FENNO: Paterno report sad attempt to salvage legacy

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The word is impossible to miss in thick black letters on the cover of the “Critique of the Freeh Report” and the 57 mentions that follow.

Injustice.

Not for the boy who Jerry Sandusky raped in a locker-room shower at Penn State. Not for the boy who testified to being sexually abused by Sandusky as often as three times per week. Not for the boy Sandusky molested at the former assistant coach’s home.

No, the ‘injustice’ railed against in the 238-page report released Saturday revolves around none other than the late Joseph Vincent Paterno.

Bankrolled by the Paterno family, the self-described unbiased review of the report by former FBI director Louis J. Freeh instead resembles a sad, angry screed on an Internet message board. It does nothing to further our understanding of what the late coach did or did not do in the sorry and sordid Sandusky affair and gleefully engages in the same sort of bias it accuses the Freeh Report of.

And, really, how impartial could any report titled “The rush to injustice regarding Joe Paterno” be considered?

The effort leaves you sad, a desperate, reality-detached attempt to salvage a legacy that won’t change anyone’s mind. Not the Penn State diehards. Not the rest of the country. The $6.5 million Freeh Report that took eight months to complete concluded Paterno and other Penn State leaders hid Sandusky’s sexual attacks to prevent bad publicity. That report has significant shortcomings, yes, but this isn’t the place you’ll discover an intellectually honest exploration of its problems.

No responsibility is taken, tough questions aren’t asked and new evidence isn’t presented. Instead, the Paterno family attorney and three compensated experts throw rocks at the Freeh Report’s 430 interviews and more than 3 million documents reviewed. Every tired word is what you’d expect from a project financed by a family that can’t come to grips with their father’s crumbled legacy any more than his torn-down statue or victories erased as part of the NCAA’s over-the-top sanctions.

What do you expect from a report that describes Paterno as someone who “fell victim” to Sandusky? Or repeatedly describes treatment of Paterno as “unfair” and a “great disservice”?

Between the generic descriptions of how sexual predators operate and dozens of pages detailing resumes of the report’s authors that pad the page count are a string of simplistic, predictable arguments and, yes, basic errors of fact all connected as part of some sort of grand conspiracy to smear Paterno’s good name.

Every line shoves Paterno into the victim’s seat. They claim Freeh’s investigators chose not to speak with Paterno. Not true. Freeh requested to speak through Paterno’s attorney. They declined. Time remained, though, for him to talk with a newspaper columnist and his biographer before he died from lung cancer in January 2012.

Then there’s the long list of people the report is indignant weren’t interviewed. Among them is one Ray Gricar. He’s the former Centre County, Pa., district attorney who declined to bring charges against Sandusky after sexual abuse allegations in 1998. Problem is, Gricar disappeared in 2005 and was declared legally dead in July 2011. Perhaps the pro-Paterno report envisioned a seance to track him down.

Numerous other witnesses cited had either invoked their Fifth Amendment rights, spoke through their lawyers, or the investigators had been asked by prosecutors not to speak with them.

Why let pesky facts impede the narrative of the blameless, martyred coach who knew nothing of the deviant activities of his longtime defensive coordinator?

Suppositions are attacked with, well, suppositions. Alleged speculation is dismissed with more speculation. The Freeh Report’s “limited scope” and “flawed, one-sided viewpoint” is, ironically, savaged by a report with a significantly more limited, one-sided scope. Even Paterno’s legendary influence at the university is comically challenged, missing the small fact he remained head coach until he was 84 years old.

All that’s missing is denying any link between Peachy Paterno ice cream and the coach.

Paterno is portrayed as an ideal molder of young men. A virtual saint, without flaw or failure. Character personified. Evidence? The report presents Paterno’s lack of NCAA violations as he coached Penn State from 1966 to 2011, along with his players’ high graduation rate and, of course, repeated mentions his charitable donations. That’s it.

The Paterno family’s report isn’t the place for substance or surprises. No, this exercise in narcissism complains about fairness and interviews and influence. And the family wraps their effort to rehabilitate Paterno’s image around the boys Sandusky raped and future victims of child abuse.

They call the report “one important chapter” in the effort to help. But the real “injustice” in their world, their report, belongs to Paterno.

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