What the Paternos’ critique of the Freeh report didn’t do, and what it did

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Like most of you, I’m sure, I already had an idea of what the Paterno family and its accompaniment of “independent analyses” would say in its critique of the Freeh report.

The family has, in unapologetic fashion, defended Joe Paterno‘s name and legacy over the past year after he was fired from Penn State following decades of success and crucified by the court of public opinion for his actions — or inactions — in the Jerry Sandusky scandal. While the core of the Sandusky story revolves around the utter disbelief that a serial pedophile could go years preying on young boys without ever being stopped, the decision on what to make of Paterno’s role in it all has manifested into one of the most — if not the most — polarizing angles.

So when the lengthy report was released Sunday morning, I wasn’t surprised to find phrases such as “rush to injustice”, while the Freeh report was deemed a solidification of the “false public narrative about Joe Paterno.”

But false, honest, or somewhere in between, the multiple narratives about Paterno in this entire mess are as permanent as the mark he left on his former program and university. It’s been over a year since the Harrisburg Patriot-News broke the Sandusky story wide open and people’s opinions one way or the other are pretty much set. In that regard, the Paterno family’s retort to the Freeh report accomplishes nothing.

The arguments range. From Paterno’s apparent inability to comprehend sodomy “as a 72-year-old football coach who was untrained in the complicated, counterintuitive dynamics of child sexual victimization and who came from a traditional background where even consensual sex was not discussed”, to being straight-up “fooled” by Sandusky, the critique implies that Paterno was prude enough to make Ned Flanders look like a proponent of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.

Yet, in his grand jury testimony, Paterno sounded up to speed on what happened between Sandusky and Victim 2 in 2001 when then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary walked in to the showers of the Lasch building on Penn State’s campus. McQueary then relayed what he saw to Paterno.

“He said he had something that he wanted to discuss. I said come on over to the house. He had seen a person, not an older but a mature person who was fondling or whatever you might call it.

“It was a sexual nature.”

The question is whether that understanding was the same in 2001 at the time of the conversation. The lack of documentation of any sort for that meeting has created one of the great mysteries of this story.

Even with documentation, the critique battles the theory that Paterno knew of Sandusky’s pedophilia and participated in a cover-up. One of the long-standing focal points of Paterno’s role in this story has been the email from Athletic Director Tim Curley to Vice President Gary Schultz and President Graham Spanier dated Feb. 27, 2001:

“After giving it some more thought and talking it over with Joe yesterday — I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps.”

At first glance, it would appear Paterno altered a course of action in dealing with Sandusky that originally included informing the Department of Public Welfare. The critique says that email was misrepresented, that a plan to inform proper authorities was still in place, just delayed.

Those are just two examples of many, but does that change your mind about Paterno for better or worse? It doesn’t for me. For example, the exact date and time Paterno met with Curley so as to not “ruin his weekend” to relay what he heard from McQueary doesn’t change the fact that, by the critique’s own admission on the second page, Paterno appeared to wash his hands of a situation he shouldn’t have.

(1) Joe Paterno never asked or told anyone not to investigate fully the allegations in 2001, (2) Joe Paterno never asked or told anyone, including Dr. Spanier and Messrs. Curley and Schultz, not to report the 2001 incident, and (3) Joe Paterno never asked or told anyone not to discuss or to hide in any way the information reported by Mr. McQueary.

Paterno’s involvement in any degree is a paradox. On one hand, he is not the center of the Sandusky story; rather, he is a link in a chain of key individuals who are accused of doing less than we as a society claim we would have done if placed in a similar situation. On the other hand, Paterno was not just a football coach. Few, if any, individuals in college athletics have become the face of an institution like Paterno was. To suggest that he did not have power or influence beyond the typical head coach is nothing short of naive. 

In addition to his spot atop Penn State’s chain of command, the other thing Paterno never lost was his mind. Though his body deteriorated with age, and his battle with cancer was eventually lost in early 2012, his grey matter was as sharp toward the end of his life as it was in his prime. This was universally known and witnessed.

With that power and brilliance comes accountability for what happens while you’re in charge, whether or not it’s in your area of expertise. It’s admittedly a unique situation. The Sandusky scandal is not about Paterno, yet it sort of is. The family’s response to the Freeh report mirrors that assessment even though it dismisses any sort of accountability Paterno should have had.

While the critique doesn’t do anything to persuasively change the public’s opinion about Paterno — it’s certainly not for a lack of effort — it does reasonably poke holes in the Freeh report’s strategy in coming up with its findings. Of the hundreds of people interviewed for the report, neither Curley nor Schultz, who are facing perjury charges and clearly among the most important people in this case, were. Paterno passed away early last year after a battle with lung cancer. His voice, the most important in this topic, is forever silenced.

The portion of the report written by Dick Thornburgh does a good job of dissecting the documentation used by the Freeh report to uncover holes in logic. The portion written by Jim Clemente offers compelling, psychology-based counterarguments to the perception that someone had to have known about Sandusky’s pedophilia.

The Freeh report was never entirely conclusive, and it certainly wasn’t intended to be used as a resource for the NCAA to levy punishment on Penn State’s football program, but in the end, the Paterno family’s response just doesn’t do much other than expose the Freeh’s blemishes while trying to hide Paterno’s.

The thing is, you can’t. Joe Paterno was a human being capable of doing great things for others, as well as doing wrong. He had a statue outside Beaver Stadium and a mural with, at one point, a halo painted over his head. But Paterno was not a god, nor was he a saint. The critique transparently attempts to restore Paterno’s image as such, and it’s bogus.

Paterno is just like you and me. To believe otherwise is only setting yourself up for massive disappointment.

Tennessee hanging around with Alabama — and trailing by three TDs

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It feels like Tennessee is hanging decently well with Alabama, and yet the score is 21-0 Tide at the break in Tuscaloosa. Such is life in the Third Saturday in October rivalry.

Bo Scarborough lodged Alabama’s first two scores on identical plays, diving over a pile of humanity for 1-yard scores. The first came to end Alabama’s first drive of the day and the second came at the 4:48 mark of the second quarter. Damien Harris added the third on an 11-yard carry at the 1:18 mark.

Jalen Hurts has completed 9-of-17 passes for 144 yards, but the numbers look better than his performance has. The sophomore has been late and/or off-target with a handful of throws thus far.

It hasn’t mattered, though, as Alabama has racked up 108 yards on the ground and benefitted from a pair of drive-extending penalties by Tennessee.

Tennessee’s offense has avoided a critical mistake but hasn’t seriously threatened the Alabama defense. John Kelly has carried four times for 21 yards, and Jarrett Guarantano completed 7-of-11 passes for 38 yards while rushing eight times for 13 yards. As a team, Tennessee amassed 75 yards of offense and five first downs in the half.

Alabama will receive to open the second half.

Jimbo Fisher allows he ‘shouldn’t have said something’ to heckling fan

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Florida State’s off to a rough start on the field, which means have gotten a little bit tougher — and louder — off of it.

FSU lost to Louisville 31-28 Saturday afternoon in Tallahassee to tumble to 2-4, its worst start to a season since Bobby Bowden‘s final year in 2009.  After the game, as Jimbo Fisher was headed into the postgame locker room, he was greeted by a fan who shouted down from the stands “get new coaches.”

The head coach’s response? “Walk your ass down here and say it.”

After the game, Fisher was, of course, asked about the exchange. While he allowed that he “shouldn’t have said something” to the heckling fan, he passionately defended his struggling football program, from the football players on the roster to his coaching staff.

From the Orlando Sentinel:

It’s not frustration, just, ‘Hey, listen, be supportive,’” Fisher said of the interaction after the game. “There’s no reason to be nasty. I shouldn’t have said something.

“But at the same time, [I’m] defending players and people you’re with. I’m in charge of them, and I love them like a father. If they say something about your family, you take up for it. …

“Are you going to be a real fan or not?” Fisher said of general fan reaction following the poor start to this season. “Just keep fighting with us. We ain’t quitting on you. Please don’t quit on us. We’re going to keep fighting, scratching, coaching and playing, and you see the heart and desire of those kids.

“I understand you’re going to get on us [coaches]. That’s part of the business. That’s part of life. I understand that. … There ain’t no quit in us either. We’re right there. We just have to find a way to get it.

With this latest loss, FSU now needs to win four of its last five contests to qualify for one. One win is practically guaranteed as they face FCS Delaware State Nov. 18. Beyond that, their work is cut out for them as they have road trips to surging Boston College, Clemson and Florida, as well as a home game against a much-improved Syracuse squad that upset Clemson earlier this month.

Army officially accepts Armed Forces Bowl invitation

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The calendar may say October, but we’re already talking bowl bids.

Specifically, it was announced Saturday afternoon that Army has officially accepted a bid to play in the 2017 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.  The service academy’s sixth win of the season came courtesy of a 31-28 overtime win over Temple.

“We are absolutely delighted that Army West Point has accepted an invitation to play in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl,” bowl executive director Brant Ringler said in a statement. “Coach Jeff Monken has been outstanding since his arrival at West Point, and again reaching the post-season is a tremendous accomplishment. We are thrilled to be able to host the Army West Point football team and the cadets in Fort Worth.”

“To return to the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl is very special for our football program and the U.S. Military Academy,” Army athletic director Boo Corrigan said in his. “The bowl did an exceptional job in 2010 in our win over SMU and we are looking forward to another great experience for our players, coaches and staff in Fort Worth in December.

The bid acceptance is contingent, though, on Army not being selected for the Group of Five’s slot in a New Year’s Six Bowl.  The Black Knights are currently 6-2 on the season; as of this posting, there are two G5 unbeatens (USF, UCF) and four with one loss (Memphis, Navy, Marshall, Toledo).

As we noted this week, Army will be making its first back-to-back bowl appearances since the 1984-84 seasons.

Rutgers wins back-to-back B1G games for first time since joining the conference in 2014

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I don’t know which one specifically, but this has to be one of the signs of the Apocalypse.

Entering Week 8, Rutgers was 5-23 in conference play — 2-18 the last two-plus years — since joining the Big Ten for the 2014 season.  Exiting Week 8, that mark has been bumped up to 6-23 as RU held off Purdue 14-12 in Piscataway.  The Boilermakers had a chance to tie the score with 25 seconds remaining after a David Blough touchdown pass, but the two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful.

Making this win even more impressive is the fact that the Knights were outgained 474-217 in total yards by the Boilermakers — and 279 of those yards for the visitors came on the ground.  The bend-but-don’t-break defense, though, forced six punts, two turnovers and three turnovers on downs in holding a Purdue offense that came in averaging 26.9 points per game to a pair of field goals and one touchdown.

Combine this victory with the Week 7 road win over Illinois, and this marks the first time RU has won back-to-back Big Ten games becoming a B1G member three years and three-plus seasons ago.  Not only that, but it’s also the first time they’ve won back-to-back conference games in any league since 2012, when they were a member of the defunct Big East.

This mini-streak will seemingly face a stiff test to extend as they travel to Ann Arbor next weekend to face No. 19 Michigan in the Big House.