Franco Harris defends Paterno, McQueary, blasts trustees

CBSSports.com wire reports
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Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back and Penn State alum Franco Harris blasted the school's Board of Trustees for its decision to fire Joe Paterno and defended Mike McQueary, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

"I feel that the board made a bad decision in letting Joe Paterno go," Harris told the Tribune-Review's Kevin Gorman. "I'm very disappointed in their decision. I thought they showed no courage, not to back someone who really needed it at the time. They were saying the football program under Joe was at fault.

"They really wouldn't give a reason. They're linking the football program to the scandal and, possibly, the cover-up. That's very disturbing to me. I think there should be no more connection to the football program, only in the case that it happened at the football building with an ex-coach. I'm still trying to find out who gave him access to the building, who signed that contract."

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In announcing Paterno's firing, board vice chairman John Surma did not link the decision specifically to the sex abuse scandal in which former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was charged with 40 counts of sex abuse related to minors and two Penn State officials were charged with perjury and failure to report.

Surma repeatedly said the decision to fire Paterno was made in "the best interests" of the school and that a point had been reached where the school needed new leadership. Paterno was not charged with a crime after reporting to then-athletic director Tim Curley something of a "sexual nature" involving Sandusky and a young boy, according to grand jury testimony. The incident had been witnessed by then-graduate assistant and current assistant coach McQueary and reported to Paterno, according to the testimony.

Paterno has been criticized for not following up by going to the police when, according to grand jury testimony, Curley and then-vice president Gary Schultz -- who oversaw the university police department -- did not report the incident to police, instead telling Sandusky he could not bring children on campus. Curley also reported the incident to The Second Mile foundation Sandusky created, which dealt with at-risk youth, according to grand jury testimony.

Paterno has acknowledged in a statement, "I wish I had done more."

Harris also criticized state police commissioner Frank Noonan for saying Paterno had a "moral obligation" to contact police when told of the incident, according to the report.

"When I heard that, it blew my mind," Harris said. "Why would they bring the moral into the legal? Now, everyone gets to interpret in their own way. That's what really bothers me: Joe did what was right for him to do. He forwarded the information to his superiors. That's the legal procedure at Penn State.

"If I had to choose today between the moral integrity and character of Joe Paterno and the politicians and commentators criticizing him, I would pick Joe Paterno, hands-down, no contest every time."

Harris also told the paper he was "bothered" by criticism of the handling of the situation by McQueary, who witnessed a boy he estimated to being 10 years old getting violated by Sandusky anally in the showers. McQueary, according to grand jury testimony, left the showers distraught, then went to his office and called his father, who told him to go home. The next day, the pair reported the incident to Paterno.

"People make fun of the fact that Mike went to his father, like a little kid," Harris said. "Because somebody went to a confidant, why is that childish? How Mike handled that situation, there is nothing I can comment on. People are different. Some people would have bashed [Sandusky's] head in. Mike followed procedure. Because some people higher up didn't do their job, he's suffering the consequences."

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