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Details About Paterno Family Lawsuit Emerge

by on May 29, 2013 4:10 PM

“I was with him [Joe Paterno] as he was dying and he said, ‘Just get the truth. I have confidence. Make sure the truth comes out.’”

That's what Paterno family spokesperson Dan McGinn says in an exclusive interview airing on Costas Tonight on the NBC Sports Network. Host Bob Costas will re-examine the Freeh Report on his show which airs at 11 p.m.

Certainly, the biggest news from the program is word that the Paterno family is filing a lawsuit against the NCAA. And it's not just the Paternos. An NBC executive tells that some trustees, former football players, coaches, and faculty members are all parties to the lawsuit.

In addition to McGinn, Costas will be joined on his show by Paterno family attorney Wick Sollers and former attorney general and Pennsylvania governor Dick Thornburgh. Thornburgh was part of a group that released the Paterno Report in February. That report was sharply critical of the Freeh investigation.

In excerpts released by NBC sports, all three men criticize the NCAA and NCAA president Mark Emmert. They also raise questions about Freeh’s July 2012 report, and and the fact that the NCAA doled out harsh sanctions against Penn State largely on the basis of Freeh’s findings. Penn State President Rodney Erickson signed a consent decree last July, agreeing to those sanctions.

“The reality is that consent decree was imposed through coercion and threats behind the scenes and there was no ability for anyone to get redress,” said Sollers in the excerpt. “There was no board approval, there was no transparency, and there was no consideration of this consent decree.”

Sollers and Thornburgh both condemn Freeh’s findings and the NCAA’s adoption of the Freeh report when evaluating the Penn State situation.

“Mr. Freeh has been named as someone who was a cooperating individual, actually a co-conspirator, with the NCAA in this lawsuit. There were close communications between the NCAA, as well as the Freeh Group, all through the Freeh Group investigation, and the NCAA stood on the sidelines instead of doing what they should have done with a full investigation,” Sollers said.

He continues, “We have given a lot more allowance to Louis Freeh than he gave to Joe Paterno, and the people he named in his report. We don’t know his motivations for it; we just know he got it wrong.”

Thornburgh classified the report as being “deeply flawed” and criticized it for relying on speculation rather than facts discovered through an investigation.

“There was no attempt at a cover up. Why would Joe Paterno fear bad publicity? The whole premise is false here – that somehow there was a motive to prevent bad publicity, and that he would put his entire life, his family name forever, his program, the university he loved, it does not add up and the facts don’t support it.”

Said Sollers, “There’s no instance where Joe Paterno ever asked anybody not to fully investigate, not to report, not to do the right thing. We know that from conversations with the lawyers, from other key protagonists in this matter, and across the board. Joe Paterno did what he thought was right with the information he had at the time.”

McGinn again expressed disappointment in Freeh’s team not contacting anyone from the Paterno family prior to the release of the report.

“They put the report out. There was no filter. They put it out immediately. It blew up. It was like taking a blow torch to a dry set of woods.”

Sollers and McGinn know a lawsuit cannot reverse everything over the past 19 months but are prepared for the long-haul and expect the NCAA to fight back aggressively.

Said Sollers, “The NCAA is going to fight tooth and nail to try to keep this lawsuit from going forward on legal grounds, because I do not believe they’re going to want to suffer discovery and the opportunity for the plaintiffs to gain discovery about the relationship between the NCAA and the Freeh group, and other behind-the-scenes moves to cram down this consent decree.”

“It’s designed to try to correct the record here,” said McGinn. “We know that you can’t undo all the damage that’s been done. We know that this is going to be a fight for the long term.”

“When I speak of the damage, it’s not just to the Paterno family, the Paterno name; it is to Penn State, a great institution that has a great history and tradition in sports. It’s to the alums there, the students, the faculty, and the community. The NCAA wreaked enormous damage to this community, and this is just one way to get the record right.”

Late Wednesday afternoon, the NCAA's chief legal officer, Donald Remy, issued this statement, “Despite our request, the Paterno family has not shared any information about its planned legal action. Therefore we are unable to comment further about that at this time."

Costas Tonight is expected to begin at 11 p.m. but could be delayed if the NHL Western Conference Semifinal hockey game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks runs late.

A four-minute preview clip can be viewed HERE.

Drew Balis is a Penn State graduate, freelance reporter and frequent contributor to
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