Paterno questions linger at heated Penn State trustees meeting
HERSHEY — Penn State's trustees heard on Friday — if they didn't already know — that the firing of football coach Joe Paterno soon after Jerry Sandusky's arrest on child molestation charges remains an open wound among the school's vast ranks of alumni.
The subject was briefly debated by board members, but in a half-hour public comment section alumni were more heated, including calls for trustees to resign and for the NCAA to rescind its harsh sanctions imposed on the school last year.
The main target of criticism was the university's internal report into how university officials handled reports in 1998 and 2001 that Sandusky, a former assistant coach, was behaving inappropriately in team showers with boys. Sandusky was convicted of 45 criminal counts last year and is in state prison.
The report, produced by a team led by former FBI director Louis Freeh, has been a target of critics, including Paterno's family.
Paterno's firing, said alumnus Philip LaPorta of Leesburg, Va., has “wreaked havoc” on Paterno's family, the football program and the university.
“It is evident by the things that you have said and the things that you have failed to say regarding the Freeh report, your moral failure is cataclysmic,” LaPorta told the board during a meeting at Hershey Medical Center. “Your failure in leadership is inexcusable.”
Trustee Ken Frazier, for the second day, defended the Freeh report as independent and complete, based on available evidence and witnesses.
Frazier said the school had to “deal fairly and responsibly with the undeniable reality of harm to children on our campus by a former Penn State coach,” and the documentary evidence that Freeh turned up was part of that process.
“We cannot put our heads in the sand and pretend that children were not hurt or that the documents do not exist,” he said.
Frazier cautioned against investigating the Freeh report, warning it would be an attempt to rewrite history that would damage efforts to move the school past “this horrible event.”
But fellow trustee Anthony Lubrano said he is troubled by lingering questions.
“The flaws of the Freeh report cannot be dismissed or overlooked,” Lubrano said. “They are significant and numerous and must be addressed. This case will not be resolved until the record is set straight.”
He said the board should invite Freeh to come to a meeting, along with the group that produced a report for the Paterno family that found fault with the Freeh investigation.
“I want to move forward, make no bones about it,” Lubrano said. “But I can't in good conscience move forward at this time. It's just not possible with me.”
Mark Battaglia, who played under Paterno on the team that won a national title in 1982, described the trustees' response to the scandal as a “$100 million debacle” and called for better leadership.
“I'm sorry, Mr. Frazier,” said Battaglia, who lives in Pittsburgh. “This ‘move on' thing? It's not happening. The alumni are not buying it.”
Frazier, chief executive of pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co., chaired a task force set up by the trustees to look into the matter.
After the meeting, board chairman Keith Masser said that at some point the school will honor Paterno, but the public comments did not provide a direction forward for the school.
“I don't know what the solution is, and I'm not hearing any solution,” Masser said. “We need time on that.”
Mickey Shuler, speaking with other former players afterward, had a suggestion about where to start.
“The first thing we could do to honor Coach Paterno is to get those scholarships back,” he said, referring to one of the penalties imposed by the NCAA last summer. “His honor is us, our families and friends.”
Another former player, Tom Donchez, said business remained unfinished.
“You have asked all of us to move forward, as if the questions of fairness and truth have been settled,” he said. “Obviously, nothing has been settled.”
As part of the NCAA penalties, Penn State agreed to a temporary reduction in football scholarships, along with a four-year bowl ban and a $60 million fine.