Following the sentencing of Jerry Sandusky and the conclusion of Penn State’s first football season in 46 years without Joe Paterno, I had hoped that the discussion surrounding the unprecedented Penn State scandal would stop. If not for the Paterno family, it would have. However, they released a report, designed to denounce the Freeh report, yesterday. In the interest of fairness, I will point out that it is available at paterno.com, and I have not read it, nor have I read the Freeh report itself.
However, an article by Gene Wojciechowski condemns the Paterno report for several reasons, with them being that they cite obviously biased sources as gospel, that they seek to repair the image of the late Joe Paterno in an obviously partisan way, and that they seemingly do not care about the Penn State football program at large, nor the other Penn State authorities who came under fire.
However, the Paterno report has come out far too late to have any meaningful impact. A few diehard Penn State fans may think it means something, but aside from that, the damage with the American populace at large cannot be undone, nor should it, I will add. Joe Paterno did the legal requirement for what was reported to him, as did his subordinates and superiors; however, for someone of such a mythic nature, and who allegedly bullied Penn State administrators into letting his athletes avoid punishment for non-football infractions, there is a higher standard. After all, Paterno was so highly thought of that the Republican party tried to get him to run for elected office; he spoke at the 1988 Republican National Convention too.
The fact of the matter is that Joe Paterno, like every other human being, had a higher duty than to just report what he saw to one person. He needed to take it to the police. He didn’t.
Back to the matter at hand, though. Jay Paterno and Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike, are trying to reverse the tide, which isn’t possible at this point. Furthermore, they are actually damaging Joe Paterno’s legacy far more than they are helping it. Jay Paterno, on ESPN’s Mike & Mike in the Morning radio show, stated that he wasn’t “privy to discussions” regarding whether or not his father could have done more, and thus couldn’t answer the question of whether his father should have done more; for him, that sounds logical; for the rest of us, it is a total cop out.
If Joe Paterno had talked to Louis Freeh, which he was offered, and the Freeh report still blasted him, I might have a twinge of sympathy for the Paternos. However, Joe Paterno didn’t. Then he passed away. If Jay Paterno, on behalf of his family, had given a statement that read something like the following, the question of Joe Paterno’s legacy would be in much better shape:
“Joe Paterno was a great man. He was a great father, grandfather, mentor, and coach. However, he was not perfect. Joe Paterno took actions which have been brought into question when allegations were made against Jerry Sandusky, a close personal and family friend. Joe Paterno did not believe the allegations could be true, and refused to believe the allegations were valid. As such, he took the necessary legal action, but nothing more, in the interest of defending someone he cared for and respected, unaware of his friend’s criminal and deviant habits.”
You see what I did there? The family, in this fictional statement, is admitting their father was not perfect, throws Sandusky completely under the bus (a strategically smart thing to do), and gives a vague admission of guilt to possible, but not fully substantiated, wrongdoing. They are not being combative, they are not seen as being irrational and automatically on the defensive, which they still care, even now as they attempt a PR counter-offensive. It is a conciliatory statement that expresses disappointment, and a willingness to move on.
Contrast that with what we’ve gotten: every time they seek to clear late coach’s name, the first thing people think of is Joe Paterno’s failure to handle the allegations in a manner most people believe it should have been handled. I get that they loved their father, but sometimes defending someone only makes them look worse. The fact that Joe Paterno passed away, though, only aggravates their problems; the fact that so many people have distanced themselves from Paterno, and even now are hesitant to support him, over a year later, is a sign of how dirty his name still is, largely due to the family’s refusal to let this go.
Back to the main point: the Paterno report is guilty of all the faults the Freeh report is, with the added hypocrisy of bringing up the Freeh report’s faults. The Freeh report, at least, had an objective background to it. The Paterno report sought to do one thing, and one thing only: vindicate Joe Paterno, a single-mindedness that could potentially alienate the Paternos from the Penn State crowd at large, and it failed to accomplish the vindication it sought.
I truly, truly hope this is the last we hear of it. Joe Paterno had a rough final year of his life, and for his faults, his name is deserving of time out of the spotlight, so that we may eventually decide his legacy without his family trying to dictate it to us.