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Franco Harris Stirring Up Conversation on Legacy of Joe Paterno and Penn State Football

Posted on January 25, 2013 by Dean Hybl
Franco Harris has been one of the staunchest defenders of his former coach.

Franco Harris has been one of the staunchest defenders of his former coach.

While most of the sports world has moved on from the all-consuming story of Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno and Penn State football that dominated the sports media for more than half a year, one former Penn State player is not ready for the story to fade away.

Former Penn State running back and Pro Football Hall of Famer Franco Harris has been among the staunchest supporters of Coach Paterno and is now leading a discussion into the legacy of Penn State football and the Freeh Report that led to unprecedented sanctions from the NCAA.

Harris is hosting a pair of town hall meetings with the title of Upon Further Review: Penn State One Year Later. The first session is being held this Friday, January 25th, from 7:00-9:30 p.m. at the Radisson Casino Hotel in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. The second is set for Sunday, January 27th, from 1:00-3:30 p.m. at The Sunset Room at National Harbor in Washington, DC. Both sessions are free and open to the public.

“From the charges of the Freeh Report to the sanctions of the NCAA and the decisions of the Penn State Board of Trustees, the ongoing debate over Coach Paterno has had a dramatic effect on Joe’s legacy and the Penn State football program,” said Harris. “I’m eager to host a panel of experts – both pro and con – hear the views of community members, and offer a presentation that gives new information and analysis as well as a new perspective.”

When the Freeh Report was released last July, many were shocked by revelations that Paterno allegedly knew about allegations against Sandusky as long ago as 1998.

What was also shocking was the swiftness that the Freeh Report was taken as gospel by the NCAA, an organization that usually spends years investigating allegations and that has recently come under question for some of its own practices.

Though some questioned why the NCAA felt they had any authority over events that had no impact on on-the-field results, the organization acted swiftly and punitively to punish the past, present and future of Penn State football. The four-year sanctions and $50 million dollar fine levied on Penn State and the football program was clearly designed to punish a culture that would allow a child-molester to remain part of the community for more than a decade despite what the Freeh Report believed were clear allegations against the one-time assistant coach.

The removal of the Joe Paterno statue was a visible sign of how the legacy of their former head coach has drastically changed over the last 15 months.

The removal of the Joe Paterno statue was a visible sign of how the legacy of their former head coach has drastically changed over the last 15 months.

Harris, the Paterno family and other supporters of the Hall of Fame coach questioned many components of the Freeh Report from the very beginning. They believed the report came to conclusions based on only partial information and without thoroughly interviewing all who had been involved.

Another aspect of the saga that disappoints Harris is the actions of the Penn State trustees. From firing Paterno just days before what would have been his final game at Beaver Stadium to accepting the Freeh Report and NCAA sanctions without question, Harris believes the Trustees turned their back on the University they are supposed to support.

“After reading the Freeh Report, I feel even more strongly about Joe and about his non-involvement in any type of cover up,” said Harris. “There was no cover-up by the athletic department or the football program.

“No way would Joe ever cover-up anything like this, and there’s no way Joe would protect Sandusky to protect the football program.”

By hosting these forums, Harris hopes the facts will be reviewed in a more in-partial manner than he believes has been the case to date.

Upon Further Review will include presentations from Ray Blehar, a 27-year member of the U.S. intelligence community responsible for analyzing and evaluating information to determine its validity and impact, and Eileen Morgan, a 1990 Penn State graduate and technology research and analytical writing professional, both of whom will examine the Freeh Report from a different perspective. Utilizing a timeline beginning with 1998, the experts will help the audience to better understand the sequence of events, providing new information and shedding new light on the Sandusky matter and the impact on the outcomes that were decided by the PSU Board of Trustees and the NCAA.

Following the expert presentations, a panel discussion on the issues—both for and against the results of the Freeh Report—surrounding the handling of the Sandusky matter, Paterno’s involvement, and the culture of football at the University will be conducted by Harris who will be joined by Frank Fitzpatrick, columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer; Los Angeles documentary filmmaker, writer and national radio talk show host, John Zeigler; Anthony Lubrano, a PSU Board of Trustees member; and Rob Tribeck, who serves as legal counsel to Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship (PSARS).

Harris hopes to “leave no stone unturned” as the panelists and audience discuss what has certainly been the darkest days in the history of Penn State football.

Between events like those hosted by Harris and recent lawsuits by elected officials in Pennsylvania to overturn the NCAA sanctions, there is no question that there are still some who believe the complete story has not yet been told and that Penn State University and its legendary football coach and program have unfairly been tarnished.

Regardless of these outcomes, it can be hoped that eventually the entire sad story is placed in the proper perspective and that while a former coach, university and administrators have had reputations tarnished (whether fairly or not), the true victims of this tragedy are innocent children whose lives were forever altered by someone they thought they could trust.


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