Paterno Family Defends The Myth

Sue Paterno, wife of Joe Paterno, speaks with Katie Couric | AP photo

The Paternos believe it was money well spent.

Incensed that the legend of Joe Paterno could be anything but legendary – and therefore equal parts fact, fantasy and fiction – the family spent a large portion of its inheritance on a review of the Freeh report, the document that chastised the coach and university for covering up the sexual assault of children by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

Mission completed.

Unbiasedly titled “The Critique of the Freeh Report: The Rush to Injustice Regarding Joe Paterno,” the 238-page document is an ode to the great coach produced by, and for, those most interested in maintaining the legacy. The document couldn’t be more one-sided if it had been written by Jay Paterno, the son turned family publicist and parental myth creator.

The report states, “we did not cherry-pick from a group of possible experts to find and secure the most favorable opinions. Instead, these were the only three experts we approached because of their impeccable credentials and reputations.”

Let’s look at these not cherry-picked experts.

Expert, by the way, surfaces often in the report. “Expert,” “experts” or “expertise” appear 139 times throughout the document, and are used in both first-person and second-person references. Expert also is prominently used throughout, the website created to disseminate the report and to further the hagiography of college foot-ball’s most perfect person.

Wick Sollers, a managing partner with King & Spalding, the legal firm that headed the investigation, is the Paterno family lawyer. His is the first name to appear on the final document – a fact that appears nowhere in the report or in the website’s “Expert Bio” section.

Dick Thornburgh, another expert, is a former U.S. attorney general, governor of Pennsylvania and cabinet member for President George H. W. Bush. The politically connected Paterno gave a seconding speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention for the then-vice president, and in 1974 met with state party leaders about becoming a candidate for lieutenant governor. Thornburgh, while as governor, joined Paterno on stage for Orange and Fiesta Bowl pep rallies, and spoke with the team. He also was the person Paterno contacted to get a highway lane closed off so the Alabama football team, that was playing at State College, wouldn’t get stuck in traffic.

Jim Clemente is a retired FBI profiler who, according to the website, has investigated and consulted on thousands of cases, including sex crimes.

Dr. Fred S. Berlin is the founder of The Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic.

It would be foolish to criticize the qualifications of either Clemente or Berlin, but it does appear strange to the layman that Berlin was able to form strong opinions of Paterno’s actions without interviewing or examining the subject. This is especially problematic since Berlin used two lengthy paragraphs to discuss the character of a person he may never have met – his report doesn’t say.

Perhaps because they agreed to participate “only if we would accept their unvarnished, objective opinions, whatever those turned out to be,” we should refrain from any questions regarding any bias of the parties involved.

The Paterno report makes repeated criticism that Freeh lacked subpoena power and that his investigators “never interviewed any of the key witnesses with the exception of President (Graham) Spanier, concerning the facts of the 1998 and 2001 incidents,” including Paterno. What is not mentioned is that the Paterno report investigators also lacked subpoena powers and failed to interview some of the same people. They did, however, interview the lawyers of athletic director Tim Curley, senior vice president for finance and business Gary Shultz, and Spanier.

Not surprisingly, Paterno agreed to speak with the investigators who were on the family payroll and his biographer, but not the person hired by the university to investigate everyone’s involvement.

In his statement about the Paterno report, Freeh states Paterno’s attorney was contacted for an interview but the offer was declined. Also, the Pennsylvania attorney general asked Freeh not to interview assistant coach Mike McQueary, the coach who reported witnessing Sandusky fondling a victim in a Penn State locker room, as to not interfere with the ongoing investigation. Curley and Shultz also declined to speak with Freeh investigators.

The Freeh report may not be the Holy Grail when it comes to the investigation of sexual assault involving public figures and young children. But the Paterno report offers little beyond character assassination and misinformation as an alternative truth.

It’s time the Paternos give up. They have plenty of cash, the security of friendly surroundings and a cadre of defenders willing to fall in line with whatever narrative best protects the image of the state’s most favored adopted son.

The fight has gotten tacky and more than a bit icky, and does nothing to help “the Penn State University community … the victims of Jerry Sandusky and the critical mission of educating the public on the dangers of child sexual victimization,” as the family report so hopefully wishes it will.