ShareThis Page

Paterno questions linger at heated Penn State trustees meeting

| Saturday, March 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

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.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.