A year ago the NCAA completely voided its historic sanctions against Penn State, which were levied based on the notion of an institutional conspiracy to cover up former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s child sex abuse. In voiding its sanctions and restoring Coach Paterno’s winningest 409 game record, the NCAA faced the reality that the Freeh Report amounted to what Dick Thornburgh, former U.S. Attorney General, called “raw speculation and unsupported opinion—not facts and evidence.”
The NCAA’s walk-back and the Freeh Report’s repudiation were two of three necessary steps to completely shattering the notion of a Penn State conspiracy to cover up Sandusky’s crimes. The third necessary step was the dismissal of felony conspiracy charges against Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz, and Tim Curley, the three remaining living ex-Penn State administrators who (along with Paterno) lost their jobs and saw their reputations ruined because of the perception of conspiracy.
With the news that those felony conspiracy charges have been thrown out, we’re living through the death throes of the fantasy of a Penn State conspiracy, and with it, any way to credibly argue President Spanier or Coach Paterno intentionally covered up Sandusky’s crimes. The notion of an institutional cover up ultimately hinged upon criminal conspiracy; with those charges thrown out, what is there?
Since the earliest hours of what became the “Penn State scandal” in November 2011, there have been people who’ve invested themselves in a fictional world of conspiracy and coverup. Correcting that false narrative will be a generational effort, but in the meantime, Eliot’s words describe the fate of that parallel world of conspiracy Penn Staters have had to live with:
“This is the way the world ends; Not with a bang but a whimper.”