No More Defending Joe Paterno

The Freeh report paints a damning portrait of the former Penn State football coach's role in covering up the sex abuse scandal.


A curious thing happened at ESPN over the past nine months. As a horrific child abuse scandal unfolded at a major university, perpetrated by a longtime coach at the university who turned out to be a monstrous pedophile and serial child rapist, one "sports analyst" after another did all they could to exonerate the most powerful man at the university. "There's enough blame to go around," one analyst would say. "He followed procedure and passed on information through the proper channels—it's the school president's fault," another would add.

And so it went at ESPN and in newspapers and sports bars across America—one person after another finding ways to exculpate longtime Penn State football coach Joe Paterno from his failure to stop his former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, from bringing young boys onto the Penn State campus and raping them. But now, in the wake of a devastating report by an independent investigator, it's time to admit the truth. Because if Thursday's report by former FBI director Louis J. Freeh is accurate, then Joe Paterno failed the most important test of his 45-year coaching career. Indeed, he failed so egregiously that it is impossible to deny that he was in some way a bad person—or at best, a coward who cared more about the reputation of the program he had built for decades than the health and safety of defenseless children.

Thursday's report by Freeh's law firm, Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan LLP, is damning for those who argued that Paterno was a semi-innocent bystander who followed university procedure and was ignorant of the full scope of Sanduksy's depravity. According to the report, Penn State athletic director Tim Curley, senior vice president Gary C. Schultz, and university president Graham Spanier prepared a plan of action after graduate assistant Mike McQueary told Paterno that he heard "rhythmic slapping" and saw Sandusky in a sexual position with a young boy in the Penn State showers in February 2001. That plan included reporting the incident to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, a move that would likely have led to Sandusky's actions becoming public long before October 2011.

A day later, Curley emailed Schultz and Spanier and told them he had changed his mind "after giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe yesterday," according to the Freeh report. Curley decided not to report the incident to the Department of Public Welfare and never directly accused Sandusky of sexual assault. Instead, he told Sandusky not to bring "guests" into the showers, a reprimand akin to telling John Dillinger to be a good boy and leave those nice banks alone. Not six months later, Sandusky assaulted another young boy in the same shower complex in Penn State's Lasch Building, Freeh said.

That right there is the beginning and end of the discussion for me. There's much more in the Freeh report and other news stories from recent months that detail Paterno's failure to report Sandusky after an earlier incident with a young boy in 1998, his public lies about his 2001 conduct in interviews after he was fired in October 2011, and his tyrannical rule over the Penn State football program, which included a remarkable ability to circle the wagons when his players or coaches got in trouble. But that's evidence I don't need. Paterno was informed of a likely sexual assault of a minor by his longtime friend and coach. Not only did he not go to the police, the Department of Public Welfare, or the press, but he used his influence as football patriarch to dissuade the AD and university president from doing the same. Because no one informed the authorities, Sandusky was able to perform another sexual assault in the same Penn State shower complex five months later. Simply put, Paterno stood aside and deliberately covered his eyes while a monster prowled his campus putting innocent children through a hell I can't even imagine, much less begin to describe.

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Jake Simpson is a New York-based writer.

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