Yesterday, Louis Freeh, former director of the FBI, released the report of his investigation into the Penn State scandal. Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant football coach under the legendary Joe Paterno, was convicted last month of 45 charges related to his abuse of young boys, and Freeh was retained by the university’s board of trustees to find out exactly what happened and why.
Freeh’s report is scathing. The front page of this morning’s Philadelphia Inquirer proclaimed in the largest headline typeface I’ve ever seen:
Under the headline were the photos of the four Pennsylvania State University officials who the report says enabled, through their inaction, Jerry Sandusky to abuse young boys: President Graham B. Spanier, Vice President Gary Schultz, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and yes, Joe Paterno. The Inquirer reported:
Joe Paterno, former Pennsylvania State University president Graham B. Spanier, and other top administrators conspired for more than a decade to keep quiet sex-abuse allegations against Jerry Sandusky, according to the findings of an internal investigation released Thursday.
Fearing bad publicity, the head football coach and the president, along with athletic director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, a former vice president in charge of campus police, “repeatedly concealed critical facts” and exhibited a “callous disregard for child victims,” enabling the former assistant football coach to prey on boys for years, said Louis Freeh, a former FBI director commissioned last year to lead the investigation.
“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State,” Freeh said at a news conference Thursday in Philadelphia. “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect children whom Sandusky victimized.”
Multiple times, while reading the news coverage, I gasped. Even after years of writing about people’s extreme capacity for evil, and the ability of institutions and individuals to turn a blind eye, I found some of the revelations to be shocking.
Read: Louis Freeh report: Joe Paterno, Penn State officials conspired for silence, on Philly.com.
If you want to read the full report, the Inquirer has an interesting annotated version of it online:
When Sandusky was convicted—on the same day that a Catholic Church official was convicted of failing to protect children—I wrote about the real value of the verdicts: They were a warning that big, powerful institutions could no longer sacrifice the innocents to protect their reputations.
Here is the real value of the Freeh report: Millions of people now know what it feels like to be hoodwinked, deceived, betrayed, and to have their ideals shattered—just like all of us have experienced with sociopaths.
All those fawning football fans of “Nittany Nation.” All those Penn State students who rioted when Joe Paterno was fired. All those alumni who were furious at the board of trustees for the impersonal way that they cut the coach loose. All those people who believed in Joe Paterno’s motto, “Success with Honor.” Today, they are all sick to their stomachs.
Here’s what Stewart Mandel, a Sports Illustrated blogger, wrote:
Today, I feel like a giant sucker.
Amid the media firestorm that followed the release of the Jerry Sandusky Grand Jury report last November — when it seemed like every columnist, blogger and talking head in the country was racing to see who could get the angriest; when Joe Paterno morphed from coaching legend to devil incarnate in the course of a bye week; when all manner of Penn State cover-up allegations skipped straight past conspiracy theory to universally accepted fact — I took a cautious stance. While the charges against Sandusky were indisputably vile, the details of how Paterno and Penn State administrators handled Sandusky over the years were still vague and incomplete. Surely more information would provide some sensible explanation for why Sandusky was not apprehended sooner; surely the leaders of an esteemed university could not be so nakedly negligent and sinister.
The facts came out Thursday in the meticulously sourced Freeh Report, and boy do I feel naïve. It turns out what really happened was even worse than the most caustic cynics could have imagined.
Here’s what Gene Wojciechowski wrote on ESPN.go.com:
Joe lied. It’s that simple. And that heartbreaking.
Joe Paterno, who for so many decades represented all that was good and honorable in college athletics, lied. Through his teeth.
Even I wanted to believe—six months ago, I wrote an article postulating that maybe Joe Paterno really didn’t know what Sandusky was doing, that he couldn’t conceive of such evil in his midst. Obviously, I was wrong.
And here’s what the Penn State student newspaper, the Daily Collegian, wrote:
We put our faith in these men. We put our faith in our university. Others did the same.
But, as it’s becoming painfully clear, so much of this mess was allowed to continue because too many people clung to the belief that individuals and institutions were idyllic — so much so that they were either blinded to the mistakes right in front of them or flat-out refused to deal with the ones that were brought to their attention.
And that weight that we’re collectively carrying now, with the wake-up call provided by the fallout since last autumn and the report issued this week, is largely a lesson in the dangers of blind faith.
View of the world is shattered
Emotionally, the horrified Penn State faithful are experiencing what we’ve all experienced in our interactions with sociopaths.
The most crushing aspect of tangling with these predators is how, once it ends, once we are devalued and discarded, once we learn the truth—that they never loved us and it was all a scam—our entire view of the world is shattered.
We cannot conceive that someone who continually professed undying love was lying through his or her teeth. We cannot believe that the sociopath may very well get away with all the abuse committed against us. We feel like we can never trust again, and the world as we knew it is gone.
The idyllic “Happy Valley” of Penn State is gone. But perhaps the Nittany Nation, and people in general, can grow from the disillusionment, as we have grown from the betrayals that we experienced. With healing, it’s possible to replace idealism and naïveté with perception and wisdom. That would be good for all of us.