THE PATERNO FAMILY has offered its rebuttal, all legal-looking and footnoted and serious.
It identifies some flaws in the investigation commissioned by Penn State and carried out by Louis Freeh, and it attempts to invent some others. There are no new facts here, only new arguments. The result is uneven and unpersuasive.
The circumstances have always been complicated, but the defining issue has been relatively simple. We can argue about what Paterno and the rest did in 2001 when confronted with the allegation that former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky showered with a boy in a university locker room. We can argue about what assistant coach Mike McQueary told Paterno, and what Paterno told athletic director Tim Curley, and what was subsequently told to university vice president Gary Schultz and president Graham Spanier.
We can recognize the mistakes that were made and label them as such - human mistakes - but only if there was no prior knowledge about Sandusky. That is, we can paint Paterno as an out-of-touch old man in 2001, and nothing worse, only if he did not know about the first allegation that the university and the local district attorney's office investigated in 1998.
The key is 1998. The key has always been 1998. A jury has since found Sandusky guilty of assaulting a boy in a university shower on May 3 of that year. The boy's mother, suspicious about his wet hair when he came home after being with Sandusky, began the process that resulted in an investigation. By May 5, Schultz's hand-written notes confirmed he was aware of the investigation. This is when the first of the emails was unearthed.
Emails. The conclusion drawn by Freeh - that Paterno knew - is based upon those emails. The Paterno report describes them as "ambiguous at best," and says that Freeh drew unfair conclusions from them. You be the judge.
The first email, on May 5, was from Curley to Schultz with the subject line "Joe Paterno." The email said: "I have touched base with the coach. Keep us posted. Thanks."
The Paterno report says that it isn't clear who "the coach" is, and that it might not even be about the 1998 investigation. Conveniently, though, it ignores the rest of the email chain, the reply from Schultz to Curley, which says: "Will do. Since we talked tonight I've learned that the Public Welfare people will interview the individual Thursday."
It is hard to conclude anything other than that this was an email conversation about Sandusky and the investigation. "The Public Welfare people" makes that obvious.
The next email, really the key one, was dated May 13, 1998, from Curley to Schultz. The subject line said, "Jerry." The email said: "Anything new in this department? Coach is anxious to know where it stands."
The question: Who is "Coach"? Freeh concludes that it is Paterno, but the Paterno report says, " . . . from the face of the document, it is unclear who the 'Coach' referenced in the e-mail is. The subject line, 'Jerry,' suggests that the 'Coach' could just as likely be Mr. Sandusky as Mr. Paterno."
But there is a problem with the timeline. Nowhere in the Freeh report does it state how Sandusky could have known about the investigation on May 13 when he wasn't even interviewed by authorities until June - after the district attorney had declined to bring a case. In fact, on that very same day, May 13, two detectives were hiding in an adjacent room in the victim's house, eavesdropping while his mother talked with Sandusky. They would hide again and eavesdrop on May 19.
For the theory in the Paterno report to be valid, Sandusky would have had to be aware of the investigation in order to be "anxious." So who told him about it? The Paterno report is silent here.
The report goes on to suggest that maybe the email wasn't about the investigation at all. Possibly, it said, the email could have concerned an ongoing discussion of Sandusky starting a football program at Penn State's Altoona campus. The problem is that there isn't anything about Altoona in the subsequent chain of email replies.
Instead, the next day, Schultz's reply to Curley contained talk about the DPW (Department of Public Welfare) and about a child psychologist who would "talk to the boys." And a few days later, Curley's reply - again, not about Altoona - said simply, "Any update?" Schultz replied that there wasn't. Twelve days later, on the same email thread, Curley asked again, "Any further update?" And nine days after that, on the same thread, Schultz told Curley about how Sandusky would not be prosecuted and how the matter was "appropriately investigated" and how "I hope it is now behind us."
Again, not Altoona.
If there is a case to be made against the Freeh report, the Paterno report has not made it. Maybe Curley and Schultz can save Paterno's reputation, if they ever talk. Until then, though, Freeh's conclusion that Paterno knew about the 1998 investigation of Sandusky is fair. Because of that, the ultimate verdict is a whole lot more damning than an old man suddenly finding himself out of his depth when Mike McQueary came to his house on that morning in 2001.