You didn't think Joe Paterno's death would end the efforts to protect his image, did you? If anything, the fight over JoePa's legacy is just beginning. Apparently, Penn State's Freeh report coming out on Thursday is so damning to the legacy of college football's winningest coach that his family has already released a statement attacking it.
Over the last nine months Joe Paterno has been praised by some in near saintly terms and criticized by others as a villain. He was neither.
As the people who worked closely with Joe know, he was tough, aggressive, opinionated and demanding. He was also highly principled, uncompromisingly ethical, dedicated to his job at Penn State and committed to excellence.
When the Sandusky case exploded last fall, Joe's first instincts were to tell everything he knew. He assumed the University would want to hear from him, but he was never given the chance to present his case.
He planned to hold a press conference, but University officials ordered him to cancel it. And then the various investigations started and the legal process took over. On top of everything else, Joe was diagnosed with lung cancer. Two months later he was gone. The end result is his story has never fully been told.
Regarding some of the specific allegations that have leaked out:
With respect to the email from Tim Curley which stated, "After giving it more thought, and talking it over with Joe yesterday - I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps," the media spin that this is proof of some sort of cover up is completely false. When the facts come out, it will be clear that Joe Paterno never gave Tim Curley any instructions to protect Sandusky or limit any investigation of his actions.
Joe Paterno did not cover up for Jerry Sandusky. Joe Paterno did not know that Jerry Sandusky was a pedophile. Joe Paterno did not act in any way to prevent a proper investigation of Jerry Sandusky. To claim otherwise is a distortion of the truth.
I have to say that the first paragraph perfectly captures my feelings and those of a lot of people -- that, indeed, Paterno was neither villain nor saint. The good aspects of his legacy -- his commitment not just to winning football but to learning, to his faith and his family -- can't be questioned. That said, I'm still deeply troubled about the latter portion of Paterno's career, where there were moments when he seemed more concerned about protecting his legacy than doing the right thing. The preponderance of evidence -- both known and circumstantial -- suggests that Paterno was told, by Mike McQueary, that Sandusky was a pedophile and that his subsequent conversations with Tim Curley had some influence over the improper handling of that allegation.
What's more, I expect and hope the Freeh report will go much deeper than the Sandusky-what-did-they-know-and-when-did-they-know-it, and look at the real issue still on the table: The institutional rot at Penn State University, and the role of the football culture headed by Paterno in creating that stench. Sunday's story in the Inquirer about Paterno's troubling handling of a major disciplinary case involving some of his players in 2007wasn't a sideshow to Sandusky, but a roadmap to much deeper corruption inside Happy Valley.
No wonder Paterno's family is fighting tooth-and-nail to save his reputation.
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