Penn State report blasts Joe Paterno for handling of sex abuse case
Penn State leaders including late head football coach Joe Paterno concealed former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s child sexual abuse for years, showing a “total disregard” for his victims, former FBI director Louis Freeh said in an investigative report on Thursday..
Pennsylvania State University trustees hired Freeh and his law firm to investigate the school’s handling of the allegations involving Sandusky, 68, who was convicted last month of sexually abusing 10 boys.
“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 in a statement on the findings of an eight-month investigation.
Freeh also criticized the board that hired him, saying it failed to hold senior leaders accountable.
The 267-page report could influence Penn State as it prepares for potential civil lawsuits. The university has already invited victims to try to resolve claims against the school. The report could also shed light on any criminal liability for two university officials charged with perjury and failing to report what they knew about Sandusky. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Sandusky, the defensive coach who helped turn Penn State into a perennial powerhouse under Paterno, was convicted on June 22 of 45 counts of child molestation involving 10 boys over 15 years and awaits sentencing, facing up to 373 years in prison.
The grand jury charges against Sandusky in November prompted the firing of university President Graham Spanier and Paterno, the legendary “JoePa” who won more games than any other major college football coach. Paterno died two months later of lung cancer at age 85.
At the heart of the Freeh probe is how Paterno and other Penn State officials reacted to the story of Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant who told them in 2001 he had seen Sandusky in a sexual position with a boy in a football locker room shower. Neither police nor child protective services was informed.
The report said Paterno and others also knew about a 1998 criminal investigation of Sandusky in which he was suspected of misconduct with a boy in a locker room shower.
“In short, nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity,” Freeh said.
Failure to alert authorities allowed Sandusky to continue preying on young boys for years, prosecutors said. At least half of Sandusky’s 10 known victims were abused after 1998.
Former Athletic Director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, a former university vice president, face charges of perjury and failure to report suspected abuse in the case.
“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,” Freeh said.
Freeh was a U.S. District judge when former President Bill Clinton named him to run the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1993. He remained in the post through 2001.
Freeh’s team conducted more than 430 interviews in its investigation, including with school staff, coaches, athletes and others, and sifted through 3.5 million emails and documents. The most damning evidence, however, came from the discovery of “critical” emails exchanged in 1998 and 2001.
Paterno downfall gives fans ‘double shock’
A leading sports psychologist characterized the negative reaction after the Freeh report as “double shock.”
Joel Fish, a sports psychologist and director of the Center for Sport Psychology in Philadelphia, said the average Penn State fan or alum is in shock from the report’s deplorable findings, but that Joe Paterno’s iconic status adds to the outrage.
“Sometimes the more beloved a person is the more hurt we are when they don’t live up to our expectations and what we think of them,” explained Fish, who has worked locally for the Phillies, Flyers and Sixers. “I think for many people in this state the shock is intense – double shock, if you will.”
Another reason the scandal has elicited such strong emotion is because sports figures have become more revered in today’s society and Paterno was one of the biggest celebrities.
“Now we get sports 24/7, you see athletes so often now you feel like you know them. I think because we have such access to athletes now you can really start to feel like you know them because you see them so often,” he said.
As for Paterno’s lasting legacy, Fish said some people will maintain a negative view due to the Sandusky scandal, while others will take into account his good will and contributions to Penn State. “For a certain percentage of people, the legacy will take into account the whole picture and not just this” certain situation.
Solomon D. Leach/Metro