Revisiting Joe Paterno’s involvement in the Jerry Sandusky case

The Penn State bombshell exploded on November 4, 2011. That’s when court documents were posted online indicating that Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant football coach, would be charged with 40 counts related to sex crimes involving minors.

Since then, Jerry Sandusky has been convicted and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. Graham Spanier, the Penn State president, Gary Schultz, a vice president, and Tim Curley, the athletic director, were all charged with crimes related to an alleged cover-up of Sandusky’s predatory actions. They are awaiting trial.

Joe Paterno, the legendary Penn State football coach, was not charged with anything. Paterno died on January 22, 2012.  Shortly before that, he gave an interview with Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post. After reading it, I posted an article on the Lovefraud Blog (Joe Paterno and ignorance of evil) stating that “yes, I can believe that Joe Paterno was clueless.” Many Lovefraud readers posted that I was wrong—that Paterno had to know what was going on.

Six months later, Louis Freeh, former director of the FBI, was retained by Penn State  in an effort to discover what actually went wrong. On July 12, 2012, Freeh released a scathing report of his investigation into the sordid sex scandal. The executive summary stated;

Four of the most powerful people at The Pennsylvania State University—President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno—failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade. These men concealed Sandusky’s activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community and authorities. They exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well-being, especially by not attempting to determine the identity of the child who Sandusky assaulted in the Lasch Building in 2001.

Wrong and wrong again

I posted an article about the report on the Lovefraud Blog (With the Penn State report, a public understanding of unbelievable betrayal). In it, I admitted that I was wrong about Joe Paterno. “Even I wanted to believe,” I wrote. “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.”

Well, now it seems that I may have been wrong when I said I was wrong.

The family of Joe Paterno released a report last week that blasted the Freeh report as “a rush to injustice.” This report, released on Paterno.com, had its own cast of heavyweights as contributing authors. In an overview, the law firm of King and Spalding wrote:

We conclude that the observations as to Joe Paterno in the Freeh report are unfounded, and have done a disservice not only to Joe Paterno and to the Penn State University community, but also to the victims of Jerry Sandusky and the critical mission of educating the public on the dangers of child sexual victimization.

Critique of Freeh report

I read the expert report contributed by Jim Clemente, a former FBI profiler and expert in sex crimes investigations, sex offender behavior, child sexual victimization and child pornography. He makes a very convincing argument that the Freeh report got it wrong.

Watch the Clemente video and download the report here

The full report is almost 100 pages long. I recommend that everyone read Section III, “Behavioral dynamics of acquaintance child sex offenders, which is seven pages long (pages 10 to 17 in the pdf). In it, Clemente explains:

  • “Nice-guy” child sex offenders are much more prevalent, effective, and prolific than the stereotypical “stranger danger” type offender.
  • Offenders who “groom” typically seek out needy, isolated, or disadvantaged children and provide both emotional and tangible things to fill the needs of those children.
  • Children who are groomed into sexual victimization typically do not call out to be rescued or disclose when questioned about possible victimization because of a complex set of social and psychological factors.
  • People tend to demonize the offenders to an extreme, calling them “evil,” “monsters,” and “predators,” such that they don’t want to believe that anyone they know could possibly be that evil.
  • The combination of nice-guy acquaintance offending, coupled with the “conspiracy of silence” by victims and “compliant victimization,” is why Paterno did not know that Sandusky was really a child molester

In a careful point-by-point analysis, Clemente explains why he believes Paterno did not know what Sandusky was really doing, and why he was not involved in a conspiracy. Clemente talks at length about the 2001 incident in which former quarterback Mike McQueary saw Sandusky in the shower with a boy and reported it to Paterno. Clemente basically says that McQueary—himself traumatized by what he saw—did not clearly articulate that he believed Sandusky was engaged in a sexual assault, and relied only on innuendo. And because Paterno had known Sandusky for 30 years, and was such a well-known prude (Paterno’s family reported that he thought the old TV show The Love Boat was too racy), the old guy didn’t get the hint.

In the end, the report points out the shortcomings of the Freeh investigation in order to clear Joe Paterno’s name. It says Paterno was not part of a cover-up, although it does not make that statement regarding Spanier, Schultz and Curley.

Flip flops

I’m not the only one doing flip flops about this case. Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike, initially supported Joe Paterno. But after the Freeh report was released, he took Paterno’s name off of a child development center at Nike headquarters. Last week, Knight blasted the Freeh report. According to SportsIllustrated.cnn.com:

“When this tragic story first unfolded Joe cautioned all of us to slow down and carefully gather the facts before jumping to conclusions,” Knight said in the statement. “We owed it to the victims, he said, to get to the truth. It was counsel we all should have followed.”

In the final analysis, Jerry Sandusky was proven a predator in this case—but beyond that, I’m not sure of anything. And I think that’s the takeaway lesson for all of us.

“Nice guy” sex offenders and other sociopaths are all master manipulators. They manipulate not only their victims, but the people around the victims, law enforcement and other authorities, institutions and the media. When sociopaths are involved, figuring out the truth is always going to be difficult.

Finding the truth

The truth is hard to find when we are directly involved in a case. When we are only reading about situations, either in the mainstream media or here on the Lovefraud Blog, there are endless opportunities for misinformation and misinterpretation. When reading an article, for example, the information we get is limited by what the reporter decided to include. Our opinions can also be influenced by how a reporter slants a story.

We always need to be cognizant of the fact that reading words on a page or screen is an extremely limited form of communication. Experts know that 65% to 90% of the meaning of human communication is nonverbal—body language, tone of voice, facial expressions. When you’re reading information, therefore, 65% to 90% of the meaning of the communication is missing. So what do we do? We fill in the blanks with what we want the communication to mean.

After having been burned by a sociopath, and determined not to be fooled or conned again, we are likely to see more evil intentions than we did in the past. In fact, we may see evil intentions where none exist. Yes, approximately 12% of the population have serious personality disorders that make them exploiters. But that still means 88% of the population is not disordered.

Now we know that sociopaths exist. So now, I think it’s important to stay alert, but be cautious in passing judgment. There may be many facts that are unreported. There may be reasons for any situation. Unless we are directly involved, and sometimes even when we are directly involved, we may not have all the information we need to evaluate the truth of any given story. It’s a good idea to pause before reacting.

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67 Comments on "Revisiting Joe Paterno’s involvement in the Jerry Sandusky case"

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BBE and OXY,
THANK YOU for expressing exactly what I have been feeling about the whole Joe Paterno ordeal. I have been saying for years that his cult of personality is a poison on that campus. So may people still can’t see past their own egos when it comes to what happened. I actually had a co-worker excuse Paterno’s behavior because people of that generation just didn’t talk about things like that.

I have friends from Penn State that are feverishly and stubbornly defensive of Joe Paterno but then turn around and try to use the argument that Penn State is bigger than football. They can’t have it both ways. They live for their Saturdays at Happy Valley, but can’t seem to grasp that a whole group of alumni and current students have fallen into a trance following some crazy notion of Joe being a super great guy.

I wholeheartedly believe he is a king narcissist and I can’t believe more people don’t see it.

I actually feel sorry for Penn Staters past and present. They choose to live in denial of the truth. What a waste of intelligence and resources.

Sisterhood, I feel the same way about **gasp** high school foot ball…there are so many life long injuries that are caused by this “sport” and brain injuries, knee injuries etc. The NFL players are cripples by 40, and actually gymnastics on an olympic level is about as bad, by 25-30 these young men and women are so arthritic they can hardly walk.

Ditto bull riders and race car drivers, etc and most folks that do EXTREME sports of any kind. I realize that life is full of potential to get hurt, but I don’t see any sense in pushing the envelope, but some folks do. Look at Lance Armstrong…anything to win!

To me, colleges and High schools should focus their money and their time and energy on LEARNING and not on high dollar sports. Let the kids play baseball and badminton and tennis and walk and play golf…but at a recreational level not extreme sports.

When 6 year olds and their parents get crazy because a kid misses a base or otherwise gets a call against them in a “sport” there is something wrong there…and with our society as a whole.

But Ii doubt that every college or the NFL is gonna cancel their schedule next year because I don’t agree with it. LOL 🙂

Just thinking of how the money made by sports heros and coaches could be better spent;to help the poor;the abused to start new lives.With more emphasis on education instead of “winning the game”,think of all the potential accomplishments!With bodies that are still physically healthy,but not broken,life would surely be more enjoyable!


I’m glad you see us as family. I am sorry you never had that type of family. 🙁

I’m APPLAUDING University in Utah for taking such actions!They suspended swim coach while investigating allegations of sexual abuse!!!


Sounds like an awful lot of SMOKE to not be ANY fire.

Imagine if the same thing had been done early on in Sandusky’s case!

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