Editor’s note: Last month, former Penn State football players Franco Harris, Rudy Glocker and Christian Marrone sent out a letter to fellow alumni criticizing the Freeh report. The final version of that letter, which was signed by 180 former players, is published below.
A rush to judgment
As former Penn State football players, we share the nation’s outrage caused by Jerry Sandusky’s heinous crimes. Mr. Sandusky deceived us all, and nothing will ever bring complete healing to the victims or their families, nor undo the damage of his actions. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them.
The snap judgments reached by the Freeh report about what Coach Joe Paterno knew and what he did deserve further analysis. In short, we believe this report has irresponsibly impugned Paterno’s reputation without sufficient evidence. We all deserve the full truth before judging anyone.
Like Jerry Sandusky, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz will have their day in court. Joe Paterno can not, and for this reason, as his former players, we are speaking out.
The foundation of any objective case is detailed, thorough and complete fact-finding which includes exhaustive interviewing of witnesses. While the Freeh investigation boasted that it conducted over 430 interviews, none of those were with some of the most critical witnesses including:
• Joe Paterno, head football coach
• Tim Curley, athletic director
• Mike McQueary, assistant football coach
• Gary Schultz, who had oversight of the Penn State Police Department
• Jerry Sandusky, assistant football coach
•Wendell Courtney, Penn State legal counsel at the time
•Thomas Harmon, Penn State director of public safety in 1998
•Karen Arnold, Centre County District Attorney’s Office
Obviously, Mr. Freeh could not have interviewed Mr. Paterno, who passed away.
But how can any thorough and objective investigation exclude interviews with nearly all of the other central players, especially considering the extraordinary consequences?
And for those who were interviewed, the Freeh report often fails to identify them or their comments by name, leaving readers unable to know who said what and when. It also makes it impossible to distinguish between the report’s conclusions and what witnesses actually stated.
As a result, Freeh makes, what he deems, “reasonable conclusions” about Paterno’s alleged “cover-up” based entirely on three emails: two from 1998 and one from 2001. The emails, however, do not support that conclusion.
The first email, dated May 5, 1998, involves the status of an ongoing police investigation into allegations that Sandusky had showered with a boy. The email from Tim Curley to university president Graham Spanier with the subject line “Joe Paterno” states, “I have touched base with the coach. Keep us posted. Thanks.” Mr. Freeh concludes two things from this email: “Touching base” referred to a discussion with Paterno about the Sandusky investigation and Paterno was fully and completely informed of the details of the investigation by Curley in this discussion.
But how does Mr. Freeh know for sure? Freeh’s investigators did not interview Curley, and Penn State President Graham Spanier (who was interviewed), didn’t remember the email at all.
In the second email, dated May 13, 1998, Curley sent an email to Gary Schultz, overseer of the university police department, titled, “Jerry” asking, “Anything new in this department? Coach is anxious to know where it stands.” Mr. Freeh seems to conclude that this email is proof of some sort of cover-up, but the clear reading of the email indicates if in fact “Coach” was Paterno, which it is not clear, he merely was seeking information about the investigation or another topic of discussion — perhaps Sandusky’s retirement negotiations — within the appropriate chain of command. In fact, the Freeh report confirms that “no one from the University interfered with the Sandusky investigation.” How is that a cover-up?
But why are Paterno’s inquiries, if he did make them, about the investigation so damning anyway? Wouldn’t a head coach want to know about the status of a police investigation into one of his assistant coaches? Remember, at that time, Sandusky had been an upstanding member of the State College community and had dedicated over 30 years of his career to the university.
What is most critical is what happened — or didn’t happen — after that investigation ended. Police filed a 67-page report and the District Attorney’s Office chose not to prosecute Jerry Sandusky as it determined no crimes were committed. The Department of Public Welfare and the Centre County Children and Youth Services reached the same conclusion.
With those facts before him, what should Paterno have done — launch his own investigation based on his football coaching skills? Fire a man who had just been exonerated by law enforcement and child services experts? At that point, Sandusky stood as a man wrongly accused. We now know that was terribly wrong, but any criticism should be directed at the DA and its investigation, not Paterno.
Fast forward to the 2000 incident, when a janitor now says he saw Sandusky molesting a boy in the locker room. If he had reported that to the proper authorities then, Sandusky may have been in jail.
Amazingly, the Freeh report absolves these individuals from their responsibility to report and instead goes into pure and wild speculation that since Paterno was so feared, he would have ignored the startling allegation and fired the janitors. He bases this conclusion by recklessly paraphrasing the janitors’ statements to conclude that “the University would have closed ranks to protect the football program at all costs.” However, there is no evidence to even suggest this premise.
In this regard, Mr. Freeh engages in reasoning based upon the “self-fulfilling prophesy.” A former FBI director should know better.
In fact, the notion that Paterno would fire underlings for reporting sensational allegations was proven false again when, in 2001, then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary told Paterno he witnessed an incident involving Sandusky and a boy. Paterno didn’t fire McQueary and he promptly reported the allegation to the appropriate authorities: Curley and Schultz who, in turn, reported it to Spanier.
The discussion about what to do about Sandusky came next, where careful analysis is merited. In an email containing conversations from Feb. 27 and 28, 2001, Tim Curley writes to Graham Spanier and Gary Schultz, stating: “After giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe yesterday —Iam uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps.” (emphasis added). The email does not say, “Joe and I” or “we.”
Despite this and having no direct knowledge of the conversation between Paterno and Curley, Freeh simply implies that Paterno instructed Curley not to report the incident.
Curley, Schultz, and Spanier made and affirmed the decisions on how to handle the Sandusky matter, not Paterno. Yet, the Freeh report unjustifiably portrays Paterno as omnipotent apparently for the sole purpose of tearing him down.
Interestingly, this isn’t the first time Freeh has failed to prove that which he concluded. Just a few days ago, a Swiss court outright nullified the findings of a Freeh investigation report on FIFA’s (International Soccer Association) presidential nominee, saying it was “not complete or comprehensive enough to fill in the gaps in the record.” As a result, the nominee’s lifetime ban from FIFA was overturned but not after his reputation had been irreparably damaged.
And just twelve days after this supposed thorough investigation into Penn State, Freeh’s investigators had to correct several important factual errors from the original report.
We will never hear from Coach Paterno, but those of us who knew him believe he deserves the benefit of the doubt and like all citizens, is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Let the facts come out; let Tim Curley and Gary Schultz have their day in court; and then, and only then, let us determine the truth.