The family of Joe Paterno has released a statement in response to the Freeh Report, declaring (preliminarily, pending a close reading) that the "underlying facts...are almost entirely consistent with what we understood them to be."
"Joe Paterno wasn't perfect," the family wrote. But he was a victim of "a great deceiver," and to whatever extent the head coach may have failed to report Jerry Sandusky's misdeeds, it was because "many people didn't fully understand what was happening and underestimated or misinterpreted events."
Many people, they say. This rhetorical device appears again and again in the statement: Sandusky "fooled everyone" ... Paterno "should have pushed his superiors" ... "Joe Paterno and everyone else." Joe Paterno—the indispensable head coach, he of the heroic bronze statue outside Beaver Stadium—was merely one body in a vast, confused, plural crowd.
The only way to keep believing in the Great Man, at this point, is to deny his importance. Here's how the statement winds up:
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.
Everyone! Cops, prosecutors, university officials—to say nothing of unspecified "others." So many people, sharing that blame around. And Joe Paterno made the mistake of trusting them.
Here is one underlying fact from the Freeh Report that is not consistent with the Paterno family's beliefs: Joe Paterno was not some hapless little figure in the vastness of Penn State. He was—with the president, athletic director, and senior vice president for business and finance—in a group of "[f]our of the most powerful people at The Pennsylvania State University."
And there's plenty to suggest he didn't rank below the other three. When he wanted an agent barred from the campus, he got an agent barred from the campus. When the university needed to give an assistant football coach an emeritus position to get him to retire—even though he had none of the qualifications—the assistant got his emeritus. Or let's reread this:
Witnesses consistently told the Special Investigative Counsel that Paterno was in control of the football facilities and knew "everything that was going on." As Head Coach, he had the authority to establish permissible uses of football facilities.
But the family tells us that the reason Sandusky was able to keep raping children in the Penn State football facilities was that "University leaders" and Joe Paterno's "superiors" didn't do enough.
Joe Paterno was university leaders. Joe Paterno didn't have superiors, in any meaningful sense of the word. Jerry Sandusky kept raping children because Joe Paterno let it happen.
Here's the full 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.
Read all our coverage of the Freeh report here.