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Walter C Uhler » Current Events, Media, Sandusky Scandal » The Freeh Report, Joe Paterno and NCAA Sanctions

The Freeh Report, Joe Paterno and NCAA Sanctions

Part One: 1998

Given that it was the Freeh Report that provoked both the rash and unconscionably harsh sanctions imposed by the NCAA upon Penn State and the cowardly willingness of the Penn State President and the Board of Trustees to swallow them, I believe it’s time for somebody to conduct a thorough examination of the report, if only to assure that the report’s scathing criticism of Penn State’s response to the 1998 investigation is justified and that its evidence of a cover-up by Penn State in 2001 actually supports the report’s conclusion of a cover-up at Penn State.

For, regardless of what incompetent reporters, irresponsible commentators or your uninformed friends have told you about the Sandusky Child Molestation Scandal and Penn State, all of the available evidence still indicates the Penn State President, Graham Spanier, Senior Vice President for Finance and Business, Gary Schultz, Athletic Director, Tim Curley and Head Football Coach, Joe Paterno were aware of only two instances of possible misconduct by Sandusky. The first occurred in May 1998, the second in February 2001.

Unfortunately, the fact that there were only two instances hasn’t prevented the authors of the Freeh Report from engaging in unsubstantiated speculation about other instances. Here’s how the report throws prejudicial sand in your eyes: “Before May 1998, several staff members and football coaches regularly observed Sandusky showering with young boys in the Lasch Building. None of the individuals interviewed by the Special Investigative Counsel notified their superiors of this behavior. [my emphasis] Former coach Richard Anderson testified at Sandusky’s trial in June 2012 that he often saw Sandusky in the showers with children in the football facilities but he did not believe the practice to be improper.” [p. 40]

In the very next paragraph (on page 41), the report notes that “The Centre County jury convicted Sandusky in June 2012 of assaulting three different boys at Penn State’s football facilities and other places on campus before May 1998.”

Who doubts that the sequencing of these two paragraphs is intended to suggest not only that the individuals who observed Sandusky in the shower with young boys did something wrong, when they failed to report such incidents, but also that these failures to report Sandusky enabled him to assault three boys during the period under consideration?

Presumably, we all can agree that the second suggestion can’t be true if the first suggestion is false. Presumably we all can agree that the burden of proving the first suggestion true rests with the Special Investigative Counsel that issued the Freeh Report.

So, what do they prove?

In fact, they prove nothing? There’s nothing in the report that states what the staff and coaches specifically saw, nothing to explain why these observers should have reported what they saw, and nothing to link these observations of Sandusky showering with boys to the three boys actually molested between 1995 and May 1998.

There is no evidence in the report to demonstrate that the failure of the observers to notify their supervisors allowed Sandusky to remain at liberty to molest young boys. Finally, there is no evidence that even one of these observations of Sandusky showering with young boys rose to the level of a reportable crime.

(As a multi-sport athlete in high school, I often showered with coaches and thought nothing of it.)

Thus, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the authors of the Freeh Report gratuitously inserted the sentence: “None of the individuals interviewed by the Special Investigative Counsel notified their superiors of this behavior.” If the insertion of that sentence was gratuitous, one might reasonably assume that the report’s intent was to spread innuendo.

What innuendo? Why, nothing less than the possibility that these staff members and football coaches were active enablers.

If correct, then the report commences its investigation into the facts surrounding Sandusky assaults of 1998 and 2001 by offering unsupported innuendo suggesting that “they all knew.”

Here’s the significance of such innuendo: Last Saturday, as I was walking down Hanover Street in Boston’s North End, having just finished a delicious early dinner at Saraceno’s, a large, slightly inebriated man in a fedora and sunglasses noticed my Penn State polo shirt. He stopped and said: “You got a lot of balls wearing that shirt up here.” Curiosity getting the better of me, I approached him to ask, “Why?”

He said: “Because, they’re going to take Paterno’s statue down tomorrow.”

I replied: “Actually, I have mixed feelings about the statue. On the one hand, I cannot believe Paterno ever approved of the one forefinger raised in proclamation of being “Number One.” On the other hand, I’m outraged that President Erickson has caved in to press and public opinion demanding the removal of the statue.”

The man said: “Are you a Penn State grad? What’s your name?”

After affirming my status as an alumnus and giving my name, the man said: “I am ______ _____. I played football in the NFL with Penn State grad, Bill Lenkaitis. We’ve talked about Penn State often and agree, Penn State is f****d.”

When I said that the evidence in the Freeh Report actually absolves the Penn State officials for not acting in the wake of Sandusky’s investigation in 1998,” he abruptly cut in: “You don’t know how football teams operate. If one person knew about Sandusky, then everybody knew.”

I asked: “Including all the coaches?”

He replied: “Yes, including the coaches.”

With that, the former NFL player shook my hand and wished me luck.

I mention that encounter, because I believe that the successive paragraphs on pages 40 and 41 of the Freeh Report deliberately imply that “everybody knew” about Sandusky’s pedophilia –even Paterno — before the investigation of Sandusky’s assault in May 1998. If I’m correct, then it’s a cheap shot pandering to common sense prejudices, which no amount of contrary evidence can destroy.

May 1998

Prior to the release of the Freeh Report, there was much speculation about whether Joe Paterno knew or did not know about the investigation of Jerry Sandusky in 1998. Many pundits and Penn State bashers claimed that he must have known. Why, otherwise, would Jerry Sandusky suddenly decide to retire in the middle of 1999? Joe must have forced him out.

Michael Smerconish, writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer was especially irresponsible for fanning the flames of indignation with such speculation. I wrote something different: “The fact that Victim 4 was allowed to accompany Sandusky to the [1999] Alamo Bowl strongly suggests that either Joe Paterno did not know about the 1998 police investigation — or that he knew, but also knew that the DA found insufficient evidence to indict.”

With the release of the Freeh Report we have additional reason to believe the Joe Paterno knew about the 1998 investigation of Sandusky. But, thanks to the report, we also know that Paterno notified Sandusky that he would not become the next head coach months before Sandusky assaulted a young boy in May 1998. Thus, knowledge of the investigation of the alleged assault could not possibly have had anything to do with Sandusky’s subsequent retirement.

Now that Joe has been cleared of getting rid of Sandusky in 1999, due to the investigation in 1998, have any of his character assassins – too readily inclined to think the worst of him — stepped forward to admit they were wrong? I’ve not heard of one.

Thanks to the Freeh Report, we also know that (presumably) well-meaning officials botched the 1998 investigation. A rigorous report by psychologist Alycia Chambers, which found evidence of “a likely pedophile’s pattern,” and which might have led to an indictment of Sandusky, appears to have been shunted aside during a personnel shuffle. Jerry Lauro, the case worker from the Department of Public Welfare who was assigned to the case, has testified that he never would have halted the investigation had he seen the report by Chambers.

Instead, another review, this time by Counselor John Seasock, took center stage. Seasock’s review led to the determination that “there seems to be no incident which could be termed sexual abuse.” He also ruled out the possibility of the boy being “groomed for future sexual victimization.”

Ultimately “[s]ometime between May 27, 1998 and June 1, 1998, the local District Attorney declined to prosecute Sandusky for his actions with the boy in the shower in the Lasch Building on May 3, 1998.” [p. 46]

On June 1, 1998, University Police Detective Ron Schreffler and Lauro interviewed Sandusky, who confessed to hugging the boy in the shower. But he also denied that there was “anything sexual about it.” Lauro told Sandusky that it was a “mistake” to shower with kids. And when Schreffler advised Sandusky not to shower with any more kids, Sandusky said he “wouldn’t.”

According to the Freeh Report, “Schreffler’s file notes state that Lauro agreed that no sexual assault occurred.[p. 47, my emphasis] Thus, both of the experts on the case had reached that conclusion. “Schreffler and Lauro also told Sandusky that “the police could not determine if a sexual assault occurred.” [my emphasis]Thus, thanks to a botched investigation, Sandusky was off the hook.

The Freeh Report provides valuable new information about what Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Curley and Paterno knew about the investigation of Sandusky in 1998. The new information comes in the form of emails between Spanier, Schultz and Curly, as well as notes kept by Schultz. Schultz’s notes indicate that he became aware of the virtually all of the details of the investigation on May 4, 1998, the day after the alleged assault occurred. They also provide a glimpse into his thought process: “Behavior – at best inappropriate @ worst sexual improprieties.” The conduct was “At min – Poor Judgment.”

At the end of his notes dated May 4th, Schultz asks himself: “Critical issue – contact w genitals? Assuming same experience w the second boy? Not criminal.”

If Schultz or anyone else was thinking the case was “not criminal” on May 4th, that certainty must have diminished on May 5th, when Schultz was given information confirming a second boy hugged by Sandusky in a shower. Thus, Schultz wonders: “Is this opening of Pandora’s box? Other children?”

Arguably, Schultz’s questions indicate a concern for other children and, thus, refute the “most saddening” finding made in the Freeh Report: “the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims.”

(I say “arguably,” because other evidence “arguably” implies that a concern for children was not foremost in the minds of some Penn State officials.)

After Schultz communicated with Curley about the Sandusky incident, Curley sent an email to Schultz and Spanier on May 5th that states: “I have touched base with the coach. Keep us posted.” [p. 48] The email is captioned “Joe Paterno,” thus there’s good reason to conclude that Paterno was notified about the Sandusky investigation.

The precise meaning of “touched base,” however, remains an open question. It tells us virtually nothing about the extent of Paterno’s knowledge of the 1998 investigation. Although my common sense tells me Curley would have had frequent contact with Paterno on this issue, it tells me nothing about the depth or detail of that contact.

Moreover, although common sense can be applied to evidence, common sense is not evidence. Only two pieces of actual evidence shed any light on Paterno’s knowledge about the investigation of Sandusky. The first is the previously mentioned email, captioned “Joe Paterno,” which has Curley claiming he’s touched base with “the coach.”

The second is another email from Curley to Schultz, dated 13 May 1998, but which is captioned “Jerry.” Curley asks: “Anything new in this department? Coach is anxious to know where it stands.”

The authors of the Freeh Report concluded that “[t]he reference to Coach is believed to be Joe Paterno.” [p. 49] Yet, they not only fail to explain why the second email has a different caption, they also fail to provide reasons for their belief. Thus, one cannot completely rule out the possibility that the “Coach” referred to in the email captioned “Jerry” is actually Jerry Sandusky.

Resolving this question is a very important, because if Joe was “anxious” about the investigation, then any subsequent claim that he didn’t know about 1998 becomes highly implausible. Memory can deceive, but an event someone was anxious about is less likely to be forgotten completely.

(Before proceeding further, the problems associated with memory are worth repeating. In a previous article, I wrote: “In Chapter 4 of his book, The Birth of Christianity, John Dominic Crossan attempted to answer the question: “Does Memory Remember?” Crossan examined the scholarly literature devoted to memory, including a very persuasive study conducted at Emory University, where psychology students were asked to complete a questionnaire about the Challenger spacecraft explosion (in January 1986), a mere day after it exploded. When representatives from Emory asked those same students the same questions three years later, they found their answers to be significantly different. These students had ‘constructed’ different memories during those three years without realizing it — leading Crossan to conclude: ‘Memory is as much or more creative construction as accurate recollection.’”)

Thus, given that the Freeh Report provides no evidence to support its belief that “Coach” is Joe, the matter must await the perjury trial of Curley and Schultz for possible resolution. (As the reader will soon see, this is not the only matter that must await – or should have awaited — the Curley/Schultz trial.)

In any event, there are no more than two pieces of evidence in the Freeh Report that tie Joe Paterno in any way to the investigation of Jerry Sandusky in 1998 – and even one of them is questionable. Thus, although we can guess all we want about Paterno’s involvement, we’re still compelled to do so without much proof. Don’t get me wrong, that hasn’t stopped the pundits or character assassins.

In my mind, the decisive email – the email on which every one of us should base most, if not all, of our thoughts when considering whether we must hold Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Curley and Paterno accountable for the sexual assaults committed by Sandusky between June 1998 and February 2001 – is the email that Schultz sent to Curley and Spanier on June 9th. In that email, Schultz writes that the investigators had “concluded that there was no criminal behavior and the matter was closed as an investigation.” Schultz closes that email by asserting: “I think the matter has been appropriately investigated and I hope it is now behind us.” [my emphasis]

Of course, evidence in the 2012 Freeh Report demonstrates that Schultz was wrong to believe that the matter was “appropriately investigated.” In fact, it was botched. But neither Schultz, nor the other three officials knew that.

What Schultz and the other three officials did know (assuming somebody told Paterno how the investigation ended) was that investigation of Sandusky resulted in a conclusion by experts that his behavior in the shower was not criminal behavior. Like it or not, that conclusion must have loomed large in the thinking of Spanier, Schultz, Curley and (presumably) Paterno. Consequently, they had no reason to suspect that Sandusky was a pedophile – especially given what they knew about his past.

Yet, much of what follows in the next few pages of the Freeh Report is unceasing, unwarranted criticism of the four Penn State officials for their failure to take steps that would have prevented a suspected pedophile from assaulting boys between June 1998 and February 2001.

Consider:

1) The report criticizes Penn State officials for failing to discuss the incident with Sandusky. Now, just imagine yourself a situation where news of an investigation of a subordinate employee, who’s a friend, comes to your attention. When you subsequently learn he’s been cleared, do you feel any organizational obligation to discuss his seemingly non-existent problem with him? Of course not!

2) Similarly, were Penn State officials obligated to suggest counseling to Sandusky, as the report suggests? Of course not! Not if you doubted his guilt – because of his great reputation – in the first place.

3) The Freeh Report asserts: “Nothing in the record indicates that Curley or Schultz discussed whether Paterno should restrict or terminate Sandusky’s uses of the facilities or that Paterno conveyed any such expectations to Sandusky.” But, if you’re Paterno, just when, how and why do you tell a friend who’s just been cleared of all allegations against him – allegations you probably doubted in the first place – that he can’t have free access to the facilities. Get real!

Some alleged failures noted in the Freeh Report appear to be legitimate and reasonable. But, when it concludes:
4) “Nothing in the record indicates that Spanier, Schultz, Paterno or Curley spoke directly with Sandusky about the allegation, monitored his activities, contacted the Office of Human Resources for guidance, or took, or documented, any personal actions concerning this incident in any official University file,” my only response is to say: “So what?”

In the eyes of Spanier, Schultz, Curley and Paterno, this was the first time Sandusky had been accused of anything – and he was cleared! Why take any of these steps?

5) Perhaps the most laughable of all the complaints about how Penn State officials failed to deal properly with Sandusky is the complaint that Spanier failed to declare Sandusky “persona non grata.” With this complaint, the Freeh Report loses much of its already shaky credibility. Declaring a recently cleared man “persona non grata” is nothing short of insane!

By now it should be obvious that the authors of the Freeh Report have committed an egregious methodological error and far too many Americans – like lemmings – have followed along. It is quite wrong, if not dishonest, to use evidence or information only available to you in 2012 as the basis for criticizing the steps Penn State officials failed to take in 1998 – especially considering that they had virtually none of this evidence or information.

Want to know how dishonest the Freeh Report really appears to be? Simply compare the conclusion reached by the two experts working the 1998 Sandusky case with one of the conclusions reached by the authors of the report:

1) The two experts working the case concluded: “no sexual assault occurred.”

2) The Freeh Report condemns “[a] decision by Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley to allow Sandusky to retire in 1999, not as a suspected child predator, but as a valued member of the Penn State football legacy, with future ‘visibility’ at Penn State and ways ‘to continue to work with young people through Penn State,’ essentially granting him license to bring boys on campus facilities for ‘grooming’ as targets for his assaults. Sandusky retained unlimited access to the University facilities until November 2011.” [p. 17]

Isn’t it obvious that it’s patently dishonest to claim, that by allowing Sandusky to retire honorably a mere year after two experts concluded “no sexual assault occurred,” the officials at Penn State were “essentially granting him license to bring boys on campus facilities for ‘grooming’ as targets for his assaults.”

Do the authors of the report really believe that the Penn State officials actually knew that back then – when even the experts said “no sexual assault occurred?” If they do, then this 1998 portion of their report is best described as shamefully inflammatory and unreliable.

Although the Freeh Report is the most thorough investigation we have to date and contains much important and useful information, its conclusions about the investigation in 1998, and Penn State’s reaction to it, are irresponsible, given the facts available in 1998. Thus, the section dealing with 1998 does not auger well for the integrity of the report’s examination of the events in 2001.

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