Out in force, Pennsylvania State University football players from years gone by made impassioned pleas to the school's board of trustees Friday to reconsider the investigative report that they said unfairly tainted the reputation of their late beloved coach, Joe Paterno.
"Joe Paterno held us to a higher standard. We're here today to hold you, the board, to a higher standard," Mark Battaglia, a letterman from Pittsburgh who was on the 1982 championship team, told the 32-member board during the public comment period.
Battaglia was part of a group of 30 lettermen from across the state and the nation who showed up to support Paterno, wearing name tags reading "Member of the Grand Experiment," referring to Paterno's legacy of melding athletics and academics.
At a news conference later, the lettermen said they wanted the board to apologize to the Paterno family, restore the wall that surrounded the since-removed Paterno statue, and push back against the sanctions handed down by the NCAA. They criticized the trustee-commissioned investigative report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh as inaccurate and unfair.
The outpouring showed that 16 months after former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was indicted on child sex-abuse charges, Pennsylvania's flagship state university remains embroiled in controversy, with alumni relations clearly inflamed.
Though the majority of the four-hour meeting was dominated by other topics, the issue that drew a crowd was the scandal and how the trustees have handled it.
Trustee Anthony Lubrano, an ardent Paterno supporter, urged the board to invite Freeh to a board meeting so the trustees could ask questions.
The Freeh report charged that top Penn State officials, along with Paterno, conspired to cover up the child sex-abuse allegations.
Lubrano also suggested that former Gov. Dick Thornburgh and other experts who developed the Paterno family report, which absolves Paterno of wrongdoing, be invited.
His suggestion drew applause from some in the audience and a second from trustee Adam Taliaferro, but did not get support from a majority of the board.
"I have questions, and I suspect other trustees have questions, too," Lubrano said. "Absolutely, positively, I want to move forward, but I can't in good conscience move forward at this time."
Trustee Kenneth Frazier continued to defend the Freeh report and noted that the university had to take responsibility for the sex abuse that occurred on its campus and off.
There was no action on Lubrano's request but Keith Masser, chair of the board, said later that the request would be referred to the board's legal and compliance committee.
He and Stephanie Nolan Deviney, vice chair, said they would be sure that the request would be addressed by the committee at the next meeting in May.
"Whether it comes out of committee is another question," Masser said, noting that it would take a vote.
But a member could later raise the issue with the full board, he said.
They declined to offer their opinion on whether the Freeh report needed to be reexamined. "We'll let the committee decide that," Masser said.
Masser called the lettermen "valuable supporters of this university, and I respect their right to comment."
He said the board would take the comments "under advisement."
The lettermen were blistering in their attack on the Freeh report and urged the board to reexamine it.
"I urge you, I urge you to settle this right," said Thomas Donchez of Bethlehem, Pa.
Letterman Philip LaPorta of Leesburg, Va., said nothing short of a majority of board members stepping down would heal the university.
But other speakers said it was time for the university to move on and come together as a school.
"The alumni I'm talking to are all saying the same thing," said Jason Kramer of Pitman. "It's 16 months down the road from what happened. We need to come together as a group."
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