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“Total and Consistent Disregard….” Joe Paterno, Penn State and 14 Years of Criminal Cover Up

“It’s really sad and now the facts are out, there’s no more dodging the issue…” Bobby Bowden 

Louis Freeh stood on the podium at the Westin Hotel in Philadelphia. The former FBI director took no joy in making this report. It was damning. It was precise. It was massive. 430 interviews, 3.5 million e-mails and other documents detailing the cover up of numerous sexual crimes involving Paterno’s long-time Defensive Coordinator at Penn State Jerry Sandusky.  A revered coaching legend and a highly respected university were demonstrated to have knowingly covered up and enabled Sandusky to continue sexually assaulting young boys for 14 years after they were alerted by University Police of accusations of a victim’s mother about an incident involving Sandusky and her son in early May 1998.

Freeh stated:

“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State.  The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.   Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky’s victims until after Sandusky’s arrest.”

The university allowed Sandusky to retire “not as a suspected child predator, but as a valued member of the Penn State football legacy,” and maintain a connection with the athletic program that provided Sandusky the opportunity to continue his crimes against children. In 2001 another report, this time by assistant coach Mike McQueary who reported it to Paterno.  According to the report then University President Grant Spanier, ex-Penn State Vice President Gary Schultz, Athletic Director Tom Curley and Paterno “decided they would report the incident to the Department of Public Welfare; but Paterno had a conversation with Curley, and the men then agreed not to do so.” According to the Freeh Report Curley met with Paterno the next day and wrote: “After giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe yesterday, I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps.” 

Freeh said at his press conference today: “Their failure to protect the February 9, 2001 child victim, or make attempts to identify him, created a dangerous situation for other unknown, unsuspecting young boys who were lured to the Penn State campus and football games by Sandusky and victimized repeatedly by him.”

The abuse continued. A culture of cover up and fear pervaded the university. The report notes that in the fall of 2000 “A University janitor observed Sandusky sexually assault a young boy in the East Area Locker Building and advised co-workers of what he saw. Also that evening, another janitor saw two pairs of feet in the same shower, and then saw Sandusky and a young boy leaving the locker room holding hands. Fearing that they would be fired for disclosing what they saw, neither janitor reported the incidents to University officials, law enforcement or child protection authorities.”

It took until November 2011 before anything was done and that was when a Grand Jury Report was made public and Sandusky arrested. Spanier, Curley and Paterno were all fired. Paterno died of Lung Cancer on January 22nd 2012, due to his illness investigators were unable to interview him and quite probably avoiding earthly criminal charges. However in response to the revelations that cost him his job he said “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.” Sandusky was convicted 45 of 48 counts of criminal sexual assault and endangerment on June 22nd 2012.

Some of Paterno’s defenders including Penn State Alum and Pro-Football great Matt Millen have suggested that this was simply a flaw in an otherwise great man. They point to the many positive things that Paterno did and his positive influence in many lives. Those are mitigating factors in what amounted to a long term, 14 year criminal cover-up of the crimes of a sexual predator. Paterno was the most powerful man at Penn State and possibly in Pennsylvania.

This was may have be a “flaw” in Paterno’s character but it was also criminal. It is time to stop denying and admit that there is no more dodging the issue. The actions of Paterno and the other high level Penn State administrators in the cover up demand action. Paterno cannot be prosecuted but he should no longer be defended or his actions in the Sandusky affair. It is now a major part of his legacy taking up nearly a quarter of his 61 year coaching career a time in which he and his supporters actively built a legacy of honesty, integrity and hard work. Buildings, athletic complexes and awards were named in his honor and a massive statue stands at the entrance to the Penn State Football stadium. He was elected to the NCAA Hall of Fame, received numerous honors and accolades and had been nominated for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a nomination that was withdrawn as a result of the Sandusky scandal.

His legend and his previous good deeds have been forever tarnished by the cover-up. He was a great coach. He had a great career. He built a program that was revered and helped enrich the university. Those are facts, they were good things but when he was confronted with the face of evil under his nose he failed the test. He failed to act to protect the victims of Sandusky’s crimes. Had he done so in 1998 when according the Freeh Report he would be remembered in a different light.

I don’t know his motives, but for the leadership of the University it seems that protecting its image and reputation meant more than protecting the victims of a sexual predator. Paterno said to the Washington Post 9 days before his death regarding him receiving McQueary’s report of Sandusky’s actions in 2001 “to be frank with you I don’t know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it.”

When Paterno died “I wrote that In the end maybe he was simply out of touch with the real world.” Maybe that his why he did nothing, but the fact that the Penn State leadership changed its mind about reporting the 2001 incident after Schultz talked with Paterno indicates that maybe Paterno was more involved than he admitted before his death.

Paterno once said that “Success without honor is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won’t taste good” It looks like he was right.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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