by Ryan Isley
There is a saying that goes “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”
It is a saying that the Paterno family should memorize and embrace. Ever since the death of Joe Paterno, his family has done everything they could possibly do to clear the former Penn State head coach’s name, making themselves sound foolish in doing so.
I understand that you want to have family members remembered in the best possible light, especially in death. But to act like Joe Paterno was completely innocent in the entire Jerry Sandusky situation at Penn State is laughable.
Every time there is new evidence or a development regarding Sandusky, Paterno or Penn State, the Paterno family makes sure to get their 15 minutes of fame to have their side of the story heard.
When the Freeh Report (an independent investigation) was released and detailed information that Paterno knew and was made aware of regarding Sandusky, the family refuted it immediately. The report said Penn State President Graham Spanier, Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley and Penn State Vice President Gary Schultz all were aware of the accusations made against Sandusky and for the most part ignored them. The report accused those four of concealing critical facts regarding Sandusky to avopid the consequences of bad publicity.
The Paterno family released the following statement:
“We are in the process of reviewing the Freeh report and will need some time before we can comment in depth on its findings and conclusions. 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.
From what we have been able to assess at this time, it appears that after reviewing 3 million documents and conducting more than 400 interviews, the underlying facts as summarized in the report are almost entirely consistent with what we understood them to be. The 1998 incident was reported to law enforcement and investigated. Joe Paterno reported what he was told about the 2001 incident to Penn State authorities and he believed it would be fully investigated. The investigation also confirmed that Sandusky’s retirement in 1999 was unrelated to these events.
One great risk in this situation is a replaying of events from the last 15 years or so in a way that makes it look obvious what everyone must have known and should have done. The idea that any sane, responsible adult would knowingly cover up for a child predator is impossible to accept. The far more realistic conclusion is that many people didn’t fully understand what was happening and underestimated or misinterpreted events. Sandusky was a great deceiver. He fooled everyone—law enforcement, his family, coaches, players, neighbors, university officials, and everyone at Second Mile.
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. If Joe Paterno had understood what Sandusky was, a fear of bad publicity would not have factored into his actions.
We appreciate the effort that was put into this investigation. The issue we have with some of the conclusions is that they represent a judgment on motives and intentions and we think this is impossible. We have said from the beginning that Joe Paterno did not know Jerry Sandusky was a child predator. Moreover, Joe Paterno never interfered with any investigation. He immediately and accurately reported the incident he was told about in 2001.
It can be argued that Joe Paterno should have gone further. He should have pushed his superiors to see that they were doing their jobs. We accept this criticism. At the same time, Joe Paterno and everyone else knew that Sandusky had been repeatedly investigated by authorities who approved his multiple adoptions and foster children. Joe Paterno mistakenly believed that investigators, law enforcement officials, university leaders and others would properly and fully investigate any issue and proceed as the facts dictated.
This didn’t happen and everyone shares the responsibility.”
While they admit in the statement that Joe Paterno was not perfect, they turn around and place blame everywhere else and refuse to hold Joe accountable for what he did (or did not do). They said that Joe Paterno did not know Jerry Sandusky was not a child predator, despite the fact that he knew there was something going on and never confronted Sandusky nor went to law enforcement.
The family continues to place the blame on investigators, law enforcement officials and university leaders who did not do anything about Sandusky and the allegations instead of saying that Joe Paterno needed to do more. Instead, they simply say that they accept the criticism from people who believe that Paterno should have done more. They never say that they believe this, just that they accept it.
Jay Paterno then went even further by going on ESPN with Tom Rinaldi and answering questions regarding the Freeh Report. In the interview, Jay continues to sing Joe’s praises.
“I think people have to understand that this episode is one chapter in a very big life -a life that was led with integrity, honesty, loyalty and commitment to this university. This chapter is not even done being written. This is a very small part of his life. Joe did not commit the crime, Joe did not cover anything up. We have to keep in context that this is a chapter that is largely not about him, it is about the perpetrator of these crimes.”
During that interview, Jay Paterno also said that he believed the statue of Joe Paterno outside Nittany Lions Stadium should remain standing.
“I think it belongs there because it was a 61-year career. This is a lot of good things a lot of lives were changed for the better because of the young men he brought in to this university and educated and taught them so many things about life. So many things at the university are made possible because of efforts of my mother and he.”
As we all know, the statue was taken down this past Sunday morning. And of course, the Paterno family had a statement:
“Tearing down the statue of Joe Paterno does not serve the victims of Jerry Sandusky’s horrible crimes or help heal the Penn State Community. We believe the only way to help the victims is to uncover the full truth. The Freeh report, though it has been accepted by the media as the definitive conclusion on the Sandusky scandal, is the equivalent of an indictment — a charging document written by a prosecutor — and an incomplete and unofficial one at that.
To those who truly want to know the truth about Sandusky, it should matter that Joe Paterno has never had a hearing; that his legal counsel has never been able to interview key witnesses, all of whom are represented by lawyers and therefore unavailable; that there has never been an opportunity to review critical evidence which has not been made public; that selective evidence and the opinion of Mr. Freeh is treated as the equivalent of a fair trial. Despite this obviously flawed and one-sided presentation, the University believes it must acquiesce and accept that Joe Paterno has been given a fair and complete hearing. We think the better course would have been for the University to take a strong stand in support of due process so that the complete truth can be uncovered.
It is not the University’s responsibility to defend or protect Joe Paterno. But they at least should have acknowledged that important legal cases are still pending and that the record on Joe Paterno, the Board and other key players is far from complete.
While the Paterno family says they are concerned because this does not help the victims of Sandusky’s crimes, what they do not mention is that they are having an investigation done to undermine the Freeh Report and clear Joe Paterno’s name. How does that help the victims?
The Paterno family needs to realize that while they believe Joe is innocent and did nothing wrong, leaving a statue up of the man who covered up these crimes – if you believe sworn testimony and the Freeh Report – would send a bad message from the university and they had no other recourse than to have the statue removed.
Penn State President Rodney Erickson understood what the statue meant to some and used common sense in deciding to have it removed and put into storage.
“With the release of Judge Freeh’s Report of the Special Investigative Counsel, we as a community have had to confront a failure of leadership at many levels. The statue of Joe Paterno outside Beaver Stadium has become a lightning rod of controversy and national debate, including the role of big time sports in university life. The Freeh Report has given us a great deal to reflect upon and to consider, including Coach Paterno’s legacy.
I now believe that, contrary to its original intention, Coach Paterno’s statue has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing in our University and beyond. For that reason, I have decided that it is in the best interest of our university and public safety to remove the statue and store it in a secure location. I believe that, were it to remain, the statue will be a recurring wound to the multitude of individuals across the nation and beyond who have been the victims of child abuse.”
The next day, the NCAA leveled the football program at Penn State with penalties. As you know, they hit Penn State with a $60 million fine, bowl ban for four seasons, massive scholarship reductions and then vacated all wins for Penn State from 1998-2011, which took Joe Paterno from the top of the all-time wins list in NCAA history.
While Penn State fans were devastated, the Paterno family again chimed in with their thoughts:
“Sexual abuse is reprehensible, especially when it involves children, and no one starting with Joe Paterno condones or minimizes it. The horrific acts committed by Jerry Sandusky shock the conscience of every decent human being. How Sandusky was able to get away with his crimes for so long has yet to be fully understood, despite the claims and assertions of the Freeh report.
The release of the Freeh report has triggered an avalanche of vitriol, condemnation and posthumous punishment on Joe Paterno. The NCAA has now become the latest party to accept the report as the final word on the Sandusky scandal. The sanctions announced by the NCAA today defame the legacy and contributions of a great coach and educator without any input from our family or those who knew him best.
That the President, the Athletic Director and the Board of Trustees accepted this unprecedented action by the NCAA without requiring a full due process hearing before the Committee on Infractions is an abdication of their responsibilities and a breach of their fiduciary duties to the University and the 500,000 alumni. Punishing past, present and future students of the University because of Sandusky’s crimes does not serve justice. This is not a fair or thoughtful action; it is a panicked response to the public’s understandable revulsion at what Sandusky did.
The point of due process is to protect against this sort of reflexive action. Joe Paterno was never interviewed by the University or the Freeh Group. His counsel has not been able to interview key witnesses as they are represented by counsel related to ongoing litigation. We have had no access to the records reviewed by the Freeh group. The NCAA never contacted our family or our legal counsel. And the fact that several parties have pending trials that could produce evidence and testimony relevant to this matter has been totally discounted.
Unfortunately all of these facts have been ignored by the NCAA, the Freeh Group and the University.”
The family again went to work trying to clear the name of Joe Paterno, while briefly mentioning that the real victims here were those young men who were sexually assaulted by Sandusky. They even had the nerve to say that the reason that Sandusky was able to get away with what he did for so long is not yet understood. That led to my favorite tweet of the day:
With the Freeh Report released, the statue taken down and all of the sanctions announced, there should be no reason for the Paterno family to speak up for a while – and that is good for all involved.
By trying to save the legacy of Joe Paterno at every turn, the Paterno family fans the flames of idiocy in Happy Valley.
The problem with the Paterno family continually talking and releasing statements is that it feeds into the cult mentality of the fans surrounding Penn State football that got the program in this position in the first place. The more the family talks, the more the fans soak it in and get behind them. We have already seen and heard from plenty of fans at Penn State who have shown that they have absolutely zero perspective on what is happening at their university, continuing to think that football should be first and foremost in life. They have proven that they will defend Paterno until the end, ignoring the facts of the case and refusing to admit that Paterno knew anything or covered it up.
When the Paterno family blames everyone else around the university and the program and tries to make Joe Paterno out to be the good guy in the situation because he went to his superiors instead of going to Sandusky or law enforcement, those fans take hold of those words and use them as their ammunition to argue Joe Paterno’s innocence. They have deified Joe Paterno and made him their idol, which is why the culture at Penn State is the way it was and why Sandusky was able to get away with this for so long.
The culture at Penn State will never be able to be rehabilitated while the Paterno family and these fans refuse to see the truth and continue to try and make Paterno look like the God they created him to be. For this reason, it is best that the Paterno family just go away for now so that the fans don’t have them around to use as motivation.
And just to think – if the Paterno family would have heeded the advice in that famed quote, we would have never known just how out of touch with reality they were.
Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org