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Paterno: Mea absolution

Well, this is working out pretty much the way the family of Joe Paterno intended.

After all, the sole intent of commissioning a report designed specifically to reach one conclusion and one conclusion only -- that Saint Joe was blameless in the Jerry Sandusky debacle -- was to sway public opinion back to its corner. And so, surprise, surprise, suddenly the Penn State Board of Trustees is saying maybe it should review the report by Louis Freeh it itself commissioned, and Phil Knight of Nike, is saying maybe he, too, rushed to judgment.

Here's the thing, though: The Paternos' attempt to put the shine back on JoePa's image doesn't really exonerate him from anything.

Oh, it casts a great deal of doubt on Paterno's complicity in a coverup of Sandusky's crimes, but the authorities have already cleared him of that, and only those who overreached ever thought Paterno was complicit in a coverup, anyway. The lion's share of the scorn heaped on him came from something the Paterno report does not disprove: That Paterno, a man with enormous influence at Penn State and, frankly, within the corridors of political power in Pennsylvania, passed the buck.

The family might dispute that a word from Paterno beyond what he was legally required to do might have saved some of Sandusky's later victims, but that's absurd on its face. There wasn't a statue of Joe Paterno in front of Beaver Stadium because he was just a little ol' football coach, after all.

He gave a speech on behalf of George Bush the First at the Republican National Convention in 1988. The Republican party in Pennsylvania was reportedly at one time grooming him for high office. This guy here lays all that out.

The skinny is that Paterno pushed the Sandusky matter up the chain, and that was the extent of his involvement. He did everything he was legally required to do.

But not, alas, everything he should have done. And could have, had he picked up the phone, called Tim Curley or Graham Spanier, and said, "This Sandusky thing is very, very bad. We need to move on it now."

The Paterno report doesn't give us any legitimate answers why he didn't do that. And so, ultimately, it fails in its mission.

Ben Smith's blog.