There was a time when Penn State was seen as the exception to troubles that seemed to plague college football teams, largely because Joe Paterno was seen as the type of coach who wouldn’t allow that sort of behavior.
That legacy has been in question for some time now, and was reeling just before Paterno’s firing. With the report Thursday by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, it has been demolished.
According to Freeh, Paterno (who died earlier this year at age 85), then-Penn State President Graham Spanier and two other university officials — Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and retired senior vice president Gary Schultz, who are awaiting trial on charges of failing to report abuse and lying to a grand jury — allowed innocent boys to be molested and raped for nearly a decade and a half by Paterno’s friend Jerry Sandusky.
To them, the potential damage to the money-making football program that Paterno led for 45 years was more important than putting an end to the horrible crimes being committed against young boys by a perverted predator.
Penn State’s football program wasn’t squeaky clean like we all had been led to believe. It was just whitewashed.
“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,” Freeh said Thursday as the 267-page report was released. “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”
How many of those young lives were wrecked because these so-called leaders, these bastions of pretended virtue, put their jobs, university and football program first? Sandusky was convicted of molesting 10 boys over a 15-year period.
Turns out Paterno & Company knew as early as 1998 that he was up to no good, and in 2001 they were told by a witness that Sandusky was abusing a boy in the showers at Penn State. They talked about it, ran over some options and decided that — rather than alert child welfare authorities — they’d just pretend nothing happened. That, in their view, was the “humane” way to deal with the problem — sweep it under the carpet and if it ever came up, act like they just didn’t realize what had happened.
“It is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the university — Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley — repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from authorities, the university’s board of trustees, the Penn State community and the public at large,” Freeh’s report said.
Paterno’s family, not surprisingly, is attempting to preserve what it can of Joe Pa’s good-guy image. But there’s no good way to spin the actions of these men — actions to cover up, not protect — and the damage that was done to Sandusky’s victims.
Nothing can give those victims back their innocence and nothing can wipe away the physical pain and emotional scars Sandusky, abetted by senior Penn State officials, inflicted. Given the severity of the cover-up that was committed in the name of Penn State and its football program to hide these vicious crimes, however, the punishment that should be meted by the NCAA also should be severe. Shutting down Penn State football for a year, an action that would cripple the program for a long time to come, would send a clear signal to other universities that coddling criminals, allowing children to be hurt and covering up crimes will not be tolerated.