A little more than a year after the Freeh Report condemned Penn State's leadership for its role in the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal, top university trustees now say the report's findings of a school coverup are nothing more than "speculation."
Trustee chairman Keith Masser used that word Tuesday while talking to the USA Today editorial board. The Freeh Report concluded that former president Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley, former vice president Gary Schultz and late coach Joe Paterno covered up the allegations of child rape by Sandusky. Another trustee, Keith Eckel, told USA Today that he was "surprised that … Freeh came to conclusions as far as responsibility.''
While Penn State has implemented 115 of the 119 Freeh Report recommendations, Eckel told the newspaper that the school "would let the courts decide on the coverup."
The Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News points out that Masser didn't always feel this way. Last June, during Sandusky's trial, he said that Spanier had been fired "because we didn't have confidence in his ability to lead us through this crisis. We had no idea (at the time) he would be involved in a cover-up." And he added that it appeared "top administration officials and top athletic officials were involved in making the decision to not inform the proper authorities." Masser later apologized for those remarks.
The Paterno family supports Masser's latest stance. They issued a statement Tuesday night calling his statements "a critically important development."
"What Freeh represented a year ago as solid evidence is now widely understood to be unsupported speculative conclusions, rather than hard facts. It is a step forward that members of the Board are publicly backing away from Freeh’s central allegations.
"Unfortunately, the NCAA based their unprecedented penalties against Penn State entirely on the Freeh report. With the credibility of the report eroding on a daily basis, it is imperative that the NCAA revisit their actions."
But Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, an alumni group, criticized Masser and Eckel. Their spokeswoman told the Patriot-News that "this latest PR tour of trustee doublespeak rings hollow and contradictory. The trustees' year-long silence on the Freeh conclusions reeks of disengagement, fiduciary irresponsibility and poor leadership. Where was the trustees' defense of Penn State when it was needed most?”
Nittany Lions head coach Bill O'Brien has said the school needs to move on, and he told the trustees last week that going to war with the NCAA does nothing but hurt the program. If there's one person who's shown great leadership throughout this whole terrible ordeal, it's O'Brien. The trustees would be wise to follow him.