Did The Freeh Report Overstate Joe Paterno's Role In The Penn State Cover-up?

joe paterno penn state coach

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The most damning conclusion of the recent Freeh Report, was that several members of the school’s administration actively participated in a cover-up to protect the image of the school and that a decision was made to not turn Jerry Sandusky over to the proper authorities.In that report, Freeh points the finger directly at football coach Joe Paterno, former Penn State president Graham Spanier, ex-athletic director Tim Curley, and former Penn State university vice president Gary Schultz.

But did the Freeh Report overstep its bounds by accusing Paterno of being an active participant in the cover-up?

Let’s play Devil’s Advocate for a moment. What if Paterno did try to distance himself from the situation and it was Curley that intentionally misrepresented Paterno’s sentiments?

Before he passed away, Paterno said he “backed away and turned [the case] over to some other people,” and that he “didn’t know exactly how to handle [the situation].” He added that he was “afraid to do something that might jeopardize [university procedure].”

The only evidence the Freeh report presents to the contrary are emails from Curley to Spanier in which Curley said he was “uncomfortable” with going to the authorities after it was decided they would. Curley says he changed his own mind after meeting with Paterno.

But what if it was only Curley that wanted the scandal swept under the rug? If it was Curley’s aim to overrule his boss, the university president, his argument was certain to carry more weight if Spanier believed that it was Paterno’s wish also.

And in fact, Curley never says what Paterno wanted. Curley only states that he changed his mind after meeting with Paterno. If this email had ever gotten back to Paterno, there was enough deniability built in to the carefully worded statement for Curley to explain that he wasn’t intending to point the finger in the coach’s direction.

The Freeh Report even admits that there is no direct evidence implicating Paterno, saying only that it is “reasonable to conclude” that Paterno concealed evidence.

This is not intended to say Paterno is innocent. He was probably guilty of something. Hell, what we know suggests that he was clearly guilty of lots of things. He knew about the incident. He should have pressed further. He shouldn’t have allowed Sandusky to continue to bring children to the campus.

But based on the evidence that is available, is this a “reasonable” conclusion?

Taking into account the available witness statements and evidence, it is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State University – Messrs, Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley – repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the Board of Trustees, Penn State community, and the public at large. Although concern to treat the child abuser humanely was expressly stated, no such sentiments were ever expressed by them for Sandusky’s victims.

Somebody tried to cover-up the mess. And Paterno may well have been involved. But it seems like a stretch to reach that conclusion based on the evidence in the Freeh Report.

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