“Do you see the Freeh report differently now than you did at the time?”
“Oh yes, very much so.”
Those words came from Emmy-winning journalist Bob Costas last week in a radio interview with Kevin Slaten of KQQZ in St. Louis. Costas spoke at length to Slaten about his evolving opinion of the Freeh report, Joe Paterno’s legacy, and the Penn State situation as a whole in what is some of the most balanced rhetoric I’ve heard from a national media source about the Sandusky scandal.
Costas has been on top of this story from the start, most notably in his infamous interview with Sandusky after he was arrested in November. When the Freeh report was released this June, Costas said publicly that Penn State should shut down the football program for a year and claimed that Joe Paterno was complicit in a coverup.
With the benefit of time, Costas is rethinking his opinion on the entire matter. You can listen to the entire clip here but below are some of the key excerpts from the interview.
- “The Freeh report came out literally as I landed in London a couple of weeks before the Olympic games and a producer from the Today Show briefed me on the phone about the essence of the report. The idea was that this was credible and based off that I said the next day on NBC, this looks very very bad for Joe Paterno’s reputation because now it doesn’t just look like it was negligence but Freeh has concluded that he was complacent…I have to give you (Slaten) a lot of credit. As someone with a legal background, you read the Freeh report before I was able to because I was in London.”
- “The NCAA using that as its pretext comes down very very hard on Penn State. I thought that Penn State might’ve decided, at that point of it’s own volition, to suspend its program for a year to get its house in order, but the NCAA came crashing down on them and the Freeh report was really their justification.”
- “I have gone over [the Freeh report]several times and subsequently read Dick Thornbugh’s report and the other information which those representing the Paterno family to refute it. And now I’m much more familiar with all the whys and wherefores and I think many of the questions that you (Slaten) raised at that time are legitimate.”
- “I’m not proclaiming a conclusion, but let’s understand what the Freeh report really amounts to. The Freeh report amounts to an indictment. Well anyone who is indicted, including someone who is as loathsome as Jerry Sandusky, is entitled to a defense and entitled to their day in court. Sandusky’s day in court ended up as it should have. Well, Paterno will never have that day in court. Not only was Paterno never interviewed, but the other principal figures were never interviewed except for Spanier briefly the day before the Freeh report came out.”
- “Although the Freeh report talks about the hundreds of people they spoke with, most of those people were quite peripheral to the case. It’s like saying we’re going to do a full report about the New England Patriots and we’re not talking to Belichick, we’re not talking to any of the players, we’re not talking to Robert Kraft, but we did talk to the guy who runs the elevator at the stadium, and we talked to the groundskeeper, and we talked to the guy who drives the team bus. I mean, a lot of it is almost entirely in that category.”
- “What Freeh did, it seems to me, was not only gather facts but he reached a conclusion which is at least debatable from those facts and than he assigned a motivation, not only to Curley and Schultz and Spanier, but he specifically assigned a very dark motivation to Joe Paterno, which seems like it might be quite a leap.”
- “If people are able to go over the response that the Paterno family has marshaled including with Dick Thornburgh, a person with at least the credentials of Louis Freeh, a reasonable person will at least conclude that there is some doubt here and that the other side of the story deserves to be heard.”
- “At minimum, Paterno failed to see what a person as sharp as he and a person who had lived, by all accounts, a life of principle, should have perceived. He should have seen that there was something here, because he at least saw the tip of the iceberg. There are different versions of how direct McQueary was with Paterno, but he reported that something happened in the showers with Sandusky and a young boy. If Joe was really sharp and really on it, he would have done more than what was required, which is that he reported it to the athletic director, he would have had more of an active curiosity. I realize legally there are some constraints as to how much he could have been involved, but he is Joe Paterno in State College, and he could have had a more active curiosity. And so I think that he fell short that he fell short of his own standards of conduct.”
- “On the other hand, it’s a far cry from saying that and what Freeh concluded which was that Joe Paterno had basic knowledge of, if not every single thing Jerry Sandusky had ever done, he had a general outline of Sandusky’s ongoing behavior. So on an ongoing basis, he knew that kids were being abused, and not only did he do nothing about it, but knowingly and actively was part of a coverup whose motivation it was to place the image of Joe Paterno and Penn State football above the welfare of these harmless kids. That is a charge, which if true, is beyond horrific. And I believe there is insufficient evidence to put that charge on Joe Paterno.”
- “There were some things that raise an eyebrow. But there’s a difference between raising an eyebrow and levying such a serious charge. I’ve often wondered why Paterno, who reportedly didn’t like Sandusky, once he had heard about ’98 and once he heard about what McQueary observed, why would he even be in the same place as Sandusky?”
- “I think a lot of this, and how people responded to it, could be summed up in an exchange I had with Joe Posnanski…In many corners, Joe was pilloried for going too soft on Paterno in the book because his conclusion was that Paterno had come up short but had not been guilty of anything like Freeh alleged. You know what I think some of this comes down to? At least now, people are so repulsed by what Sandusky did and so startled that somebody, somehow, didn’t observe it, figure it out, and stop him, that they think that anything short of a blanket condemnation of everybody there somehow translated into you being insufficiently concerned about the victims, and insufficiently outraged by Sandusky’s behavior. So no shades of grey in degrees of culpability are permitted — the only way that you can spread your righteous indignation is to say damn them all. And that may be understandable, but it may not be fair.”
- “Joe Paterno had a long standing reputation, not only for melding academics and athletics as well as you possibly can, but a long standing reputation for active concern for young people, for following up, for walking the walk, for long after the player had been gone by following their career and walking with them and guiding them in some way, of demanding high standards. But it’s pretty hard to believe that a man of Joe Paterno’s background and character — with that kind of track record — that if he were really confronted with the basic facts of how horrific of what Jerry Sandusky was doing and continued to do was, I just find it very hard to believe that Joe Paterno would have said, yeah, well, the first thing we need to do is cover this up. His life defies that. Plus, as you know, if there was a coverup it was a pretty lousy coverup, because at least 14 people knew of what McQueary told Paterno. And there’s no evidence that Paterno ever went to any of them and said, ‘Okay let’s make sure we have our story straight.’ No evidence at all.”
- “The cops didn’t see it, people in child welfare and child services didn’t see it, people at the Second Mile didn’t see it….We hope that we are more aware…we hope that there are greater safeguards in place and at least something good came of this.”
- “In fairness, a lot of people didn’t see it. And what we learn from people that specialize in this field that a lot of these guys are master deceivers. They’re clever, they groom their victims…they cultivate a different sort of image and a lot of people are taken in by that.”