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Penn State and Paterno, After the Freeh Report

July 16, 2012

Penn Staters everywhere are reeling.  The Freeh report on the Sandusky scandal is out and the world is demonizing Penn State, Paterno, our Nittany Lion football team, and pointing the finger of blame at all of us who bleed blue and white.

As a Penn Stater myself, I can only speak for myself, but I hope that my thoughts and feelings expressed here will resonate with others, as I know we consider ourselves a community.

When I wrote about the breaking scandal in November, I was flamed from people who hadn’t bothered to read my whole post.  For those of you who are so angry you just want to yell and scream at the world before you have all of the information, I’m going to share the main point of that post right now.  Then, I implore you, to read the rest of this current post in its entirety.  After doing so, I will welcome your comments.

Penn State needs to let go of our greatest icon in order to recover from our shared disgrace.

It is a shared disgrace because, of all people, we expected more from our hero, Joe Paterno.  Paterno himself would have required more from anyone else.  As he said in his statement yesterday, “This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

We revered Paterno because of his high standards.  Paterno taught us all by example to never accept the minimum.  To be honorable, you must do what is right even if it is easier to do only what is required.  Because of his influence, we now need to judge Paterno by those same high standards of honor, ethics, and morality.

As I said in November, I will say it again now.  Paterno did not do enough for the victims.  He recognized it.  Penn Staters recognize it.  He made an egregious error in judgement.  Had he acted differently, perhaps some of this heartache could have been spared.  Perhaps some of the victims could be reading about these events with the same removed shock and horror that we all are, instead of living through it with first-hand knowledge.

Unfortunately though, there are victims out there whose suffering has nothing to do with Penn State or Joe Paterno.  The one thing all of these men have in common is that they were abused and violated by a monster posing as a man, who was so good at hiding who he really was, that even his own wife did not know what was happening in their house.

Shortly after writing my post about this scandal, I was sent a copy of  It’s Okay to Tell, a book written by a victim of sexual abuse.  It’s a heart-wrenching true story of an 11-year-old girl who was abused by her Nanny, in her own home, at some times while her parents and siblings were present in the same house.

The sad truth is that many of these monstrous child predators out there are experts in the arts of manipulation and deception.  They manipulate their victims into wondering if their actions are normal or deserved.  They deceive everyone around them by hiding their true nature.  The fact that stories like this occur all the time is heart-breaking.

It is too easy to blame everyone nearby for not knowing and not stopping the abuse.  Do you think the parents of any child victim sleep well at night, after finding out what was happening to their child?  Do you think a single one doesn’t blame themselves for not knowing?  Do you think, when it all came out last fall, that Paterno didn’t blame himself for not doing more?  His own words, quoted above, show he did.

I do believe that, after the 1998 incident in this Penn State scandal, that Paterno and others in the university did the right thing.  Let’s revisit the facts of that incident first, as shared in the Freeh report, backed up with evidence.  In May of 1998, the victim’s mother called the police and the first investigation began (Freeh Report, p20).

One month later, the investigation is closed and charges are not brought against Sandusky.  That decision was out of the hands of Paterno and everyone else at Penn State.  The District Attorney made that call.  There was no case.

With the benefit of hindsight, we all know better now.  But quell your anger and outrage for just a moment and try to imagine yourself in the same situation.  A person you think you know well, have worked closely with for over thirty years, has been investigated and cleared of a heinous crime.  You probably chastise him for allowing himself to be so stupid as to get into a situation like that in the first place.  In the end, though, you are probably relieved.  Relieved for both your coworker and yourself, for not being wrong in your judgement of this person.

We all know better than that now.  But at the time, I truly believe that Paterno did not know the gravity of what Sandusky had done.  I don’t blame Paterno for any lack of action after the 1998 incident.

Penn State coach Joe Paterno looks on during football practice, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011, in State College, Pa. Paterno, who preached success with honor for half a century but whose legend was shattered by a child sex abuse scandal was fired by the university board of trustees on Wednesday evening. MATT ROURKE — AP Photo

Where Paterno did go wrong, was after the 2001 report.  It is Paterno’s actions of February 27-28, 2001, as reported on page 24 of the Freeh Report, that I believe to be Paterno’s greatest error in judgement.  That is, IF they are true.  If Paterno recommended that the administration first talk to Sandusky and offer him professional help instead of going with their original plan to report the charges to the Department of Public Welfare, that action allowed Sandusky access to Penn State’s facilities and worse, to his victims.

The reason I clarify this important action with an “if” is that we still do not have any proof.  The Freeh Report did a very good job of finding evidence in the form of emails and going through all it could find to see how something this horrific could happen.  However, there are two things that still bother me.  Perhaps it’s my cynical nature, or perhaps I’m blinded by blue and white loyalty.  It could be a combination of both.  Regardless of the reasons, I do see two major issues.  First, the Freeh Report was ordered and paid for by the Board of Trustees.  This BoT has a long-standing history of animosity with Joe Paterno and the BoT is under fire for their lack of knowledge, lack of transparency, and lack of leadership at the University.  Their hope in hiring Judge Freeh, was to find the smoking gun to damn Paterno and save themselves.

Second, nowhere in this entire report (trust me, I’ve read it in its entirety, not just the summary or the timeline) is there anything quoting Paterno about this “recommendation” of February 2001.  Nope, nothing.  What we have are copies of emails between Curley, Schultz and Spanier where Curley says, “After giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe yesteerday — I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps,” (Freeh Report, p74).  Curley says “I am uncomfortable,” not that Joe was uncomfortable.  We will never know what words were exchanged.  If it was Curley who came up with new plan or if it was Paterno.  We just can’t know.

I understand that many who are reading this are now shaking their heads that I’ve “drunk the Kool-Aid” or am blind to the truth.  I am not blinded by my love for Penn State any more than I will be blinded by a media frenzy.  I am simply stating facts and drawing my own conclusions, much as Judge Freeh did.  I just don’t have enough in front of me to conclusively state that this change in recommendation was Paterno’s doing.  If so, it is his greatest error in this process.  If not, well, he’s one step less involved than many of the others.  Either way, the Febrary 2001 decision to speak to Sandusky themselves rather than involve the DPW is where the University administration made a grave mistake.

The Second Mile, made an even larger mistake, however, in categorizing this a “non-incident,” in March of 2001 (Freeh Report, pp24, 78).  How an organization tasked with children’s welfare could look the other way is an even greater failure.  The Penn State Administration did the very minimum in disallowing Sandusky to bring any Second Mile children to use the campus facilities.  (We know from later reports that this was not enforced.)  The Second Mile, however, is culpable for continuing to allow Sandusky access to his child victims.  These decisions in February and March of 2001 were where adults failed to do what was right and thereby allowed more children to lose their innocence at the hands of this monster.

From that point on, until the scandal broke last fall, I believe everyone who had knowledge of the 2001 incident, but who looked the other way when Sandusky continued to use the university facilities and work with children from the Second Mile, was in the wrong.  I also believe this went much higher than Paterno, Curley, Schultz, Spanier and the Board of Trustees.  At some point, I hope to see some real investigative reporting done about the connections with Penn State and politics.  This is larger than one school, folks.  The state, including the Governor’s office, were closely connected with the university and I’d be shocked if there is anything proving that the inaction was contained to just Penn State.  That, however, is my own speculation.  To say any more than that makes me just as bad as the rest of the national media.

In the end, none of this is good.  It is heart-breaking and sobering all around.  Too many children were robbed of their innocence and violated to an extent from which they may never recover.  Grown men knew what was happening and fear, uncertainty and misplaced loyalty led to inaction.  Penn Staters are not the victims.  The brave boys who came forward to tell their horrific tale are the only victims.

We will never be able to make up for the hurt and anguish suffered by these boys, now men.  We can’t erase their tragedy.  No amount of finger pointing or blame will help them, either.  It’s important to get down the facts of what happened when so we can make sure it can never happen again.  But it also does no good to smear reputations just for the sake of sensationalism.

The number of people who made horrible choices is much too high.  I do believe that Paterno, in knowing, could have used his unwanted celebrity status to push for more action or information.  However, I also believe that Paterno is the least of many evils in this case.  It’s the fact that he was the face of Penn State that so many think he had more control than he did.  It’s the fact that he was revered and considered an icon of good that the world wants to see him fall.  It’s a better story if a hero falls.

Paterno was not perfect.  Far from it.  He made mistakes.  Some of them so big that his stellar reputation will be forever tarnished.  As it should be.  Knowing and ignoring what was happening was wrong.  He did report it, though.  He did follow up, asking for updates on what was happening.  It went up the chain, where it should have been handled.  I do believe that he should have been more outraged by what had happened and stepped up, out of his usual role to force the issue.

It’s easy, in hindsight, to judge him for that.  I tend to agree with comments I’ve seen on other articles and on Facebook from friends of mine who say, “This never would have happened on a mother’s watch.”  I think that’s true.  I like to hope that’s true.  Honestly, though, I can’t know what I would have done in the same situation.  There is a chance that, after reporting it, and asking for follow-up, I may have been grateful that it was out of my hands and thankfully, someone else’s responsibility now.  As a mother of young boys myself, I really truly hope I would have spoken out and done more, but I’ll never know.

Paterno, though, was not a mother.  He was a football coach, a grandfather, a man in his eighties, from many generations removed.  I compare Paterno to my own grandfather.  Both were stoic, old-school men who grew up in a different time.  I used to love to discuss and debate big news stories with my grandfather.  I can imagine trying to talk about this scandal with him and getting a gruff, “Och, don’t talk about that,” in response.  Their generation didn’t believe in airing dirty laundry. It’s not right and keeping quiet is what allows things like this to continue.  But it’s who they were.  They were rule followers, who believed that, if they did what they were supposed to do, then others would, too.  They were men.  Imperfect men who did more good than bad in their lifetimes.

In my mind, Paterno has fallen a few pegs.  However, I do still believe that every Penn Stater, whether student, fan, or football player, who has learned something about hard work, playing by the rules, succuss with honor, making an impact, and the importance of character over winning, because of Joe Paterno now shows by the way we live our lives, that he was not a bad man.  He had a positive influence over hundreds, no thousands of people in his lifetime.  If you wipe out all the good that he did because of this mistake, albeit a big one, then you wipe out the thousands upon thousands of people who were helped by him, too.  Children with cancer, kids in Special Olympics, students who made good choices based on what Paterno taught them, and continue to pass those ideals down to others now.

This was a grave mistake.  I make no bones about that.  But I am still proud to have had Joe Paterno’s influence in my life.  I am just so sorry that the boys who became Sandusky’s victims cannot say the same.


** This article was featured in its entirety on the BlogHer Sports page.  Check it out over there, and stay a while to read other views on this topic and more. ** 

36 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2012 12:49 PM

    You are defending the insane, unethical culture of “win at all costs”. It’s not success with honor. It’s winning for the sake of winning. Your attitude is part of the problem. All your rhetoric about values and good deeds and education is just typical attempts to put a rosy bandaid on the underlying pathology. It’s mob psychology, not much different than the tribal attitudes of nationalism, religion, etc that constantly result in war/rape/torture/genocide around the world. People like you prove the point that the program needs to be killed for a few years.

    • July 16, 2012 12:57 PM

      I appreciate you stopping by and hope that you actually read not just this post in its entirety, but the Freeh Report as well. And I sincerely hope you’ll educate yourself about the program before you go off half-cocked on the subject. Sorry to be blunt, but you are wrong. Win at all costs is as far as possible from the reality of the Penn State football program. Read, open your mind, and learn. I’d be happy to discuss this further once you are better informed.

  2. July 16, 2012 1:09 PM

    Another great article on this subject is Gil Spencer’s column in the Delaware County Daily Times. Well worth the read.

  3. July 16, 2012 3:41 PM

    One more…
    For anyone who questions where Penn State’s morality lies, the answer is here.
    No one is blind to what has happened and Penn State as a community is working on moving forward responsibly. Take some time to read more, read more, read more. From the source.
    Also visit RAINN, who received over half a million dollars in donations in one month from PSU alumni (myself included) toward helping victims of this kind of abuse. These are true examples of what we are made of and what we mean when we say We Are…Penn State.

  4. Tammy permalink
    July 17, 2012 12:57 AM

    This was so well written. You did a wonderful job of getting he point across that while you were deeply ashamed of what Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky, the boar of trustees, etc. had done you are still proud of who you are and where you come from. I don’t even like football and I really dislike how much money our schools spend on sports as opposed to academics but what has struck me from the very beginning of this whole thing is the lynch mob mentality people seem to have about the football program and the whole school in general. I keep thinking “it wasn’t EVERYONE at the school!” I don’t understand why people would want to punish the students…I could understand if they were calling for the whole board of trustees to be replaced and all of the upper administration and the ENTIRE coaching staff…

    • July 17, 2012 6:53 AM

      Thank you, Tammy. I’m grateful for your reply and glad you understood my intent. I feel the same way about the lunch mob mentality, as you put it. The media love to put on a show and it saddens me that the public continues to respond this way every time they do. Thank you.

  5. Lori permalink
    July 17, 2012 11:05 PM

    Thanks for this. Excellent job summing up how many of us feel. I hope more people do actually read this. And more

    • July 18, 2012 2:24 PM

      Thanks, Lori. I’m glad it resonates with you. I, too, hope more people read this and other articles out there. Open minds and educated opinions make for the best discussions. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Victim #6 permalink
    July 18, 2012 7:14 AM

    You really are an idiot!

  7. Victim #6 permalink
    July 18, 2012 7:25 AM

    PS – If you really don’t know what you would have done, God help your children!

  8. Victim #6 permalink
    July 18, 2012 7:58 AM

    Why did you delete my comment?
    I said: “If you really don’t know what you would have done, God help you children!”
    No response?

    • July 18, 2012 2:22 PM

      While I find it difficult to believe that Sandusky’s true Victim #6 would have found his way to my blog, read it and responded, I’m going to suspend disbelief and approve your comments as if you were truly him. My heart breaks for Sandusky’s victims. If there was anything in my power to take away that grief and pain, I would. I applaud the brave young men who have come forward to testify to put that monster behind bars.
      Second, this is a personal blog with spam filters. I have to individually approve all comments before they are displayed. Forgive me for my delay, but your comments were not deleted. I was busy taking care of my three children.
      As for your wish for God to help my children, I sincerely hope he does, every single day that I am blessed to have them. I honestly admit that I like to hope I would have done better in a case like this, but no, I don’t know for certain since I thankfully haven’t walked in those shoes. I am an imperfect human being, too. I hope, when time on earth is up, that the good I’ve done outweighs the bad. That’s all I can hope for. Thank you for stopping by my blog. I don’t expect that everyone who does will be in agreement with me, but I appreciate those who read and take the time to inform themselves.

  9. Debbie L. permalink
    July 18, 2012 3:51 PM

    Your comment: “Honestly, though, I can’t know what I would have done in the same situation. There is a chance that, after reporting it, and asking for follow-up, I may have been grateful that it was out of my hands and thankfully, someone else’s responsibility now. As a mother of young boys myself, I really truly hope I would have spoken out and done more, but I’ll never know.” Wow…..there are no words…..none. The fact that you “hope I would have spoken out,” and you are a mom of young boys….well, like I said, there are no words.

    • July 18, 2012 3:57 PM

      I still stand by that. In this particular situation, when I had already reported it, entrusted it to the chain of command…no, I don’t know for a fact what I would have done. Remember, I’m referring to the specifics of this case. I can say now, what I like to think I would have done. But I can’t know, with 100% certainty what I would have done. No one else walked in these shoes. It’s much easier to pass judgement with the benefit of space and hindsight. I’m sorry if my honesty offends you.

    • Victim #6 permalink
      July 18, 2012 4:31 PM

      Correct. I now refer you all back to my first comment.

  10. Debbie L. permalink
    July 18, 2012 5:08 PM

    No offense….just shock I guess. I know with 100% certainty what I would have done and what I think all moms would do….which goes back to your comment on another blog about ‘if this had been left up to moms, this would not have happened on our watch.’ If this offense had occurred to any one of your beautiful children, I am 100% positive you would be writing a very different story here….and not just about Sandusky or Paterno, but about anyone who had knowledge of this event and events that occurred initially and after the initial offense. This did not have to happen to me in order for me to formulate what I would have done…..and it has absolutely nothing to do with hindsight – my choices would be the same.

    • July 18, 2012 5:33 PM

      Yes, if it had happened to my children, I most definitely would have reported it, would have probably killed Sandusky with my bare hands. There’s no stopping a mama bear. I am putting myself in the position of Paterno in this instance only. With questions and uncertainty and authorities who had claimed there was no case. I hope I would have continued to ask my superiors about it repeatedly over the course of the next 10 years. My point is that, since I wasn’t there, in that exact situation, I can’t be 100% sure.

    • Nicki permalink
      July 25, 2012 9:14 PM

      1. No, you don’t know what you would do; you know what you would like to think and hope you would do. Victim #6 knows, because he was actually in that situation. The rest of us just have an image; and of course the image includes killing the monster who dared to hurt our kids. but you don’t actually know.
      2. There was a mom involved. Dottie Sandusky had it happening in her house. So clearly, just being a mom does not give you the magical ability to make exactly the right choice on every subject related to kids.

  11. Joan Merlo permalink
    July 18, 2012 5:49 PM

    Wow Stace, this is scary. That guy is a nut! He must hate athletics. Points well made and as reported its an opinion. I understand Paterno family has also hired investigators to look over material that Freeh had access to. Again, trustees knew too and they havent been fired YET. We all knew it would be slanted. Joan

    • July 18, 2012 5:54 PM

      I agree, Joan. The Board of Trustees all need to go if Penn State is to truly have the clean slate it claims to want. I hope it doesn’t stop there, though. Gov. Corbett’s office is suspiciously left out in all of this. I understand the outrage that all of this has happened. What I don’t understand is the whole-bean swallowing of this one report without questioning who is making the assumptions and why.

  12. ashleyinnc permalink
    July 19, 2012 2:11 PM

    I have read your blog and all of the report, so I consider myself well-informed on this topic. I simply disagree with so many of your premises here that I feel a blog comment would suddenly become a blog entry if I wrote them all here. I have honestly tried to see this from all sides, and I just so firmly believe that this is a rare case of something being so clearly black and white that I can’t begin to find a shade of grey.

    • July 19, 2012 2:43 PM

      And I can’t believe, with the lack of concrete evidence, the fact that this report was paid for by a Board trying to save their butts and erase a school’s entire history, that everything is not multiple shades of gray. I guess this is yet another example of something about which we’re going to have to agree to disagree.

  13. July 20, 2012 5:45 AM

    After reading this several times, I’m not clear where you stand on this. I thought you were going one way, and you shifted to go another direction. And isn’t that what it’s like when people do both great and horrific things? Were they good or where they bad? It’s the Paterno Paradox. Where I feel you have gone terribly wrong is in this: “I also believe that Paterno is the least of many evils in this case.” I don’t see there being a measure of who was the baddest bad guy. Anyone who knew and didn’t take action, even the janitor that failed to speak up for fear of losing his job, is on an equal level.

    When a child is raped in a shower by a man and it is known, anything and everything in one’s power should be done to make sure 1) it is stopped 2) it doesn’t happen again 3) the victim gets help. Paterno should have used his “celebrity” or power to do everything he could, even if that meant losing his job, to make sure the process of justice and the protection of children were both started. (But Paterno was not alone is his horrific oversight and that is what makes this so incredibly scary.)

    Imagine the impact if Paterno would have stepped down years before due to the university’s inaction.

    Reporter: Why did you resign, Joe?
    Paterno: A boy was raped in the shower and the university is doing nothing about it.

    Child abuse occurs and continues because people who know about it do nothing. For me, enablers are just as scary and culpable as perpetrators.

    • July 20, 2012 6:53 AM

      I have wished for that last scenario more times than I can count. Where I stand is this. I think Paterno himself was a good man who made a terrible error in judgement. I think he trusted the system too much. I think he had doubts about Sandusky’s guilt after the DA failed to bring a case against him in ’98. I think Paterno thought he had done the right thing by reporting it and waiting for the powers that be to do their job. I am in no way trying to exonerate the many individuals who knew and did nothing. Paterno did something. It was a step in the right direction, but lack of follow-up has always been where I claim he fell short. My biggest problem with how this is all playing out in the media is the frenzy to take Paterno down. Until they release concrete evidence proving the ’01 shower incident (still no victim has come forward so it remains a case of third-hand hearsay), or proving that Paterno did anything to try to cover this up, I will continue to defend the man who did too much good in his lifetime to be smeared by hate. Am I angry and disappointed that he knew and did not do more? Absolutely. But no, I don’t believe it erased the mountains of good he did. Thank you for coming by to read and discuss this. I appreciate your viewpoint.

  14. Russ permalink
    July 20, 2012 7:40 PM

    Staccey, I agree with you 100% . I do not believe all truths have come out in this case. I wish Joe would have done more. The bot has the easiest scapegoat of all, someone who isn’t alive. I wonder why freeh didn’t dig into the missing person involved in the original case? I also find it funny that freeh is getting investigated for covering up 10000 FBI cases! This all goes way higher up than a coach. Follow the $$$ find the truth! Great article.

    • July 20, 2012 9:59 PM

      Thanks, Russ, for bringing to light the many question marks that still remain. I appreciate your input and am grateful to know I’m not the only one who wants to know more.

  15. Russ permalink
    July 20, 2012 7:52 PM

    Also I have 2 adopted children. The amount of background checks my wife and I had to go through (every state we lived in including while I was in the army) was insane. If any info of being investigated for anything would have came up we would have been red flagged !

  16. Melanie permalink
    July 20, 2012 8:40 PM

    I applaud you, I may not agree but you are in my opinion looking at this from all sides. You suggested that perhaps your view was off due to you “bleeding” blue and white, I disagree. Your blog is well informed, and as others have said very well written. Where we disagree is IF it is found that Joe knew and turned a blind eye, or didn’t do enough then I do feel it will erase any and good that he has done. I do not believe this has been proven, not even a little bit. Especially now with the FBI investing Freeh himself. However if proof is given that Joe knew and still allowed this man in his lockers room then I would not forgive that. In my opinion this will not happen, the pieces just don’t fit. Joe had such a high standard for everyone around him, rose to the occasion time and time again that I personally can not see him knowing that children were being harmed and not acting.

    Thank you, and sorry so long.

    • July 20, 2012 10:11 PM

      Melanie, your viewpoint intrigues me. First, thank you for seeing what I was hoping was a balanced (I won’t claim to be unbiased) viewpoint. That “IF” is still the biggest hurdle for me. Since we know the money meant nothing to him, I know there were no bribes. Since he stood for integrity, I can’t see him willing to look the other way. Since he publicly ousted many of his own players for improprieties, I can’t see him worried about protecting Penn State’s reputation. But tha “IF” still looms. I find it interesting that we agree on those points, but disagree that, even with the “IF,” I’d still Honor all that he had done. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be shocked and disappointed, and my view of Paterno would change. But I just don’t know to what extent.
      At any rate, Melanie, thanks for the discussion. I appreciate your time.

  17. Russ permalink
    July 22, 2012 10:49 PM

    Jay Paterno and family r filling his legacy

  18. July 22, 2012 11:58 PM

    I think this is such a mistake. Trying to erase the good that Paterno did by cow-towing to the media and uninformed public is a mistake of astronomical proportion. By removing the statue (to what “secure location” I ask?) this is Penn State’s last-ditch effort to gain favor with a public who will never let up and never be happy with anything less than a full shut-down of the institution. Enough is enough. Because Sandusky has no memorials at Penn State, they’re grasping at straws. Paterno was not the criminal, folks.

  19. Russ permalink
    July 23, 2012 10:15 AM

    And now there taking away wins from kids who did nothing. No bowl games for four years just means less money for the folks in state college. Yet the bot is safe!

    • July 23, 2012 10:29 AM

      That’s funny, ’cause I still remember being there for JoePa’s 400th win. Take it away on paper, but you can’t erase memories. But I agree, it’s not over until the BoT is gone.

  20. Russ permalink
    July 25, 2012 9:31 PM

    Staccey r u on twitter? I’m steelersruss36


  1. The Paterno Family’s Response to the Freeh Report « From Grind to Whine

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