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Published: Friday, 7/13/2012

COMMENTARY

Good works by Paterno spoiled forever

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

They are the keepers of the flame, the guardians of Joe Paterno's legacy, and they have been railing against the Freeh report for days, since the first leak made it clear that JoePa would not be handled with kid gloves.

The report, the result of an independent internal investigation headed by former FBI chief Louis Freeh into Penn State University's handling of and role in the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal, landed with 267 pages of thunderclap Thursday morning, and Freeh surely did not set Paterno free.

It pretty much said what many expected it to -- university officials from the president to the athletic director to the legendary head football coach were more interested in protecting their reputations, their image, their campus, their rich and powerful programs, and their jobs than in protecting young boys who were not only being abused in the worst imaginable way but who were in some cases being abused on campus by a former school and athletic department employee.

"In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the university … repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse," the report said. And that one line out of thousands said it all.

Penn State knew it faced liability, but its culpability extending as far back as 1998 is even greater now that the investigation's findings proved to be so damning. Barring any reversal upon appeal, Sandusky will spend the rest of his life behind bars. The ex-defensive coordinator has been found guilty. So, too, has Penn State, which will spend the rest of its life paying the price because so many men failed to summon the courage to end the sordid actions of one man.

Because the Freeh report, albeit scathing, didn't break much ground that hadn't already been plowed or at least anticipated, I find the Paterno family's preemptive attempts to discredit it of equal interest.

On Tuesday, the family issued a lengthy statement that started by saying Paterno was neither saint nor villain, which is probably fair. The statement said Paterno, who died of lung cancer at age 85 in January, never got to tell his story, that he is the only person who has acknowledged with the benefit of hindsight he wished he had done more, and that his family felt it should have been given time to review the Freeh findings and make a proper response.

"We believe our voice should be reflected in its conclusions," the family said.

Really? Because their name is Paterno? The entitlement that came with that for four-plus decades in Happy Valley has expired.

Then, on Wednesday, the eve of the Freeh report, a letter dictated by Joe Paterno last December came to light, although not from the family, which merely confirmed its authenticity. It reads like a letter-to-the-editor, but was never published and instead was circulated among former players.

The basic message is that the scandal should reflect in no way upon the football program, its athletes, or the "great university" it and they helped forge. Paterno reiterated several times that, "This is not a football scandal."

But it was and is. Paterno was Penn State football and the powerful face and voice of a campus so influenced by the sport's culture. It was too big to let fail.

Freeh said Paterno knew of allegations against Sandusky in '98, failed to take action, and subsequently "was an integral part of this active decision to conceal" after a 2001 incident.

So the keepers of the flame have a problem now. All those wins, the national championships, JoePa's many contributions to a school he loved, while meaningful, are tarnished beyond repair.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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