Well, this is not something I had looked forward to writing about. The issuance of the “Freeh Report” yesterday certainly throws tar on the image of Joe Paterno as a man who achieved excellence in the arena of college football while simultaneously taking a principled stance as an educator of young men in an academic sense. When I see someone who can succeed and have a higher motivation than merely “wins and losses”, that person is someone that I want to see in successful and celebratory situations. Even though Joe Paterno is dead, I would prefer to have continued to hold him up as a guiding light for others to follow as they attempt simultaneously to win on the football field and in the classroom.
The Freeh Report makes that much more difficult than it was a year ago. In fact, it makes it virtually impossible. Sic transit gloria mundi…
There exists a segment of the US sports culture that always hopes to find a way to “take down” a successful player or coach or owner or exec. For people in that segment of the US sports culture, yesterday and today are like a never-ending smorgasbord of “See, I told you so…” And as is usually the case, those folks will likely take their gloating and their glee a step too far.
The Freeh Report makes it clear that Joe Paterno knew that one of his assistant coaches (back in 1998) was a man who did bad things to young boys and that Joe Paterno was, at the minimum, a person complicit in actions that allowed that assistant coach to continue his evil doings with some kind of implied association with the university and the football program. Louis Freeh and all of his investigative colleagues would have to have been monumental boobs to have gotten so many things wrong that such a conclusion is anything short of obvious. Nevertheless, please consider the following points if and when you read the entirety of the Freeh Report. It is well written; it is thorough; it contains significant factual references; it is not Divinely inspired.
1. The investigators did not have subpoena power. All they could see is information that was made available to them.
2. The investigators could not interview people under oath. If – - I said IF – - one of the people they were interviewing had an axe to grind or some kind of animosity towards the Athletic Department or Joe Paterno, that person could spin his/her tale absent any threat of perjury.
3. There was also no threat of any kind of cross-examination for any person speaking to the investigators. Hidden agendas are a lot easier to keep hidden without a vigorous and prepared cross-examination.
Nothing written above is intended to minimize the horror of what happened to a bunch of young boys in upstate Pennsylvania at the hands of a sexual predator. Nothing written above is intended to exonerate Joe Paterno or any of the “higher-ups” in the administration at Penn State who let the “1998 incident” pass by thereby allowing future sexual predation. Their failure to act was in itself an act of grotesque self-interest.
Joe Paterno had more than 40 years as the head coach of a hugely successful football program and oversaw a program that graduated a lot of young men with meaningful college degrees. He won more college football games than any other coach in history. Those are significant achievements for which he ought to be remembered.
In addition, Joe Paterno made a horribly bad decision in 1998 – - and another horribly bad one in 2002 – - regarding the presence of a sexual predator closely aligned with his football program. He needs to be remembered for those incredibly bad judgments too.
Just as his noble qualities as an educator – - in addition to being a football coach – - does not negate his bad judgment, neither does his bad judgment trump all of the good things he did for Penn State and for the majority of the kids who played on his football teams.
Jason Whitlock is a columnist for Foxsports.com. Prior to the issuance of the Freeh Report, his column looked at this sordid mess from a perspective that I have not seen in other places. I think the column deserves to be read in its entirety; I shall only present here something to entice you to do so:
“If the Jerry Sandusky-inspired Freeh report is as universally damning as predicted when it is released on Thursday, there will be calls for the death of Penn State football. There will be a new round of hollow wailing about the pervasive corruption found within big-time college athletics.
“Many of the people wailing and demanding SMU-style consequences for Paterno State will be the very same people who celebrated last month when big-time college football lurched a step closer to a full-blown playoff system.
“They can’t see and/or fathom their hypocrisy. They can’t comprehend that the more money, games and win-at-any-cost pressure you dump into college athletics the more likely it is for the power structure to succumb to corruption.”
More than two weeks ago, Frank Fitzpatrick posted something on his blog, Giving ‘em Fitz, that said the Freeh report was going to be bad news for the Penn State community. Understand that Frank Fitzpatrick is not a “hater” in this matter; in fact, he is the author of a book, The Lion in Autumn: A Season with Joe Paterno and Penn State Football, which was published in 2005. Read his blog entry for June 29, 2012 – - and while you are there, read the blog entry from June 25, 2012 too.
Finally, there have already been myriad calls for Penn State football to suffer “The Death Penalty” at the hands of the NCAA. I do not have the energy to explain why I do not think that is a proper action at the moment and will defer that topic for a later date.
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………