Phil Knight, cofounder of Nike, has shifted from his previously stated opinion to side with Joe Paterno's family. The Paterno family released its response to Penn State's report on the Jerry Sandusky scandal Sunday, attacking Louis Freeh's conclusion that the coach hid sex abuse allegations against his longtime assistant.
In a report commissioned by the family, former US Attorney General and Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh said the investigation by former FBI director Freeh resulted in a "rush to injustice." Phil Knight agreed, calling the Freeh report "unjustified."
That report, authorized by the university, found that Paterno and three former administrators covered up child sexual abuse allegations against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Those findings last July were unsupported by the facts, said the family critique.
"The lack of factual report for the ... inaccurate and unfounded findings related to Mr. Paterno, and its numerous process-oriented deficiencies, was a rush to injustice and calls into question the credibility of the entire Report," Thornburgh was quoted as saying in the family's analysis, posted on the website paterno.com.
Months in the making, the report was billed as an independent analysis of the work by Freeh, who defended his report Sunday.
"I stand by our conclusion that four of the most powerful people at Penn State failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade," he said in a statement issued through a spokesman.
The family's report concluded that observations related to Paterno in the Freeh report were unfounded, and were a disservice to Paterno, the university community and Sandusky's victims, "and the critical mission of educating the public on the dangers of child sexual victimization."
The central claim that Paterno "was engaged in a conspiracy ... there's simply no basis anywhere in the report for that finding. That in my view renders the whole report of very little value," Thornburgh said in an interview with The Associated Press. "There's simply nothing in this record, in the Freeh report, that indicates he was involved in any way."
Freeh's findings also implicated former administrators in university President Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and retired Vice President Gary Schultz. Less than two weeks after the Freeh report was released in July, the NCAA acted with uncharacteristic speed in levying massive sanctions against the football program for the scandal.
"Taking into account the available witness statements and evidence, it is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State University – Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley – repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's childabuse," Freeh wrote in releasing the report.
The former administrators have vehemently denied the allegations. So, too, has Paterno's family, though a detailed counter-offensive began in earnest this weekend.
The family's findings said that Paterno never asked or told anyone not to investigate or report an allegation made against Sandusky 12 years ago, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2001.
Paterno also never asked or told anyone not to discuss or hide information reported by graduate assistant Mike McQueary about the 2001 allegation, the critique said, and followed university protocol in reporting information to superiors and left it to them to "to investigate and report as appropriate."
Thornburgh said he found the report at points to be inaccurate, speculative and fundamentally flawed about the role – if any – played by Paterno.
Appearing on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" program Sunday, Paterno family attorney Wick Sollers said it was too early to talk about legal action, though they were "evaluating all the legal options at this stage of the game."
Paterno's widow, Sue Paterno wrote in a letter Friday to former players that she sought a "full record of what happened."
The treatment of Paterno – fired over a late-night telephone call – as well as the handling of the Freeh report and the resulting NCAA sanctions by university leadership remain sensitive topics with some unhappy groups of alumni, ex-players, and community residents.
Penn State said Sunday that Freeh was brought in to conduct an independent investigation of the school's response to the allegations, and not actions of entities unrelated to Penn State. Freeh offered 119 recommendations to strengthen governance and compliance, the majority of which have been implemented, the school said.
"It is understandable and appreciated that people will draw their own conclusions and opinions from the facts uncovered in the Freeh report," the school said.
Freeh, in his report, said his team conducted 430 interviews and analyzed over 3.5 million emails and documents. The former federal judge said evidence showed Paterno was involved in an "active agreement to conceal" and his report cited email exchanges, which referenced Paterno, between administrators about allegations against Sandusky in 1998 and 2001.
According to Thornburgh's findings, Freeh's report relied primarily on about 30 documents, including three notes authored by Paterno, and 17 emails. Four emails referenced Paterno – none sent by the octogenarian coach who notoriously shunned modern electronic technology.
Sandusky, 69, was sentenced to at least 30 years in prison in October after being convicted last summer of 45 criminal counts. Prosecutors said assaults occurred off and on campus, including the football building.
His arrest in November 2011 triggered the turmoil that led to Paterno's firing days later. Under pressure, Spanier left as president the same day. Curley was placed on administrative leave, while Schultz retired.
Spanier, Curley, and Schultz are awaiting trial on obstruction and conspiracy, among other charges. They have maintained their innocence.
Critics have said that Freeh's team didn't speak with key figures including Curley, Schultz, and Paterno, who died in January 2012 at age 85. Spanier spoke to Freeh six days before the report was released July 12.
Freeh said he respected the family's right to conduct a campaign to "shape the legacy of Joe Paterno," but called the critique self-serving. Paterno's attorney was contacted for an interview with the coach, he said, and Paterno spoke with a reporter and biographer before his death but not Freeh's team. Paterno's attorney did provide documents.
Curley and Schultz declined numerous requests for interviews, Freeh said. They have been facing criminal charges since November 2011.
Freeh on Sunday cited grand jury testimony by Paterno in 2011 in which Paterno said McQueary relayed to him the 2001 allegation against Sandusky of a "sexual nature" with a child.
He referred to a key point in the July report in which he said the administrators drew up a plan that called for reporting Sandusky to state public welfare officials in 2001. Curley later write in an email that he changed his mind "after giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe," according to Freeh's findings.
Said Freeh on Sunday: "These men exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky's victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well-being, especially by not even attempting to determine the identity of the child" in the 2001 allegation.
The Paterno family report said Freeh chose not to present alternative and "more plausible" conclusions about Paterno's actions. Their attorney, Wick Sollers, responded Sunday that Freeh didn't take the time to read the family's critique, or address accusations of procedural shortcomings.
Sollers said he met with Freeh's team and pledged full cooperation. Joe Paterno's cancer diagnosis prevented he coach from being interviewed, but son and former assistant coach Jay Paterno spoke with Freeh's group.
"A failure to consider the facts carefully is exactly the problem our expert analysis highlights," Sollers said. "Everyone, including Mr. Freeh, should take the time to study this report."
Besides Thornburgh, Sollers also brought in former FBI profiler and special agent Jim Clemente, described as a child molestation and behavioral expert; and Dr. Fred Berlin, a psychologist from Johns Hopkins Hospital whose profile lists him as the founder of the institution's Sexual Disorders Clinic. The analysis included information from lawyers for the former school administrators.
Freeh's report ignored decades of research and behavioral analysis over how to understand and investigate child victimization cases, the critique said, and expert analysis showed Sandusky "fooled qualified child welfare professionals and law enforcement, as well as laymen inexperienced and untrained in child sexual victimization like Joe Paterno."
According to the family review, Paterno's last written words before his death focused on Sandusky's victims.
"Good side of scandal - it has brought about more enlightenment of a situation (sexual abuse of young people) in the country," the Paterno family report said.
The NCAA improperly relied on the report and never identified a rules infraction based on Sandusky's crime, let alone NCAA jurisdiction over ensuring competitive balance, the family analysis said. An NCAA spokeswoman said the organization stood by its previous statements and declined comment Sunday.
A four-year bowl ban and steep scholarship cuts were included among the sanctions, while 111 wins between 1998 and 2011 under Paterno were vacated. It meant Paterno no longer holds the record for most wins by a major college coach.
AP Radio correspondent Martin Di Caro in Washington contributed to this report.
Family report: http://paterno.com/
Freeh comment: http://www.freehgroup.com/news/29