By Richard Thornburgh
Two years ago, on behalf of the Paterno family, I analyzed the report of former FBI Director Louis Freeh arising out of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. The Freeh report served as the basis for the NCAA's unprecedented sanctions against Penn State. I found the report's findings deeply flawed and misleading, and a "rush to injustice" that should not be relied upon. Two recent events amplify that conclusion.
First, the NCAA dissolved most of the Penn State sanctions after e-mails surfaced exposing that it had "bluff\[ed\]" the university into accepting sanctions the NCAA knew it never had the authority to impose.
Perhaps worse, e-mails showed that the NCAA's president, Mark Emmert, saw the Sandusky scandal as an "opportunity to leverage the moment" and expand the NCAA's own power and ambitions by making an example out of Penn State. In an astonishing admission, the NCAA referred to its own leadership as "extremely image conscious" and to sanctioning Penn State as "shooting road kill."
Second, Penn State's new president, Eric Barron, had the courage to say what many in the Penn State community have come to better understand over time:
The Freeh report on which the NCAA based its sanctions had significant problems and reflected personal opinions and not facts. Writing a letter directly to the university community, Barron starkly concluded "the limitations of the Freeh report prevent it from being the basis of any decision facing Penn State."
Despite this acknowledgement by Barron, Penn State's lawyers, paid with Penn State funds and partially underwritten by state taxpayers, continue the strategy of fighting to prevent the disclosure of documents related to the flawed Freeh report. In a lawsuit brought by the estate of Joe Paterno, a member of the Penn State Board of Trustees, and others against the NCAA, a state court judge overruled the university's objections to producing these documents. Penn State persisted in its objections and asked the court to reconsider. The court issued a second decision that said, in effect, "I really mean it." Still today, Penn State refuses to comply as it pursues further appeals.
Why does Penn State not disclose the information required by the court about the Freeh report? Why do the Penn State lawyers not follow Barron's lead and allow access to documents so that justice can be served?
Few would have predicted the bombshells in the NCAA's documents that exposed its embarrassing and indefensible decision-making process, just as few outsiders are able to discern what facts are behind Penn State's communications regarding the Freeh report. Penn State has the answers, and its failure to disclose them only underscores the importance of learning what really happened.
As a former attorney general of the United States and governor of Pennsylvania, I have worked hard to promote and enhance the American justice system. That system swiftly and appropriately dealt with Sandusky and his reprehensible actions. Penn State should withdraw its objections and produce the documents behind the Freeh report.
For a community seeking to heal and come together, I would hope Barron's courageous leadership in disavowing the Freeh report would be reason enough to seize the moment of the sanctions reversal, commit to transparency, and help the public understand all the events that have profoundly impacted so many lives.