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Column: No rescuing Paterno's reputation

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Go ahead and read all 238 pages of the Paterno family report, if you're so inclined. People who believe Joe Paterno's statue should still be standing in Happy Valley probably will, and feel pretty good about it at the end.

The summary weighs in at just four pages and does its job of giving Paterno a posthumous cleansing, too. Turns out he was a trusting sort who knew nothing about anything - and no one else did, either.

Or just read this headline and save yourself a lot of time: Critique of the Freeh Report: The Rush to Injustice Regarding Joe Paterno.

Pretty much sums it up, though widow Sue will go on Katie Couric's show Monday to make sure everyone understands. A year after his death, the campaign to resuscitate Joe Paterno's name is under way with a hefty document that savages the Freeh report implicating Paterno as a silent enabler of Jerry Sandusky as ``rank speculation, innuendo and rhetoric.''

Was there any other way this was going to turn out? Months in the making and paid for by the Paterno family, this is as much a public relations campaign as it is an answer to accusations against him.

You have a former FBI director; we'll top you with a former attorney general. You say JoePa knew things and conspired to keep them silent, we'll say there was no conspiracy at all.

At times the defense of Paterno is almost laughable, such as this from former FBI profiler Jim Clemente: ``Paterno, like everyone else who knew Sandusky, simply fell victim to effective `grooming,''' Clemente wrote.

Utter hogwash. Paterno himself would have probably said the same thing if he was as honest with himself as the family contends he was with others.

There are no excuses for not following up on Mike McQueary description of the sickening things he saw in the locker room showers of the Lasch Football Building. No way of getting around the fact Sandusky was allowed to hang around the locker room for years after that, molesting who knows how many other young boys.

And no special dispensation for any of it simply because Paterno was a coaching legend who ran not only a football program, but a university and a town.

Not that you can blame the family for trying. The legacy that Paterno so carefully built up over 46 years as head football coach at Penn State was left in tatters by the scandal, and they're trying desperately to restore his good name.

What they don't understand is that Joe Paterno is not the real victim here. What he lost in the final months of his life surely pains the family, but it was the cult of Paterno itself that created the atmosphere that allowed a monster like Sandusky to roam freely.

The young boys who were sexually abused by Sandusky are the true victims. They're the ones who pay every day of their lives, while trying their best to erase terrible scars that just won't go away.

Sadly, no one can write a report giving them back the innocence Sandusky stole while Paterno reigned supreme at State College.

If you believe the Paterno family report - and it is an impressive, though flawed document - former FBI director Louis Freeh acted as ``judge, jury and executioner'' when he was hired by Penn State to deliver the definitive report on the involvement of the university and its officers in the Sandusky scandal. Freeh concluded last July that four of the most powerful people at Penn State - including Paterno - failed to protect children from Sandusky for more than a decade as part of an effort to protect the university and its reputation.

``That bell can never be unrung, but the many associated errors can be corrected,'' the Paterno report states.

Just what those errors are is a bit unclear, though former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh took particular offense in his portion of the report claims by Freeh that Paterno did not have empathy for the safety of children. Not only did Paterno like children, Thornburgh wrote, but made sure to participate in a Penn State dance marathon charity for children with cancer and was a supporter of the Special Olympics.

So Paterno wasn't some kind of monster after all. Glad we could get that cleared up.

The bottom line is the Freeh report wasn't perfect. It jumped to some conclusions, and took some liberties that would not hold up in court.

That's what prosecutors do, but it's important to note that Penn State has implemented a majority of the changes recommended in the report. The NCAA waited just 10 days after its release to impose landmark sanctions on Penn State that include $60 million in fines and a four-year postseason ban on football.

Nothing in the Paterno report is going to change that. If Freeh was the prosecutor, Thornburgh and others are the defense attorneys, trying their best to declare Paterno innocent in the court of public opinion.

But the bottom line of the Freeh report was accurate. There was a core of top university officials that knew things and didn't act.

And there were children who paid for it. Young boys who paid dearly because the people in charge didn't stop Sandusky when they could.

The Paternos may find it hard to swallow because they can't reconcile it to the man they knew, the man who over the years became a near deity in State College. And certainly some people will agree with them that Paterno was the scapegoat for a scandal, an old man railroaded and unceremoniously dumped by the very university he loved and served so ably on the football field.

Unfortunately for them, the statue that once stood outside the football stadium is not coming back.

And neither is Paterno's reputation.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at) or

The Associated Press News Service

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The Associated Press
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