This may well have been one of the saddest weeks in sports that I can remember. The Freeh Report, a scathing 267-page document, confirmed that Joe Paterno – easily one of my most fabled heroes – conspired with others at the very highest of Penn State hierarchy to conceal and therefore condone what we now know was at least 14 years of repeated sexual child abuse by college football’s most-famed assistant at the time, Jerry Sandusky.
Since the eight-month project was released on Thursday, there have been angry calls for Penn State to be handed the dreaded “Death Penalty” by the NCAA, for the Trustees to disband football for several years, to tear down Joe Pa’s statue outside Beaver Stadium, and all other types of knee-jerk reaction following a scandal so vile and irreprehensible it has shocked the entire nation, if not most countries the world over.
I say we all need to stand still. One of my life’s axioms is that when horror arises and havoc breaks lose, the prudent step is to stop whatever it is immediately and then carefully and thoughtfully consider what steps to take, all as quickly as circumstances allow. When you make a mistake, you correct it, you apologize for it, and you never do it again. I think that is Penn State’s task, without any help – unless requested – from the NCAA, or the Federal government, or the meanest journalists of the day.
Just before Joe Paterno died in January, he wrote in his own hand that “during the last 45 years no one has won more games while graduating more players” but the very transparent Freeh Report revealed that “Saint Joe” did indeed have an Achilles Heel. He was merely a mortal man and that no matter to what level of athletic majesty his Nittany Lions might have reached, his is a name that will be indelibly smeared forever, all by what he would not or did not say.
Jerry Sandusky, the pedophile at the center of the gut-wrenching cover-up, has been found guilty and will doubtlessly die in prison. He is awaiting sentencing on Sept. 22. Former president Graham Spanier (who is still on tenure, if you can believe that), former vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley still await their day in court but are equally ruined. The lifetime of shame each must now bear adds an even greater weight.
But I think it is imperative for clear-minded people to understand that the evil is gone. Nobody who plays for Penn State, or who now coaches there, or is in any role of authority, had anything to do with the scandal those in sleepy State College must continue to live with. Penn State, the institution, has produced far too many outstanding alumni, and continues to do so, to let this tragedy, as great as it well may be, impede its primary mission. PSU must heal, rebuild, and forge ahead.
Oh yes, the university will still pay dearly. Civil lawsuits, which are still being filed, are only part of the devastation. The federal Clery Act, which demands thorough reporting of any campus crimes, could cause PSU problems and the NCAA – while no athletic rules were broken -- could step in due to a clause in its rule book that cites “values should be manifest … in the broad spectrum of activities affecting the athletics program.”
On balance, I think it is pretty important to recognize Penn State quickly summoned the best they could find – led by former FBI director and federal judge Louis Freeh – to head the exhaustive investigation and, with a blank check, gave him and his staff complete free rein to do whatever it took.
Freeh and his well-trained investigators talked to over 400 people, read 3.5 millions of emails and correspondence, and then released every page of the 267-report for the public to read. No, the Freeh investigators did not talk to Spainer, Schultz or Curley, this at the request of the state’s Attorney General in an action quite similar to being read one’s Miranda rights.
The Freeh Report’s interviews were also not under oath and while impending litigation prohibited Spainer, Schultz and Curley from clarifying their roles, it should be quite obvious to lay people that Penn State had no obligation to make the Freeh Report public, in either whole or part. But at Penn State, they want the truth – as bad and damaging as it is – to be told quite boldly and, in an age where legal sharks everywhere are eager to smell blood, the university’s full disclosure is refreshing.
Penn State’s stance is also a sign that while the despicable tragedy became dramatically worse on Thursday, the sordid actions of five men have not diminished the values or the standards that have been the very bedrock of the university since it was first established in 1855. What will another pound-of-flesh do for anybody? Again, no one who is at Penn State today was involved in any way.
In my mind the worst day in sports that ever was occurred in Munich at the 1972 Summer Olympics. It has now been 40 years since the Munich Massacre where eleven athletes and coaches from Israel and a West German police officer were killed by Black September terrorists. Five of the eight terrorists were killed in a botched rescue attempt and later the Great State of Israel meticulously tracked down and destroyed those who got away, along with anybody else the Mossad even sensed had anything to do with it.
My point being that we didn’t castigate Germany, refuse to take part in future Olympics, or wrongly vilify any innocent athletes. Yes, this summer’s games will include the tightest security the world has ever known, just as our pedophile laws are today the best they’ve ever been. I believe you punish criminals, and weep over the Freeh Report the same way we did in 1972 for Israel, but to now beat on the students and athletes and peoples at Penn State is unfair and unjust.
Instead, let’s return Penn State University to the mantle, knowing the Nittany family has borne a grief and has a resolve that is far deeper than any of us could ever imagine. Let’s allow Penn State to acknowledge it, make it right, apologize, and never do it again. Then let’s allow one of our country’s flagship universities to do what they have shown us for years they do best -- forge ahead.