By Eric Thomas
The release of the Louie Freeh report is a shotgun blast to everything that Joe Paterno built with a dedicated pair of hands. For JoePa, his legacy will always lay on the same shelf with the horror that Jerry Sandusky wrought upon Happy Valley. The report was the worst case scenario. Penn State officials were investigated by a former head of the FBI whose credibility is unquestioned and the pages in the report paint a perfect environment for a pederast to not only exist but thrive.
The Frees report is scathes the men at the top of the food chain at Penn State. The coaches and administrators hid all of this from sight of others, only to protect the integrity of their football program. When the charges came out, I never believed them. It seemed evil in an almost cartoonish way. I couldn’t fathom a group of people charged with the guidance of so many young lives allowing something like this to happen.
In this cover-up, did no one stop for a moment and state the obvious: “Do you guys realize we are protecting someone who is a pedophile?” No one could see the scope and breadth of what they were raining? They never once stopped and thought outside themselves, to realize what they were doing? They never, on a drive home one night to spend time with their own children, realized that they allowed Sandusky hunt for the next victim?
It’s nauseating, but the evidence is overwhelming. Kudos to the initial grand jury report. Those things are never as accurate as this one proved to be. If anything else, the Sandusky case seems like an instance where the truth was somehow worse. The slug trail of atrocity that Sandusky left behind reduced every venerable institution in Happy Valley to absolute slag.
The totality of these findings are difficult to measure. They have no equal. No one even remembers that Miami had a scandal recently, as did Ohio State. People getting arrested at schools in Florida and Urban Meyer look like nothing in comparison to this. In fact, it almost makes it worse. The Penn State football program actually shook its finger at those institutions. PSU held their athletes to academic standards, preaching discipline without compromise. They stuck their chests out in a didactic defiance because their commodity was integrity. History’s lessons teach that those who hold themselves incorruptible will fall the farthest and loudest, and Penn State takes their place in the queue.
When this is remembered, JoePa does not come out well. This stain won’t wash out no matter how much the family understandably wants it too. His legacy is written. Those being kind might say he was out of his faculties. Perhaps this will live in memory as an instance where someone should have retired or risk the perspective. Maybe people will say that Paterno would have been able to deal with this problem far more aggressively in his youth and he was surrounded by hand wringing sycophantic sissy administrators who wanted to make a problem go away rather than endure a process. I would like to think that this now serves as a lesson to many: Leave when you can rather than let others define you. But, that isn’t the truth.
Joe Paterno covered this up for the same reason that he stayed in the chair for so many years. He coveted the coaching job like Gollum, it was precious to him. Much like the character in Tolkien’s classic, it poisoned his mind. Paterno’s mind could only register that Sandusky’s exposure would threaten his position in the chair. He obfuscated the obvious unfolding horror emerging from the Second Mile program because its existence could lead people to question his judgment. What Paterno didn’t understand was that his reputation and the reputation all future generations born with his name rested on his ability to question his own judgment.
The men at the top of Penn State sought to preserve their integrity, but that is precisely what they destroyed. The ‘P’ in PSU stands for ‘pedophile’ and that is permanent. They killed it, burned it down and salted the very earth that Happy Valley is built on. No one reading this will ever know a time when that University is not associated with this. JoePa’s legacy will only be this and ‘winning-est coach’ has been replaced by ‘covered up for pedophile’.
This tale is sadly common. People in high places always tend to think they can control information. Eventually everything comes out. When the public gets to see things held out and drying in the harsh light of day, that is when the judgment begins. Paterno was in control for so long that he thought that would last as long as he wanted to. Instead, this is his legacy. This is the true inheritance that he leaves behind, for Penn State and his family to live with. And this is forever.