Column: No rescuing Paterno's reputation

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 10, 2013 at 7:50 pm •  Published: February 10, 2013

If you believe the Paterno family report — and it is an impressive, though flawed document — former FBI director Louis Freeh acted as "judge, jury and executioner" when he was hired by Penn State to deliver the definitive report on the involvement of the university and its officers in the Sandusky scandal. Freeh concluded last July that four of the most powerful people at Penn State — including Paterno — failed to protect children from Sandusky for more than a decade as part of an effort to protect the university and its reputation.

"That bell can never be unrung, but the many associated errors can be corrected," the Paterno report states.

Just what those errors are is a bit unclear, though former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh took particular offense in his portion of the report claims by Freeh that Paterno did not have empathy for the safety of children. Not only did Paterno like children, Thornburgh wrote, but made sure to participate in a Penn State dance marathon charity for children with cancer and was a supporter of the Special Olympics.

So Paterno wasn't some kind of monster after all. Glad we could get that cleared up.

The bottom line is the Freeh report wasn't perfect. It jumped to some conclusions, and took some liberties that would not hold up in court.

That's what prosecutors do, but it's important to note that Penn State has implemented a majority of the changes recommended in the report. The NCAA waited just 10 days after its release to impose landmark sanctions on Penn State that include $60 million in fines and a four-year postseason ban on football.

Nothing in the Paterno report is going to change that. If Freeh was the prosecutor, Thornburgh and others are the defense attorneys, trying their best to declare Paterno innocent in the court of public opinion.

But the bottom line of the Freeh report was accurate. There was a core of top university officials that knew things and didn't act.

And there were children who paid for it. Young boys who paid dearly because the people in charge didn't stop Sandusky when they could.

The Paternos may find it hard to swallow because they can't reconcile it to the man they knew, the man who over the years became a near deity in State College. And certainly some people will agree with them that Paterno was the scapegoat for a scandal, an old man railroaded and unceremoniously dumped by the very university he loved and served so ably on the football field.

Unfortunately for them, the statue that once stood outside the football stadium is not coming back.

And neither is Paterno's reputation.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at) or