The “rush to injustice” against Joe Paterno

Last summer, I posted with approval a critique of the report by Louis Freeh regarding Penn State’s actions related to the sexual abuse committed by former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. The critique was written by a friend of mine — a top-notch lawyer and former federal prosecutor. Our conclusion was that the Freeh report is badly flawed and that the case against Joe Paterno is weak to non-existent on the current record.

Last week, the law firm of King & Spalding issued a critique of the Freeh report. The authors are former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh; Jim Clemente, a former FBI profiler and prosecutor, and an expert in child sex crimes; and Fred Berlin, a physician, psychiatrist and psychologist at Johns Hopkins, and an expert in public health approaches to child sex abuse.

The report concludes:

[T]he Freeh report reflects an improper “rush to injustice.” There is no evidence that Joe Paterno deliberately covered up known incidents of child molestation by Jerry Sandusky to protect Penn State football or for any other reason; the contrary statements in the Freeh report are unsupported and unworthy of belief. . . .

[T]here is no reason to believe that Joe Paterno understood the threat posed by Jerry Sandusky better than qualified child welfare and law enforcement professionals. There is no evidence that Joe Paterno conspired with Penn State officials to suppress information because of publicity concerns. And Joe Paterno’s testimony before the grand jury in 2011 was truthful. . . .

[T]he full story behind the tragic events involving Jerry Sandusky is not the one told by the Freeh report.

The King & Spalding report won’t reverse the “rush to injustice” it describes. Sports journalists are oh so comfortable with, and indeed invested in, the easy narrative that Joe Paterno turned out to have feet of clay, the result of his (alleged) absolute power at Penn State. It’s a morality tale that’s “too good to check,” and certainly one that can’t be overcome by a report paid for by the Paterno family.

Would distinguished lawyers like Thornburgh and Clemente (neither of whom I know personally) consciously or unconsciously shape their findings to please the parties who are paying them? I don’t know.

But in this case, their integrity wasn’t put to much of a test. In my view, largely for the reasons set forth in my original post, the Freeh report is so weak that no careful, intelligent reader would put stock in its conclusions pertaining to Joe Paterno.


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