Sue Paterno defends her late husband in letter

ESPN- Sue Paterno, the widow of late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, has emailed a letter to hundreds of former Nittany Lions players informing them that a report, commissioned by the family in response to the Freeh report that followed the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case, will be released Sunday.

Penn StateIn a letter to former Penn State football players, Sue Paterno explains why she felt compelled to undertake a review of the Freeh Report and Joe Paterno’s actions in the Jerry Sandusky scandal. PDF

The Freeh report, authored by former FBI head Louis Freeh, was highly critical of Joe Paterno and other administrators at Penn State in their handling of the Sandusky scandal. The NCAA later imposed unprecedented sanctions on Penn State based on the conclusions of the Freeh report.

Breaking more than a year of silence, Sue Paterno said in her letter to players Friday that her commissioned report presents “a persuasive critique of the Freeh report as a total disservice to victims of Sandusky and the cause of preventing child sex offenses.”

The report also questions the interpretation of evidence by the Freeh report, and the NCAA’s actions in sanctioning Penn State. In her letter to players, Sue Paterno also defends her late husband as a “moral, disciplined” man who never twisted the truth to avoid bad publicity.

Joe Paterno died in January 2012 at age 85, about two months after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

“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.”

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.”

At 9 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN, “Outside the Lines” will convene an exclusive panel composed of authors of the new report to discuss their review of the Freeh report and their assessment of the NCAA’s actions. The Paterno family’s response to the Freeh report will officially be released to the public at 9 a.m. Sunday on paterno.com.

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 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,” wrote Sue Paterno, who has five children and 17 grandchildren. “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 more than 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 it had promised a more detailed response when its own investigation was complete.

Paterno’s true legacy wasn’t his statue or his 409 wins, but family and players, his widow said.

“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.”

The way university leadership handled Joe Paterno’s 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.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.