STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — A blistering report that claims Joe Paterno and other top Penn State officials concealed what they knew about Jerry Sandusky's sexual abuse of children may prove to be an indelible stain on the beloved coach's 61-year tenure at the school where he preached "success with honor."
Paterno's supporters are legion, though, and some insist the late coach got a raw deal from former FBI Director Louis Freeh, whose 267-page report on the Sandusky scandal Thursday asserted that Paterno and senior Penn State officials made a decision to protect Sandusky to avoid damaging the image of the school and its powerful football program.
Penn State's internal investigation into one of the worst scandals in sports history is unlikely to settle the debate about Paterno's culpability — even as it showed him to be more deeply involved in the university's response to 1998 and 2001 abuse complaints about Sandusky than previously thought.
Damaging emails unearthed by Freeh and his team of lawyers and ex-law enforcement officials show the extent to which Paterno, Penn State President Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president Gary Schultz fretted over what to do about Sandusky. Ultimately, they did nothing — and their inaction allowed the retired defensive coordinator to continue molesting boys, the report found.
Freeh also faulted university trustees for failing to exercise proper oversight and said a culture that showed excessive reverence for the football program helped protect a pedophile. Sandusky, 68, was convicted last month of abusing 10 boys over 15 years and will likely die in prison.
Freeh's report could impact the ongoing criminal case against Curley and Schultz, who are charged with lying to a grand jury and failing to report child abuse. It will certainly factor into any future discussion about Paterno and a Hall of Fame career that includes two national championships, 409 wins, and the coach's self-proclaimed "grand experiment" that tried to blend academics, athletics and right living.
Karen Peetz, chairwoman of the board of trustees, said the panel believes Paterno's "61 years of excellent service to the university is now marred" by the scandal. Phil Knight, the Nike founder who won thunderous applause with his passionate defense of the coach at his January memorial service, acknowledged Thursday that "it appears Joe made missteps that led to heartbreaking consequences. I missed that Joe missed it, and I am extremely saddened on this day."
Yet hours after the release of Freeh's report, people were still eating scoops of Peachy Paterno ice cream at Berkey Creamery on campus, Joe Paterno shirts still hung in stores across the street from the administration building, and many of those closest to Penn State and Paterno said their faith in the coach remained unshakeable.
"I don't care what anyone says, it doesn't change the fact that he's a great man," said Briana Marshall, a junior from East Stroudsburg.
Some students and alumni felt that Freeh turned Paterno into a scapegoat, and that there was little direct evidence that he took part in a cover-up. Paterno died before he could meet with investigators.
"It's easy to vilify or blame someone who's not alive to defend himself," said Tim Sweeney, president of Penn State's official Football Letterman's Club.
Freeh, who was hired by the school's board of trustees to investigate the scandal, expressed regret for any damage to Paterno's "terrific legacy." But he stood by his work.
"What my report says is what the evidence and the facts show," he said.
What they showed, the report said, was that Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz "failed to protect against a child sexual predator," burying the allegations against Sandusky out of a desire to "avoid the consequences of bad publicity."
Freeh said officials had opportunities in 1998 and 2001 to step in.
In 1998, campus police investigated after a woman complained that her son had showered with Sandusky. The investigation did not result in charges. But the emails show Paterno clearly followed the case, Freeh said, and university officials took no action at the time to limit Sandusky's access to campus — a decision that would pave the way for Sandusky to victimize more youths.
Three years later, a coaching assistant told Paterno that he had seen Sandusky sexually abusing a boy in the locker room showers.
Freeh, citing emails and handwritten notes, concluded that Paterno intervened to stop a plan by Curley, Schultz and Spanier to report the 2001 allegation by graduate assistant Mike McQueary to child-welfare authorities.
According to the report, the administrators intended to inform the state Department of Public Welfare. But Curley later said in an email that he changed his mind about the plan "after giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe." Instead, Curley proposed to offer Sandusky "professional help."
In an email, Spanier agreed that course of action would be "humane"