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Vicky Triponey and the Report


One issue that has been bothering me since the Freeh report was released (among many, trust me) is the fact that Vicky Triponey was nearly omitted from the report. Before Freeh released the report, I assumed Ms Triponey would be the focal point considering her outspoken criticism of Paterno and the university. Shockingly, her name only appeared in footnotes. Why was Vicky Triponey, such an obvious witness against Penn State's culture, left out of the report? One obvious conclusion is Triponey's reputation with Penn Staters. Including her name too often might create an opening for criticism? Alternatively, Freeh possibly found her testimony to be too biased? Seemed unlikely but possible.

Just this week, CNN put out an article that essentially hails Ms Triponey as a hero in the incident - the woman who spoke out against the culture, lost her job and reputation for it but is now vindicated. A quote from the article stood out to me:

When I visited with them, that's when I started to be more hopeful," she said. "They got it, and they were determined to expose it. They found evidence of the culture that allowed Jerry Sandusky to exist. (emphasis mine)

It then occurred to me: Triponey was likely left out of the report precisely because Freeh's thesis is based on Triponey's claim! Freeh knew that if he extensively used her testimony as evidence of the problem, it would be more easily dismissed. However, Freeh wants to expose the administration and the football obsessed culture but he can't align himself with Triponey, a disgruntled former employee and spark plug for controversy. He has to appear independent and objective. Triponey is neither. Instead, Freeh uses Triponey's testimony as the base case truth and then sets out to find evidence to support the claims of an administration and culture that was controlled by the evil Paterno.

There's on related additional takeaway from Triponey's comment that stood out to me. "They were determined to expose it." Does that sound like an investigation that intends on finding the truth or one that has a mission and is just looking for evidence to confirm their thesis? That's not an objective or fair approach. It is called confirmation bias and is one that many prosecuting attorneys seem to take. A more fair approach would have been to aggressively attempt to disprove the theory of a cover-up and then conclude that one took place once no contrary evidence could be found. I haven't seen any indication that such an approach was taken. Considering the report lacked testimony from all the key players, it seems there was no desire to hear their defense.

I find these issues disturbing because many people point to the Freeh report and say, "It is an independent report," what else can anyone, including the Paterno family say? The answer to this is that the report was indeed independent but not unbiased. It had one central mission - assign culpability. Somewhere along the way, Freeh determined that the "culture" was to blame. It seems Triponey, the most outstanding critic of Penn State (but one with a lot of negative baggage), may have unduly influenced the direction of the report. The legal system would grant Paterno, Curley, Shultz and Spanier a chance to defend themselves against such accusations. I don't see why the same standard doesn't apply here.

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