Breaking more than a year of silence, Sue Paterno is defending her late husband as a “moral, disciplined” man who never twisted the truth to avoid bad publicity.
The wife of the former Penn State coach is fighting back against the accusations against Joe Paterno that followed the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Her campaign started with a letter sent Friday to former Penn State players.
She wrote that the family's exhaustive response to former FBI director Louis Freeh's report for the university on the Sandusky child sex abuse case will officially be released to the public at 9 a.m. Sunday on paterno.com.
Freeh in July accused Joe Paterno and three university officials of covering up allegations against Sandusky, a retired defensive coordinator. Less than two weeks later, the NCAA levied unprecedented sanctions on the program that Joe Paterno built into one of the most well-known in college football.
“When the Freeh report was released last July, I was as shocked as anyone by the findings and by Mr. Freeh's extraordinary attack on Joe's character and integrity. I did not recognize the man Mr. Freeh described,” Sue Paterno wrote. “I am here to tell you as definitively and forcefully as I know how that Mr. Freeh could not have been more wrong in his assessment of Joe.”
The family directed its attorney, Washington lawyer Wick Sollers, to assemble experts to review Freeh's findings and Joe Paterno's actions, Sue Paterno wrote.
She did not offer details on findings in the letter, “except to say that they unreservedly and forcefully confirm my beliefs about Joe's conduct.
“In addition, they present a passionate and persuasive critique of the Freeh report as a total disservice to the victims of Sandusky and the cause of preventing child sex offenses,” Sue Paterno wrote.
Sue Paterno said neither Freeh's report, nor the NCAA's actions, should “close the book” on the scandal.
“This cannot happen,” she wrote. “The Freeh report failed and if it is not challenged and corrected, nothing worthwhile will have come from these tragic events.”
Sandusky's arrest in November 2011, triggered the sweeping scandal, including the firing of Paterno and the departure under pressure of Graham Spanier as president days later. Prosecutors filed perjury and failure to report charges against former athletic director Tim Curley and retired vice president Gary Schultz.
Sandusky, 69, was sentenced last fall to at least 30 years in prison in after being convicted in June on 45 criminal counts. Prosecutors said allegations occurred on and off campus.
“The crimes committed by Jerry Sandusky are heartbreaking,” Sue Paterno, who has five children and 17 grandchildren, wrote. “It is incomprehensible to me that anyone could intentionally harm a child. I think of the victims daily and I pray that God will heal their wounds and comfort their souls.”
Freeh released his findings the following month. His team conducted 430 interviews and analyzed over 3.5 million emails and documents, his report said.
“Taking into account the available witness statements and evidence, it is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State University -- Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley -- repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse” from authorities, trustees and the university community, Freeh wrote in releasing the report.
Less than two weeks later, Penn State hastily took down the bronze statue of Paterno outside Beaver Stadium. The next day, the NCAA said Freeh's report presented “an unprecedented failure of institutional integrity leading to a culture in which a football program was held in higher esteem.”
Penn State was given a four-year bowl ban, strict scholarship cuts and a $60 million fine. The NCAA also vacated 111 wins under Paterno, meaning he no longer held the record of most wins by a major college coach.
Since then Spanier, Curley and Schultz have also been charged with obstruction and conspiracy, among other charges. They have vehemently denied the allegations. So has the Paterno family, though they have promised a more detailed response with its own investigation was complete.
Paterno's true legacy wasn't his statue or his 409 wins, but family and players, his widow said. Less than an hour after the letter was released, a copy was circulating on social media and websites, including one belonging to Seattle Seahawks fullback and former Nittany Lion Michael Robinson.
“The great fathers, husbands and citizens you have become fulfill the dreams Joe had,” she wrote to the former players. “All that we want -- and what I believe we owe the victims, Joe Paterno and everyone who cares about Penn State -- is the full record of what happened.”
Paterno died in January 2012 at age 85, about two months after being diagnosed with lung cancer. The way university leadership handled his ouster -- over a late-night telephone call -- and its handling of the Freeh report and NCAA sanctions remains a sensitive topic for factions of dissatisfied alumni, former players, staff and community members.
Trustee Anthony Lubrano, who joined the board last year after drawing support from disgruntled alumni, has been among more vocal critics who say that school leaders rushed to judgment on Paterno. Critics have also said Freeh's report downplayed failures of Pennsylvania's child-protective services.
“I knew Joe Paterno as well as one human being can know another. Joe was exactly the moral, disciplined and demanding man you knew him to be,” Sue Paterno wrote. “Over the years I watched as he struggled with countless personal and professional challenges. Never -- not once -- did I see him compromise his principles or twist the truth to avoid bad publicity or protect his reputation.”
The Paterno family has remained supportive of the football program and Paterno's successor, Bill O'Brien. Sue Paterno has been active in organizing Special Olympics, which was again held on campus last summer; and son and former assistant coach Jay Paterno has done speaking engagements with students and attends sporting events.
The family's response comes a month after Gov. Tom Corbett filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA to overturn the sanctions. The NCAA this week asked a judge to throw out the suit.