Ron Cook: Paterno's good name lost forever
Whether or not you believe the findings of his family's report, one thing that's clear is Joe Paterno will never be remembered for what he once was.
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So the defense has rested. Which side do you believe? The Freeh Report, which accused Joe Paterno and three other high-ranking Penn State officials of knowingly covering up for convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky to protect the Penn State football brand? Or the report commissioned by Paterno's family, which was released Sunday and described the Freeh Report as "deeply flawed," especially its "unsubstantiated and unfair" treatment of the iconic Paterno?
It's an easy call for many people.
The pro-Paterno crowd didn't need the work of his defense team to believe Paterno was a saint who did no wrong in making Penn State a national institution and helping countless hundreds of students -- not just football players -- become better people. Paterno's equally closed-minded critics, meanwhile, ran with the Freeh Report the instant it was issued in July and are convinced it justified their long-held belief that Paterno was a pious phony who hid behind clever mantras such as "The Penn State Way" and "Success With Honor."
Neither side is going to change its opinion, any evidence to the contrary be damned.
Think for a moment of Ray Lewis, the most polarizing sports figure since Paterno because of his stage earlier this month, the stage that was Super Bowl XLVII. They adore Lewis in Baltimore -- idolize him, actually -- because he led the Ravens to a second Super Bowl championship. They're planning on erecting a statue of him outside M&T Bank Stadium. Much of the rest of the country finds that to be abhorrent. They are convinced Lewis got away with a double murder in 2000 in Atlanta. They always will believe that.
So are the two sides entrenched over Paterno.
For those of us who aren't in the pro- or anti-camp, the truth is somewhere in the middle. No one is all evil. No one is all good.
It's almost impossible to believe that Paterno willingly covered up for Sandusky just to save Penn State bad publicity. Paterno was a good man who ran a clean program, didn't cheat and, contrary to those who misguidedly believe Penn State was nothing more than a football factory, graduated his players at a higher rate than almost all schools. "The life he led, the values he lived and the character he demonstrated bear no resemblance to someone who would have protected a man who was molesting kids," the family report said.
Beyond that, Paterno never gave a damn what the media or fans thought about him or his program. The family-commissioned report mentioned his handling of the Rashard Casey case in 2000. Casey, then the Penn State quarterback, was charged with assaulting an off-duty police officer in Hoboken, N.J. Paterno was vilified for standing behind Casey, who was exonerated and ended up reaching a cash settlement with Hoboken. Paterno did what he believed to be right by continuing to play Casey despite the backlash. He always did what he believed was right.
But you have to be pretty naïve to think Paterno was perfect. No one on this Earth is or was. In Sandusky's case, Paterno should have done more after graduate assistant Mike McQueary came to him in 2001 and told him he saw inappropriate behavior between Sandusky and a boy in a shower in Penn State's Lasch Football Building. It's true, to a degree, what the family report said. "Joe Paterno reported the information to his superior(s) pursuant to his understanding of University protocol and relied upon them to investigate and report as appropriate." But Paterno was bigger than anyone at Penn State and had no superiors, no matter what his defense team wants you to believe. If he did have superiors, it was only when it was convenient for him. The family report noted, "Jerry Sandusky retired in 1999 after Joe Paterno declined to designate him as the next head football coach at Penn State." Shouldn't the next football coach be determined by Paterno's alleged superiors?
The family report stated that Paterno didn't fully understand the seriousness of what McQueary told him. "At worst, he believed that Sandusky was a touchy-feely guy who had boundary issues." The report made it a point to say Paterno was 75 at the time, seemingly to give him a pass. "Paterno simply could not reconcile what he knew of Jerry Sandusky with the thought that Sandusky was a huge fraud and a child sex offender."
Both points are nonsense.
The family report acknowledged that McQueary was visibly upset when he talked to Paterno. Didn't Paterno have an obligation to dig deeper to find out why? That 75 stuff also is misleading. Paterno was incredibly sharp at that point. It wasn't until near the end of his coaching run that he began to badly falter. Penn State officials might have botched the way it fired him late in the 2011 season only a few days after Sandusky was arrested, but they were right to get him away from the program. He couldn't have handled the extraordinary media scrutiny.
Paterno is dead and gone. No one will ever know with certainty what he knew about Sandusky and why he didn't do more to stop his terrorism on children. Again, any conclusions are left to us to make in our mind.
The Paterno family report was spot-on when it blasted the NCAA for blindly following the Freeh Report and coming down on Penn State with unprecedented sanctions just 11 days after the Freeh Report was released. As much as Paterno lost -- 111 wins, his statue outside Beaver Stadium, his good name, everything -- it's easy to argue the university lost more. Penn State should not have been sanctioned. The Sandusky tragedy was a criminal matter, not an NCAA matter.
But Penn State will survive. It is a great school. It is too strong of an institution not to flourish again.
The Penn State football program also will survive. It has a good man in charge -- Bill O'Brien. It has too much going for it not to be a college football power again. That's not a bad thing.
And Paterno? In a court of law, he might be acquitted due to lack of evidence that goes beyond reasonable doubt. The family report shot sizable holes in the way the Freeh Report loosely tied a couple of emails to Paterno in 1998 and 2001 and concluded he harbored a pedophile.
But Paterno is never going to truly win. He might get those 111 wins back one day. He might get his statue back. But he's never going to get his good name back. That's gone forever.
First Published February 11, 2013 12:00 am