A triumph of spin

February 11, 2013

Of all the figures in the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Joe Paterno perhaps caught the luckiest break.

Paterno died just a few months after Penn State trustees fired him as head coach of the university football team for allegedly looking the other way as Sandusky sexually abused underage boys. Because of his demise, Paterno will not face the legal or civil liabilities that will be ensnaring former Penn State president Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and administrator Gary Schultz for years to come.

But Paterno’s reputation was soiled as a result, and his apparent inaction in the face of Sandusky’s crime spree stands to loom larger in his legacy than whatever facilities he helped build in Happy Valley or how many winning seasons he helped shape from the sidelines.

So the release of a report commissioned by the Paterno family over the weekend trying to cast the late coach’s actions in a more favorable – or, at least, less damning – light can be seen as their attempt to mimic Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth when she cried, “Out, damned spot!”

Released with the imprimatur of Richard Thornburgh, who has served as both Pennsylvania governor and U.S. attorney general, the Paterno family’s report counters a finding made by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who concluded in his own investigation that Paterno and the other officials showed no concern for Sandusky’s victims, sought to cover up Sandusky’s misdeeds and were most concerned with Penn State’s “brand.”

The Paterno family report argues, on the other hand, that the coach was manipulated by Sandusky, as was the rest of the Penn State community, was unschooled in how to deal with child predators and, in fact, didn’t even consider Sandusky a friend. Paterno and Sandusky “disliked each other personally, had very little in common outside work and did not interact much if at all socially.”

But, as Freeh himself pointed out in a statement, the Paterno family’s report does not uncover any new facts or alter any of the fundamental conclusions of Freeh’s report. It still appears that Paterno had at least an inkling that Sandusky was up to no good, but either didn’t know how to deal with it, or didn’t want to deal with it. In the meantime, Sandusky went on abusing children.

The Paterno family report seems less a triumph of detective work than pure and simple spin.



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