Freeh regrets he was not able to speak with Paterno
PHILADELPHIA -- Louis Freeh said numerous times this morning that he wished he and his team of independent investigators hired by Penn State University's Board of Trustees could have interviewed Joe Paterno.
Mr. Freeh, the former director of the FBI between 1993 and 2001, said he felt that Mr. Paterno, the former Penn State head football coach, wanted to cooperate with his inquiry into the way the university handled the child sex abuse allegations surrounding former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
But because Mr. Paterno died Jan. 22 of complications from lung cancer, he was unable to conduct an interview.
So Mr. Freeh, as he did with the rest of his 267-page report released Thursday, made a "reasonable conclusion" about Paterno's involvement from the evidence gathered and the known circumstances. And that conclusion -- explained to a ballroom full of media and public at the Westin Philadelphia -- would rock Penn State, the school's alumni base and the college football world.
Mr. Freeh included Mr. Paterno, Penn State's legendary coach for 46 years, with former president Graham Spanier, vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley as four men who made a decision to cover up Mr. Sandusky's activities during a period of 14 years.
After reading from a prepared statement for the first 20 minutes of his press conference, Mr. Freeh responded to questions for 25 minutes.
One question informed him that some Penn State football fans are claiming that his investigation was a witch hunt designed to bring down Mr. Paterno, who is now unable to defend himself.
Mr. Freeh said that he had not singled out Mr. Paterno and expressed regret "based on the damage it does obviously to his legacy."
"Because he is no longer here," Mr. Freeh said. "I wish we had the opportunity to speak to him. I wish we had the ability to show him those emails. We found those emails after he was deceased."
Mr. Freeh was unafraid to speak what he regarded as the truth about the formerly revered coach. Asked if he believed the board of trustees was justified in firing Paterno in Nov. 2011, Mr. Freeh responded, simply, "Yes."
Mr. Freeh spoke in commanding tones and added emphasis when he felt necessary. The strongest sentiment he expressed came when asked about how responsible the greater culture at Penn State was for the Sandusky scandal and its continuing fallout.
"What I found to be extremely telling ... is the janitors," Mr. Freeh said, referring to the janitors who witnessed Sandusky with a boy in the showers at the Lasch Building in 2000. "The janitors, that's the tone on the bottom. These are the employees of Penn State who clean and maintain locker rooms in the Lasch Building where the young boys are being raped. They witnessed probably the most horrific rape that's described. And what do they do? They panic.
"They said we can't report this because we'll get fired. They knew who Sandusky was. One of the janitors watched him growing up as the defensive coach. They were afraid to take on the football program. They said the university would circle around it. It was like going against the President of the United States.
"If that's the culture on the bottom, then God help the culture on top."
While Mr. Freeh was tough on Penn State with his comments, he also showed a human side, referring to himself as a father of six boys. He said based on what he's seen from the school in responding to his recommendations thus far, he would not hesitate to send his kids to Penn State.
"Parents should feel comfortable and insured at this point that sending their children there will be as safe as they would be at any other good university," Mr. Freeh said. "The board, and Old Main, to its credit, has made immense and significant changes since November 2011."
First Published July 12, 2012 2:25 pm