The reports confirmed the worst. Joe Paterno knew about the monster in his midst and thought only about his program — his legacy — and let Jerry Sandusky continue to prey on innocent children.
Whatever you think about everything else, there is no escaping the plain and ugly and sickening truth of Thursday's Freeh report about Penn State's handling of the Sandusky scandal. Joe Paterno knew of evil and did nothing. Worse still, he apparently convinced others to be strikingly silent.
"Success with Honor" was Paterno's long-standing mantra. Hogwash. It was Success over Honor. It was "Success with Silence" and the program and its legacy and in turn his legacy over all else.
"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," Louis Freeh stated in his 267-page report.
Before we go any further, every one knows Sandusky is the monster who did unspeakable acts. But those who could have stopped the unspeakable did not speak. And Paterno, the unofficial king of the Happy Valley castle and the face of Penn State, was chief among them.
From the start, accepting that Paterno was not in the loop was to stretch believability. Today, with the reports, emails and evidence generated by former FBI chief Freeh, that suggestion seems laughable.
The reports from the Freeh investigation are damning beyond anyone's expectations. Everyone — Paterno and the other powers — knew of Sandusky's attraction to young boys and the investigation as far back as 1998. They did nothing.
They knew of the shower incident relayed by then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary, and still they did nothing. In fact, then-athletic director Tim Curley and his supervisors were prepared to turn Sandusky over to the authorities in 2001 until the email sent from Curley to his bosses said "Joe" thought it could be handled another way.
It turns out another way was looking the other way.
The truth from this report is overwhelming. It's staggering to think the man who was a symbol of all the things we believed to be right in college football was the exact opposite. And if you think that's too harsh, ask yourself which college scandal is worse than this.
Miami and women and drugs and payoffs? Not even close.
SMU and the corruption and paying players? Please.
The punishments that come down from the NCAA, the governing body of college sports, have been much more serious for much less egregious offenses. Teams get probation or scholarship reductions or limited practice time for everything from too many text messages to giving prospects money or worse.
But what's worse than this? And what's the worst the NCAA can levy?
That's right, Penn State football deserves the death penalty. If the NCAA ever is going to deliver its nuclear bomb, then it should be now and it should be quickly.
The NCAA reportedly has said that Penn State will have to formally respond to questions from NCAA president Mark Emmert.
Most major NCAA penalties are for incidents where the institution lost control of the football program. Penn State's nightmare was because the football program controlled the institution, and that control confused and confounded right-thinking men into doing the unthinkable. They put protecting their program over protecting children. Period.
Any debate or discourse about the levels of this depravity was extinguished with Freeh's sweeping report that was compiled by a crack staff that viewed more than three million emails and went through more than 400 interviews. Freeh's team found "more red flags than you could count, over a long period of time" and it was obvious the Penn State powers had a "callous and shocking disregard for child victims."
When someone looks into the ways evil happens and darkness is covered up and lives are ruined, there is no way to spin that — or present it with anything more than the direct and sad and tragic truth.
But after more than a decade of cover-ups and lies and misinformation in an effort to protect the many and sacrifice the innocence of children, the only tonic left that can offer solace is the truth. Freeh delivered that, and his truth is painful. And sad.
Paterno wrote a letter to be published as an op-ed piece in a newspaper days before his January death. And since he sadly no longer is here to defend the charges, this is one of his last statements about the scandal:
"Specifically, I feel compelled to say, in no uncertain terms, that this is not a football scandal," Paterno wrote in the letter. "Let me say that again so I am not misunderstood: Regardless of anyone's opinion of my actions or the actions of the handful of administration officials in this matter, the fact is nothing alleged is an indictment of football or evidence that the spectacular collections of accomplishments by dedicated student athletes should be in any way tarnished.
"Yet, 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. 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."
The huge point here is that anyone who believes this to be a "football" scandal already has missed the point. This is a human scandal — a tragedy.
The fact that in the final hours of his life, Paterno was still trying to justify, defend and exonerate the Penn State football program from this disaster is tragic. And telling.
Old habits die hard.