Upon Further Review: Joe Paterno Supporters Assail Penn State Leadership
"Joe Paterno is no longer the head football coach, effective immediately." With those words, uttered two years ago yesterday, Penn State Board of Trustee member John Surma created a firestorm of criticism that continues 731 days later.
Marking that two year anniversary, Saturday night, Paterno's many supporters gathered at the Days Inn on Pugh Street to show they haven't forgotten what happened on Nov. 9, 2011.
In a way, the emotional three-hour affair resembled a revival meeting with fiery oratory; talk of redemption and salvation.
More than 200 people showed up for the town hall-style meeting called, "Upon Further Review." The meeting included comments from noted Paterno backers, including former Penn State football star Franco Harris, filmmaker John Ziegler, March for Truth organizer Eileen Morgan and Paterno investigator Ray Blehar.
The night began with a video montage, showing Paterno with his family, working with his football players and memorable big game highlights; all chronicling the legendary coach's six-decade-long career. Howls of laughter filled the room as a clip of John Surma played on the screen. "We do not know all the facts ...," Surma said.
Moments later, Harris asked the crowd, "Was it right for the BOT to fire Joe Paterno two years ago today?" Cries of, "No!" filled the ballroom. Harris said the board of trustees compromised "one of our most sacred principles: due process." He added, "Joe would never turn his back on a child," which was followed by loud applause.
Harris promised the audience they would hear how and why the Sandusky scandal became the Penn State scandal.
Eileen Morgan followed with a comprehensive breakdown of Mike McQueary's grand jury testimony. McQueary says he saw Jerry Sandusky in the showers with a young boy. According to Morgan, McQueary's story changed as the process played out. She says McQueary initially said he did not see any sex act. Morgan says that's backed up by testimony from Graham Spanier and Tim Curley, who used words like "inappropriate behavior" and "horsing around" to describe what McQuerary told them. Morgan says in later testimony, McQueray said he actually did see a sex act.
Ray Blehar told the crowd the Sandusky scandal is all about "power, lies and deception." Blehar claims people in positions of power wanted to settle old scores with Paterno and Spanier. According to Blehar, John Surma's nephew had been a walk-on football player, but quit after having some problems. He thinks that's why Surma had a vendetta against Paterno.
Blehar claims Gov. Corbett was out to get Spanier, because Corbett saw Spanier talking with a political opponent when Corbett was still running for governor.
Blehar also criticized board of trustee members for saying they didn't know about the grand jury's investigation of Jerry Sandusky. Blehar says they could have read about it in the newspapers. Blehar believes as many as 75 people at Penn State knew what was going on.
John Ziegler talked about "The Truth." In a blistering attack, he called the news media corrupt morons who are only interested in big ratings. He says, "This story was uniquely designed for them to blow it," because they needed an ending to the story. Ziegler claims that's why a narrative was created that incorrectly said Joe Paterno knew that Sandusky was abusing children.
Ziegler maintains that if reporters had wanted, they could have made Paterno a hero by focusing on the fact that he reported the shower incident to higher-ups.
"We're living in a bizzaro world," Ziegler said. "It is my view, even though I don't like Jerry Sandusky as a person, I don't believe he ever had sex with a boy."
Ziegler also attacked Mike McQueary's story, saying, "Everything about that narrative is false." Ziegler says it doesn't make sense that McQueary saw a child being assaulted and did nothing to stop it -- and that he did not call the police.
Some people raised questions about the need for greater transparency. Former board of trustees candidate Ryan Bagwell has been fighting in the courts for permission to see email records from Penn State leaders. During a panel discussion, Bagwell said the only entity now fighting against his Right to Know lawsuit is Penn State.
Harris generated more applause when he told the crowd, "I would really like people to see the true legacy of Joe Paterno. What makes a University great? Who makes a university great? These are things we have to hold onto."