After 61 Years, He Deserves Reasonable Doubt

The Freeh report is a detailed and exhaustive collection of facts, many of which have already been reported, known, or leaked. It is also an attempt to analyze those facts, draw conclusions, and make recommendations for how to prevent something like this from happening again.

It is NOT, however, a complete and factual account of events, as many of the key players identified were unable to provide input or explanation. Nor is it, as Freeh himself said during his press conference, limited by the confines of trivial concepts such as objectivity or reasonable doubt.

It is, therefore, an attempt to analyze an incomplete context. In other words, Freeh and his team did the best with the information they had available, but in the absence of a complete set of facts, they were forced to fill in the gaps with assumptions, opinions, and conjecture.

This is not to say that the report or the work done by Freeh’s team was inadequate. They were hired to find out how ‘The Thing’ could have happened at Penn State, and I believe they fulfilled that objective to the best of their abilities. But the report needs to be looked at as a collection of facts AND as a collection of opinions. It is not, nor can it be, both.

The media’s reaction has been predictable. In a repeat of November’s self-righteous attempt to out-outrage one another, they have accepted the Freeh report as hard evidence that Paterno manipulated Penn State’s reaction to the accusations made against Sandusky in 1998, pointing to emails stating "…coach is anxious…" or "…talking it over with Joe yesterday …" as proof-positive that Paterno masterminded a cover-up. They tout Vicky Triponey as the "woman who stood up to Joe Paterno" and cite her opinions as obvious proof that he held his football team to a different standard than other university students. They cite Joe’s Grand Jury testimony as evidence of him perjuring himself regarding his knowledge of the ’98 incident.

They may very well be right. Any reasonable person, even those of us who have idolized Paterno, must allow for the possibility that Joe Paterno did, in fact, offer advice or direction to prioritize the protection of the University over the pursuit of those allegations. If, in the process of protecting his organization, Joe failed to protect the welfare of the children Sandusky attacked, then shame on him. He has paid a hefty price for his sins, as will the University for years to come.

But the conclusions of the Freeh report and the media may also very well be wrong. Those who skim the green-highlighted summaries and conclusions within the report won’t see that. Those who read the report with a pre-conceived notion of guilt won’t see that. Those who need to sell news stories can’t afford to do that. But the Freeh report in its entirety – when approached with a clear, logical, level-headed analysis of the facts – reveals more than enough room for reasonable doubt.

Perhaps "…coach is anxious…" meant "Coach said he was about to go to the police himself if we don’t figure out how to deal with this right now!" Neither Paterno nor Curley were able to explain the meaning of this statement.

Maybe "…talking it over with Joe yesterday …" really meant "Joe says we’re going to open ourselves up to all sorts of defamation lawsuits if we’re wrong about this and recommends that we give Sandusky an opportunity to turn himself in before we ambush him." (Spanier even later confirms that he believed Schultz would go to the authorities either way – so why would we think that Joe believed any differently?). Again, neither Paterno nor Schultz could be interviewed to provide clarity.

It’s conceiveable that Paterno’s resistance to discipline as cited by Vicky Triponey (who master-minded a systematic dismantling of student advocacy and judiciary rights worthy of Delores Umbridge at both UConn AND Penn State, spawning numerous student protests), was in fact resistance to her tyrannical policies in general - in defense not only of PSU football players, but of ALL PSU students. We have only Triponey’s side of the story to reference.

And finally, it’s possible that Joe, having sworn to tell the whole truth and nothing but it, only spoke of FACTS when he told the Grand Jury that he was not aware of Sandusky’s crimes in ’98 because, as the police and assistant district attorney determined, no crime had actually been committed. Without Joe to question, we have no idea.

Is it likely that Joe was indeed the only voice of truth and justice in all of these instances? No, it isn’t. Joe was the head of a multi-million dollar organization with a pristine reputation at a University that he loved as much as he loved his own family. The likelihood that Joe would never do anything to put the concerns of his football program ahead of the concerns of others is simply unrealistic. No matter how much many of us idolized Joe Pa, it’s simply naïve to think that he wouldn’t have struggled to define his priorities in the face of such a moral dilemma.

But at a minimum, these alternate interpretations are plausible, and when emotionally removed from the cacophony of the self-righteous mob, they appear to be no LESS likely than what’s been popularly reported by Freeh, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and every other media outlet.

It’s called "reasonable doubt." It’s why we don’t allow the mob to judge accused criminals. It’s why we live in a representative democracy, not a democracy ruled by referendum votes. It doesn’t prove that Paterno is innocent, but it affords the possibility that he is not guilty.

The Freeh report was not confined by a presumption of innocence. It was not restricted to leaving room for reasonable doubt. It was not even limited to a presentment of facts. It was commissioned with the intention of helping the public, alumni, and Board of Trustees understand how ‘The Thing’ *COULD* have been allowed to happen at Penn State, and how such a thing can be prevented in the future. It presents exactly that.

As Sue Paterno said of Joe’s firing, "After 61 years, he deserved more." If nothing else, he at least deserves the benefit of reasonable doubt.

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