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Monday, February 11, 2013
Joe Paterno's inaction

By Jemele Hill
ESPN.com

You can debate whether Penn State and a considerable portion of the general public were too hasty in accepting the Freeh report. You can debate whether the NCAA acted fairly in levying essentially a death penalty against Penn State football for its mishandling of abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky, a sicko who used his status as an assistant coach to develop a charity aimed at children and to prey on boys.

And now that the Paterno family has released the findings from its own investigation in a last-ditch attempt to defend Joe Paterno's legacy, you can spend considerable time debating and comparing the Paterno family data to the findings by former FBI director Louis J. Freeh -- who was paid $6.5 million by Penn State's board of trustees to commission a report that ultimately unraveled Penn State.

But even after combing through those lengthy reports, there are still indisputable truths that cannot be debated, explained or rationalized. And these were truths we knew long before any report from either side had been issued, and it was information that came from Joe Paterno's own mouth.

In February 2001, Mike McQueary, then a Penn State graduate assistant, came to Paterno and told him he witnessed Sandusky with a young boy, doing something that was "extremely sexual in nature" in the showers in a football building the night before. In January 2011, when prosecutors asked Paterno how he responded when McQueary relayed what he had witnessed, this is what Paterno told a grand jury:

Paterno: "Well, I can't be precise. I ordinarily would have called people right away, but it was a Saturday morning and I didn't want to interfere with their weekends. So I don't know whether I did it Saturday or did it early the next week. I'm not sure when, but I did it within the week."

Didn't want to interfere with their weekends?

Paterno actually told then-athletic director Tim Curley and then-vice president Gary Schultz on Sunday about the troubling shower incident and the information made its way to president Graham Spanier. All three officials are awaiting trial, having been accused of a criminal cover-up and never alerting the authorities.

Paterno did what he was required to do, but he didn't do enough. And nothing in the 238-page report provided by the Paterno family will change that.

Paterno never followed up after McQueary told him of the incident. And Sandusky continued to have access to his football facilities, and an office on campus.

Not surprisingly, that wasn't in the Paterno family report.

The authors of the Paterno family report conclude that Freeh assigned "motives to people they never met or interviewed and interpret ambiguous documents with a clarity and decisiveness that is impossible to justify."

What's "impossible to justify," is Paterno's inaction regarding Sandusky in the months and years between McQueary's weekend visit, the call to appear before the grand jury and the indictment that brought everything tumbling down.

I feel for the Paterno family because a man they loved died with a shredded reputation after being held up for decades as a paragon of integrity and charity.

Though the authors of the Paterno family report concluded that Paterno's lifetime of good works was treated "as if it were irrelevant to the case," Joe Paterno also was not above exercising his power to benefit his football team.

Have we forgotten about Vicky Triponey, the former vice president for student discipline, who repeatedly clashed with Paterno because of his insistence that his football players be given special treatment?

After Triponey was ostracized by Paterno and his legion of supporters because of her determination to treat football players like any other student, she was forced to resign in 2007.

She had been one of the few people to challenge Paterno and the university's blind loyalty to him. In an email to Spanier in 2005, Triponey wrote: "I am very troubled by the manipulative, disrespectful, uncivil and abusive behavior of our football coach. It is quite shocking what this man -- who is idolized by people everywhere -- is teaching our students."

Triponey was interviewed by the Freeh group, but not quoted. And in the Paterno family report, Triponey's concerns and accusations are dismissed, with the Paterno authors citing a Penn State athletics study and Joe Paterno biographer Joe Posnanski to conclude she had a "biased agenda."

As if the motives behind this report and the sources used are completely objective.

Have we forgotten how Paterno responded at the 2006 Orange Bowl when he was asked to comment on an allegation of sexual assault that resulted in a Florida State linebacker being sent home?

"There's so many people gravitating to these kids," Paterno said at the time. "He may not have even known what he was getting into … They knock on the door; somebody may knock on the door; a cute girl knocks on the door. What do you do?"

The National Organization for Women called for Paterno to be fired. His comments were insensitive at best and at worst exposed a troubling attitude.

Joe Paterno was powerful enough to influence the administration to force Triponey to leave the university. He was powerful enough that prior to his firing in 2011, he had successfully rebuffed any attempts to get him to gracefully resign. In fact, if the Sandusky scandal hadn't occurred and assuming Paterno maintained his health, he could be the head football coach of Penn State right now.

Yet the Paterno family and the authors of this report want us to believe that even though Joe Paterno had a history of wielding his authority when it suited him, and even though he was as shrewd and involved as any football coach of a major college football program, all he could manage to do after hearing a young boy had been sexually assaulted in his team's showers was simply lift a required finger. We're expected to believe he was just too naive and uninformed to fully understand the situation.

After he was fired, Paterno said he wished he had done more. The Paterno family references that as proof of Paterno's innocence and remorse, but the results of the Paterno family investigation didn't exonerate Joe Paterno. Just as the Freeh report didn't damn him.

Paterno did that all by himself.