Joe Paterno’s family on Monday vowed its own investigation of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, rejecting the findings of a special investigator who concluded the late football coach and other top Penn State administrators concealed Sandusky’s sexual abuse of children in order to shield the school from bad publicity.
“Our interest has been and remains the uncovering of the truth,” the family said in a statement.
The family characterized the 267-page report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who was hired by the university board of trustees, as “yet another shocking turn of events in this crisis” and said Paterno, who died in January at age 85, did not knowingly protect a pedophile.
“We are dismayed by, and vehemently disagree with, some of the conclusions and assertions and the process by which they were developed,” the statement said. “Mr. Freeh presented his opinions and interpretations as if they were absolute facts.”
Sandusky awaits sentencing after being convicted last month of 45 counts for abusing 10 boys.
Freeh, citing emails and handwritten notes, concluded that Paterno intervened to stop a plan by three top Penn State officials to report a 2001 allegation against Sandusky to child-welfare authorities. The report also cited two emails that showed Paterno knew about a 1998 allegation against his longtime defensive coordinator.
Freeh said Paterno and the other three officials, including ousted Penn State president Graham Spanier, exhibited “callous and shocking” disregard for child victims.
The Paterno family statement said the coach reported the 2001 allegation from graduate assistant Mike McQueary – who told Paterno he saw Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in the football team showers – to his superiors.
“It can certainly be asserted that Joe Paterno could have done more. He acknowledged this himself last fall,” the statement said. “But to claim that he knowingly, intentionally protected a pedophile is false.”
The family has aggressively sought to defend the Hall of Fame coach in the face of a scandal that cost him his job and seriously diminished his legacy.
Public relations expert Jonathan Bernstein, president of Bernstein Crisis Management Inc. and the author of texts on crisis communications, said he would have advised the Paterno family to issue a “short message of compassion” for Sandusky’s victims and then conduct their own investigation – quietly – if they disagreed with the conclusions of the Freeh report.
Announcing the probe now could wind up backfiring on the family, he said, because there will be pressure to release the findings publicly and “the results of the investigation could end up corroborating what was said in the Freeh report.”