The Freeh Report, and its Fallout
Of all the answers former FBI director Louis Freeh gave today after the release of his group’s 267-page report on the Sandusky scandal, this might have been the most blunt. The report’s findings center on a Penn State leadership culture devoid of accountability at the highest level, in which a handful of men—Graham Spanier, Tim Curley ’76, ’78g, Gary Schultz ’71, ’75g, and Joe Paterno—failed in their responsibility to expose a serial pedophile. Their motivation, in Freeh’s words, was “avoiding the consequences of bad publicity.”
The Board of Trustees is cited as well for a failure to press for answers and hold the university’s administration accountable. The picture presented is clear: Jerry Sandusky ’66, ’71g was the monster in all this, but he was enabled, directly or not, by many others who had the power to stop him.
On Thursday, as throughout the scandal, much of the attention focused on Paterno’s accountability. On this, Freeh was careful but direct. “We have a great deal of respect for Mr. Paterno, and condolences for his family on their loss. He’s a person with a great legacy, terrific legacy… he, as someone once said, made perhaps the worst mistake of his life. We’re not singling him out. We’re putting him in a category of three other people who were major leaders of Penn State. He was also a major leader of Penn State. The facts are the facts… There’s a whole bunch of evidence here. We’re saying he was a major part of an active attempt to conceal… I regret that. But what my report says is what the evidence and the facts show. We laid that out as fairly and clearly as we can.”
The reactions from elsewhere in the Penn State community followed later in the day. Late Thursday morning, the Paterno family released a statement that defended its patriarch. “The idea that any sane, responsible adult would knowingly cover up for a child predator is impossible to accept,” it reads. “The far more realistic conclusion is that many people didn’t fully understand what was happening and underestimated or misinterpreted events.”
The family statement goes on: “Joe Paterno wasn’t perfect. He made mistakes and he regretted them. He is still the only leader to step forward and say that with the benefit of hindsight he wished he had done more. To think, however, that he would have protected Jerry Sandusky to avoid bad publicity is simply not realistic.”
Penn State president Rod Erickson and the university trustees met the media in Scranton in mid-afternoon. Board chair Karen Peetz ’77 and Ken Frazier ’75, who led the board’s investigative panel, both emphasized the trustees’ collective accountability in the scandal. Said Frazier, “We, the Penn State Board of Trustees, failed to provide proper oversight for the university’s operations.” Peetz echoed that statement, but said no trustees planned to resign, focusing on the acknowledgment of culpability as the first step in moving forward.
Both Peetz and Frazier addressed Paterno, commending his accomplishments and his massive positive impact on the university. But Peetz also acknowledged the “clarity that comes out of that report, that shows 61 years of excellent service to the university is now marred.”
The Board’s official statement on the Freeh Report, including details of action already taken and future plans, can be found here.
The public response to the report was immediate and harsh, much of it damning of Paterno and demanding NCAA sanctions against the Penn State football program. In Oregon, Nike announced that Paterno’s name would no longer adorn the childcare center at its headquarters. Phil Knight, the Nike founder and longtime Paterno family friend, said in a statement, “According to the investigation, it appears Joe made missteps that led to heartbreaking consequences. I missed that Joe missed it, and I am extremely saddened on this day. My love for Joe and his family remains.”
Ryan Jones, senior editor