STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Joe Paterno defended his football program’s integrity in a 7-month-old letter released Wednesday, a day ahead of a report that could forever mar his legacy.
In the letter, written shortly before his death and confirmed as legitimate by his family, Paterno rejected the notion that Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of boys amounted to a “football scandal” or in any way tarnished the accomplishments of his players or Penn State’s reputation as a whole.
The results of Penn State’s internal investigation into the Sandusky scandal are set to be released Thursday in a report that should answer many of the troubling questions swirling around one of the worst scandals in sports history.
A team led by former federal judge and FBI ex-director Louis Freeh interviewed hundreds of people to learn how the university responded to warning signs that its once-revered former assistant football coach — a man who helped Paterno win two national titles for a university that touted “success with honor” — was a serial child molester.
Sandusky was convicted on 45 criminal counts last month at a trial that included gut-wrenching testimony from eight young men who said he abused them as boys. By contrast, the Freeh report, to be released online at 9 a.m. Thursday, will focus on Penn State and what it did — or didn’t do — to protect children.
Eight months after Sandusky’s arrest, it remains unclear how top university officials handled reports dating back at least 14 years that Sandusky was behaving inappropriately with boys he met through his charity, bringing them on campus and forcing them into sex acts.
Among those who will be scouring the Freeh report are school officials trying to repair Penn State’s shattered reputation and ex-players and alumni who remain outraged over Paterno’s ouster in the wake of Sandusky’s arrest. The Hall of Fame coach died from lung cancer in January, two months after school trustees fired him for what they called a failure of leadership.
Paterno himself offered a passionate defense of the university and its football program in the letter that surfaced for the first time Wednesday.
The Paterno family said the letter was given in draft form to a few former players around December. One of the ex-players circulated it to other former players on Wednesday, and it was posted on the website FightonState.com, which covers the team.
“Over and over again, I have heard Penn State officials decrying the influence of football and have heard such ignorant comments like Penn State will no longer be a ‘football factory’ and we are going to ‘start’ focusing on integrity in athletics,” Paterno wrote. “These statements are simply unsupported by the five decades of evidence to the contrary — and succeed only in unfairly besmirching both a great university and the players and alumni of the football program who have given of themselves to help make it great.”
Paterno also wrote, “This is not a football scandal and should not be treated as one.”
Among those receiving Paterno’s 712-word missive Wednesday was former linebacker Brandon Short, now an investment banker in Dubai. He told The Associated Press that he will be looking to the Freeh report to find “some clarity, hoping that it is a fair assessment of what happened, and we would love to see answers.”
He added, “Let’s see the report and save all judgment and innuendo until after we’ve read it.”
Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, an alumni watchdog group that has been highly critical of the school’s board of trustees, issued a 95-point checklist of issues it said it expects to be covered in Freeh’s report “in order for it to be considered a credible, valid summary of the case.”
Lawyers for the young men who testified against Sandusky, and others planning lawsuits, will be reading the findings for what it might mean regarding civil litigation.
Joel Feller, part of a legal team that represents several victims in the case, including three who testified against Sandusky, said Wednesday he will look for clues about “who knew what and when.”
“I think the Freeh report will be a good starting point to allow the plaintiffs’ lawyers to determine who the key people are and what information they had,” he said. “An important part of that is to figure out when they knew it, and more importantly why appropriate steps were not taken to stop this ongoing conduct of Sandusky.”
The Freeh report is expected to delve deeply into the handling of a 2001 report from Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant who told Paterno he had seen Sandusky with a young boy in the football team shower. Paterno, in turn, alerted athletic director Tim Curley, who investigated the report along with Gary Schultz, a university vice president who oversaw the campus police department. Curley and Schultz ultimately decided not to alert law enforcement or child welfare authorities.
Curley, who’s on leave, and the now-retired Schultz are awaiting trial on charges they lied to a grand jury investigating Sandusky and failed to report the McQueary complaint to civil authorities as required.
After a 50-minute meeting in Harrisburg with the judge overseeing their case, Schultz’s lawyer said Wednesday he won’t be among those who call up the Freeh report the minute it is posted.
“I don’t expect I’ll be reading it for a while,” said Pittsburgh attorney Tom Farrell. “I’ve got other things to do.”
The NCAA, meanwhile, said Wednesday that it will decide on whether to take action at the “appropriate time.” The governing body said it has already been collecting information from Freeh’s probe, and that Penn State will have to formally respond to questions from NCAA President Mark Emmert after Freeh reveals his findings.
The NCAA is reviewing how Penn State exerted “institutional control” in relation to the Sandusky matter, and whether university officials complied with policies that pertain to honesty and ethical conduct. The NCAA could open a more formal investigation that may expose Penn State to sanctions.