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Penn State Lettermen Rip Into Trustees Over Paterno Firing, Freeh Report

by on March 15, 2013 8:45 PM


As promised, former Penn State football players showed up at the Penn State Board of Trustees meeting in Hershey on Friday and roasted the board members responsible for terminating Joe Paterno's contract in November 2011.

Seven of the eight people picked to speak addressed what they believe was the board's rush to judgement as it ended Paterno's coaching career. A coach for 61 years, Paterno was relieved of his duties during a phone call in November 2011, only days after the grand jury report detailing Jerry Sandusky's sex crimes was released. 

Thomas Donchez, Mickey Shuler, Mark Battaglia, Philip LaPorta and Daniel Wallace were the five former football players selected to speak, each demanding redemption for their former coach. Their message was clear: they are not yet ready to move forward. 

Donchez said Penn State students and alumni have long since fractured from the board and haven't supported any action taken by the board in a long time. 

"Obviously nothing has been settled," Donchez said. "It doesn't have to end this way. [The Paterno report] gave us the opportunity to end this the right way. Our lives will be measured by our courage; our courage to seek forgiveness when we have failed others." 

Shuler said he's concerned about university leadership touting the findings of the Freeh report while the long-term effects of the sanctions settle in. He believes that just because the university commissioned the report, there is no reason to believe it is complete. 

Citing the "culture" of Penn State, Shuler said he wants to see the board lead by example, stand up to the NCAA and demand the sanctions be reversed. 

"We are people of integrity, character and honor. We have a moral compass that seeks the truth, no matter where it leads. These are things I learned form one man – Joe Paterno," Shuler said. 

Battaglia, a member of the 1982 National Championship Penn State football team, hinged his argument on the guilt Paterno admitted to feeling over not stopping Jerry Sandusky and reprimanded the board for the way the coach was let go.

"To this day, sadly there is only one man who has admitted, wth the benefit of hindsight, he wished he had done more. We're here to hold you today, the board, to a higher standard," Battaglia said.

"Members of the board who have already been held to a higher standard, they knew Joe Paterno like we knew Joe Paterno ... they saw the man, they knew the man." 

Others, though, lost sight of the man they knew in the wake of crisis, Battaglia said. They knew him, but "wouldn't take his phone call," he said, referring to Paterno being informed of his being removed from his position over the phone in November 2011.

"You're never as good as you think you are when you win, and you're never as bad as you think you are when you lose. We're losing badly. We need the leadership of those very people to lead us out of those things.

"This 'move on' thing, it's not happening. The alumni are not buying it," Battaglia said.

LaPorta called for the resignation of a majority of the board as the only way to see real progress and healing. He described the board members' refusal to step down as being "like a stab wound." 

In his remarks about the Paterno report and the Freeh report, trustee Ken Frazier said he does not want the board to re-investigate the Freeh report and does not want to go down "a black hole." 

"If there’s a black hole, we had better get down to the bottom of it and find the rat that’s at the bottom of that hole," LaPorta said.

"If we can’t do that, we don’t deserve to be a university."

Before the public hearing hour, trustee Anthony Lubrano said he invited Louis Freeh to a board meeting, and hopes to see him at one soon. Trustee and former Penn State football player Adam Taliaferro said he supported that idea. 

"I'm always listening. We've got very smart people on this board and very different opinions," Taliaferro said. "We all know the 'what-ifs.'"

"At the appropriate time, bringing in people and asking them the "hows" and the "whys" would help us move forward. I think we all want to move forward," he said. 

Taliaferro said he thinks getting new perspective will help him better understand all sides. 

"I come in with my own preconceived notions. It's hard not to," he said. 

Penn State President Rodney Erickson said in his opening remarks that no general fund money went toward funding the Freeh report – which cost the university nearly $8.1 million – but rather, loans the university incurred.

The board meeting lasted more than four hours, starting at 1:30 p.m. and ending close to 6 p.m. 

Laura Nichols is a news reporter and @LC_Nichols on Twitter.
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