Jerry Sandusky’s day is coming before summer’s end, when he will be sentenced for his unspeakable crimes. For nearly everybody else who belonged to the Joe Paterno/Penn State University apologist society, that day of reckoning came Thursday.
Former FBI chief Louis Freeh and his commissioners spared nobody in their thorough 267-page screed against a culture of hero-worship and an inverted pyramid of power. The Paterno family can be excused for some of the rhetorical shortcomings and omissions in its response, but you’ve got to believe the rest of the universe will begin to step back from the message boards and leave victimhood to its exclusive province: the actual, literal victims and their families.
If they need any further proof, they can take their cue from Phil Knight, who delivered a poignant and passionate defense of Paterno at the coach’s funeral in January. On Thursday, the Nike CEO spoke of his enduring love and respect for Paterno, but he nonetheless announced that the legend’s name is coming down from the on-campus day-care facility for children of Nike employees.
It’s important to note what isn’t in the Nike release. It doesn’t chastise the Freeh report or excoriate anybody. It sounds like the lamentation of a wounded parent who disciplines a child without disavowing him or her altogether.
The apologist’s next step in many such circumstances is to blame the newest messenger, which in this case would be the Freeh report. “Surely they hate us,” the clueless might say. “They’re jealous of our Nittany Lions and want to pile on against a great man who recently died of cancer.”
Sorry. That one’s not working. Freeh and his firm were hired not by a shady rival but by the Board of Trustees of Penn State University. Freeh didn’t pass out advance copies of the missive for Board perusal, and he exposed a previously unrevealed nugget: That Penn State didn’t have an official protocol for compliance with a federal statute that mandates reporting of campus crime to the government and to its immediate constituency. That law, the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, went on the books in 1990. More than a decade later, Penn State still didn’t seem to know a whole lot about it.
Defend that one.
As for the family, human nature compels defense of one’s patriarch, but even the most loyal defender has to avoid the temptation to say stuff like this: “From the moment this crisis broke, Joe Paterno supported a comprehensive, fair investigation. He always believed, as we do, that the full truth should be uncovered.”
Always? You mean back in 2001, when Tim Curley suddenly had a change of heart about going to authorities in the immediate aftermath of a talk with Paterno?
If you’re to buy the above statement, you’d have to believe that Curley opted for the “humane” approach on Sandusky after Paterno told him to pursue the truth wherever it might lead.
The family says Paterno never obstructed justice, and in a legal sense, that may be accurate. But it still would have been nice to address the Curley-JoePa chat if the report of it was false or misleading.
Again, the family can praise their beloved, but even in so doing, it might want to refrain from making improbable claims.
Louis Freeh didn’t win here. Nobody ever wins in these things.
There are victims here, and they don’t walk sidelines or make tackles.
Rob Daniels is a freelance writer with more than 20 years of professional experience.