The case against Joe Paterno: Weak to non-existent on the current record


Posted on July 26, 2012 by Paul Mirengoff in Sports

After more than 430 interviews and a review of more than 3.5 million documents and other information, the Freeh Report concludes that three emails from other people – former Penn State President Graham Spanier, Athletic Director Timothy Curley, and Senior Vice President Gary Schultz – prove that Mr. Paterno was a co-conspirator in a cover-up. I do not read the evidence in the Freeh Report that way, and I do not believe the conclusions about Mr. Paterno are either warranted or fair.

The claim seems to be that Mr. Paterno knew about a 1998 allegation and did nothing, and that in 2001, when he learned about Mike McQueary’s information, he waited a day before he reported the information to the athletic director (Curley) and the vice president in charge of the University Police (Schultz) and then did nothing else.

First, with respect to the 1998 incident, the Freeh Report says that several authorities promptly investigated and reviewed the matter, including the Department of Public Welfare, the University Police Department, the State College police, and the local district attorney’s office. Freeh Report at 42-47. A “counselor” named John Seasock issued a report that found “no indication of child abuse.” Freeh Report at 42-46. Mr. Seasock interviewed the alleged victim and determined that “there seems to be no incident which could be termed as sexual abuse, nor did there appear to be any sequential pattern of logic and behavior which is usually consistent with adults who have difficulty with sexual abuse of children.” Freeh Report at 44 (quoting Mr. Seasock’s 1998 evaluation of the alleged victim). The Freeh Report adds that Mr. Seasock “couldn’t find any indication of child abuse.” Freeh Report at 45.

The police investigated and “did not question Sandusky at this time,” and the Freeh Report says that “the local District Attorney declined to prosecute Sandusky for his actions.” Freeh Report at 45-46. A “senior administrator” explained that “the case against Sandusky was ‘severely hampered’ by Seasock’s report.” Freeh Report at 46. The University Police also investigatedthe matter and unlike the local police, they interviewed Sandusky. Sandusky claimed “nothing happened” (Freeh Report at 46) and the University Police concluded that “no sexual assault occurred.” Freeh Report at 47.

The only evidence of Mr. Paterno’s involvement is a passing reference in an email from Curley to Spanier and Schultz that says that Curley “touched base with the coach. Keep us posted.” Freeh Report at 20, 48. A second email from Curley to Schultz that says “Coach is anxious to know where it stands.” Freeh Report at 20, 48. There is no other information about Mr. Paterno’s involvement in the incident. In fact, the Freeh Report does not even establish that the references to “Coach” refer to Joe Paterno. The most it can and does say is that “[t]he reference to Coach is believed to be Paterno.” Freeh Report at 49. The Freeh Report cites no evidence to support this assertion, but even if “Coach” refers to Coach Paterno, what do these emails prove? The answer is: nothing. At most, these emails suggest that Mr. Paterno was concerned and wanted to know whether Sandusky was guilty of any wrongdoing.

The Freeh Report concludes that the “record” is “not clear as to how the conclusion of the Sandusky investigation was conveyed to Paterno.” Freeh Report at 51. The Report includes many statements that assert things like “nothing in
the record indicates that Joe Paterno spoke with Sandusky.” See, e.g., Freeh Report at 51. The absence of evidence or information proves only that Mr. Freeh did not find evidence. It does not affirmatively prove anything about Mr. Paterno.

Mr. Paterno explained his actions before he died by saying that “I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the University procedure was. So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have
a little more expertise than I did.” Freeh Report at 77-78. This statement makes perfect sense, and the notion of a football coach supervising a criminal investigation is ridiculous. It is very possible that Curley or Schultz or both
told Mr. Paterno to stay out of the matter; in fact, Schultz should have told him as much. But we don’t know because Schultz and Curley are under indictment and not talking, Paterno is dead, and the Freeh Report did not find any information about this issue.

Much of the case against Mr. Paterno seems to rely on (1) the theory that the Athletic Director, Curley, was JoePa’s “errand boy”; and (2) an email dated February 27, 2001 from Curley to Schultz and Spanier which says that Curley gave the matter “more thought” after “talking it over with Joe” and was “uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps.” Freeh Report at 74-75. But the “errand boy” evidence amounts to a reference by an unidentified “senior Penn State official” (page 75), and what does it prove anyway? That one person viewed Curley as Paterno’s “errand boy”?

There is no evidence that Curley-as-errand-boy covered up because Joe Paterno told him to do so. And the February 27 email at most suggests that Mr. Paterno spoke with Curley. It does not say what Curley and Paterno discussed, and without any explanation from either Curley or Paterno, it is absurd to read into this that Mr. Paterno was the puppet master behind a coverup orchestrated by Curley, Spanier, and Schultz.

Mr. Paterno was a football coach, not an expert in criminal law or investigations, and this notion of him as some kind of omnipotent and omniscient God who callously turned his back on a serial child molester is unsupported by any evidence.

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