Paterno empowered a predator

  • Gene Wojciechowski [ARCHIVE]
  • ESPN.com | July 17, 2012

Joe lied. It's that simple. And that heartbreaking.

Joe Paterno, who for so many decades represented all that was good and honorable in college athletics, lied. Through his teeth.

According to the 267-page Freeh report, Paterno lied -- to a grand jury, no less -- about his knowledge of a 1998 assault of a young boy (Victim 6) by longtime Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky in a football facility shower.

His lies and, worse yet, his silence from the time of that first reported assault in 1998 helped empower a sexual predator for the next 13 years. Paterno did nothing to stop Sandusky. He was, said former FBI director Louis Freeh, who wrote the report, "an integral part of this active decision to conceal."

Paterno despised weakness in his players, yet he was the one who took part in and, it can be reasonably argued, helped orchestrate a comprehensive cover-up by university president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and school vice president Gary Schultz.

"The facts are the facts," Freeh said.

Joe Paterno
AP Photo/Pat LittleJoe Paterno's silence enabled a child predator.

And the facts, as uncovered and determined by more than 430 interviews and 3.5 million pieces of examined emails and documentation, detail a "total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State."

Paterno was one of those leaders. In many ways, he was the leader of Penn State, both symbolically and in terms of real-time power. Asked if Paterno had the ability to stop a "culture of concealment," Freeh said, "I think it's a very strong and reasonable inference that he could have done so if he wished."

Instead, he lied. And by doing so, Paterno betrayed himself, his legacy, his university and, most of all, the children who were victims of Sandusky's serial pedophilia.

May 13, 1998, 2:21 p.m. Curley emailed Schultz 10 days after Victim 6 was assaulted by Sandusky in the shower.

"Anything new in this department? Coach is anxious to know where it stands."

Coach Joe Paterno.

Jan. 12, 2011. Paterno testifies before the grand jury.

Question to Paterno: "Other than the [2001] incident that Mike McQueary reported to you, do you know in any way, through rumor, direct knowledge or any other fashion, of any other inappropriate sexual conduct by Jerry Sandusky with young boys?"

Paterno: "I do not know of anything else that Jerry would be involved in of that nature, no. I do not know of it. You did mention -- I think you said something about a rumor. It may have been discussed in my presence, something else about somebody. I don't know. I don't remember, and I could not honestly say I heard a rumor."

Paterno knew. Spanier knew. Curley knew. Schultz knew.

Now we know.

The Paterno family insists that the all-time winningest coach in major college football history was deceived and fooled by Sandusky, that JoePa had a blind spot that lasted from 1998 to 2011.

"To think, however, that [Paterno] would have protected Jerry Sandusky to avoid bad publicity is simply not realistic," said the family in its Thursday statement.

Really? Why not? Because the Paternos say so?

Paterno could have spoken out in 1998, but didn't. He could have spoken out in 2001, but didn't. Whatever his motives, he did nothing or, in the case of the 2001 assault incident witnessed by McQueary, he did the absolute minimum.

If anything, it's unrealistic to think that the most powerful person on campus -- Paterno -- wasn't aware, on some level, of Sandusky's behavior, or that there was much to be lost if the situation reached critical mass.

"To his credit," said Freeh in his introductory remarks, "Mr. Paterno stated on Nov. 9, 2011, 'With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.'"

More? How about anything? According to the report, Spanier, Schultz, Curley and Paterno never alerted the school's board of trustees about the 1998 incident and investigation.

Joe Paterno
Chris Gardner/Getty ImagesWhat happens to Penn State football pales in comparison to what happened to the victims.

"None of them even spoke to Sandusky about his conduct," the report said. "In short, nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity."

Or to put it less discreetly, he was allowed to continue to rape young boys.

Added the report: "None of these four men took any responsible action after [the] February 2001 [incident] ... "

Paterno died nearly seven months ago and can't defend himself. But those emails, the grand jury testimony, the facts uncovered by the Freeh report speak for him. And they say that Paterno was a man undone by, of all things, an inability to do the right thing.

He is not a scapegoat. The Freeh report was critical of the entire Penn State hierarchy, from Paterno, to Spanier, to Curley, to Schultz, to the trustees, to even the football facility janitors who were terrified of being fired if they reported what they saw Sandusky do to young boys.

He was not a victim. The real victims had designated numbers at Sandusky's trial. But Paterno was an enabler.

"It's a person with a terrific legacy, a great legacy," Freeh said, "who brought huge value not just to the university but to the program. He, as someone once said, made perhaps the worst mistake of his life. But we're not singling him out."

Penn State's leaders, most notably Paterno, failed their constituency. When strength was needed, they were weak. When action was required, they were cowards.

At the moment, I couldn't care less if Penn State removes the Paterno statue at Beaver Stadium, or if the school decides to shut down its football program, or if the NCAA decides to impose its own penalties.

All I can think of are those children who lost their innocence to the evilness of Sandusky.

And that Joe lied.

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