterno's legacy lingers as an issue with which Pennsylvanians appear obsessed, the worse Penn State comes off as a sheltered province of parochial zealots. The longer O'Brien stays on and implants an image of progressive demeanor and forward movement, the more Penn State's image benefits.
Doubt me if you like. Go ahead and ask some people from out of state with no dog in the fight. See what they say.
The odd thing is, I think most people from outside Pennsylvania have a pretty balanced view of Paterno. They don't discount his attributes. They always liked that he valued clean, tough football and that he insisted on sportsmanship from his players. Most seem to realize that no one ran a tighter ship when it came to lasting academic achievement, beyond its value simply to his program's reputation but toward that of his players' futures. I think most understand he genuinely cared about his players as people. But they also realize he was a football coach not a deity, a man who grew powerful and fell prey to all of unbridled power's seductive pitfalls.
So, they don't have difficulty believing that his judgment might have been warped when assessing risk to a creation he'd built block by block through decades.
I cannot know if Joe Paterno took steps to assure that Sandusky's actions were kept quiet. In fact, I'm something close to ambivalent about that issue. To some, it's critically important. To me, when assessing any detriment to Paterno's legacy, it's unessential, almost peripheral.
All I need to know is found in Paterno's Grand Jury testimony from Jan. 12, 2011. In it, he acknowledges Mike McQueary told him directly that Jerry Sandusky “was fondling... a young boy” in the Lasch Building showers. Those are Paterno's words. They are not indicative of “some amorphous incident” as former FBI special agent Jim Clemente termed McQueary's description to Paterno onOutside The Lines.
He also said this:
“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.”
Of a sexual nature. Fondling a young boy. McQueary very upset.
These are not speculative terms or muddy thirdhand conclusions provided by an investigator. These are Joe Paterno's words, given under oath. Exactly what is ambiguous about them?
Yet, he felt the proper course of action was to wait 24 hours to inform his “superiors” so as not to “interfere with their weekends” and then watch as Sandusky traipsed around Penn State unimpeded for the next decade.
No matter what Paterno's apologists offer up as rationalization for his inaction, they always divert or equivocate in response to this question: If Paterno had heard such a story about his own grandson in a shower with Sandusky, what do you think would have happened?
I never get a straight answer from that one. The best they can come up with is, “Well, Joe is the only one who admitted he should have done more.” Then, I say, yep, that's right, he should've. A lot more.
And history will judge him in consort with that assessment.
It is a rational one. It's based on his own testimony. It can't be undone. It won't be.
Nor should it.

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