At a press conference afterward, Penn State Lettermen who played for Paterno gave the board their own prescription for moving forward:
* A formal apology to legendary former head football coach Joe Paterno‘s family for his firing-by-telephone days after Sandusky’s arrest.
* Restoration of the monument outside Beaver Stadium that paid tribute to Paterno’s teams. The concrete wall was removed with Paterno’s statue last July, causing deep hurt to many of the players from Penn State’s most successful teams and their fans.
* Joining the pushback, currently led by Gov. Tom Corbett, against the four-year program of NCAA sanctions against Penn State football, a regime of penalties that the letterman said are unfairly punishing players, students and fans who had nothing to do with Sandusky.
They also seconded trustee Anthony Lubrano’s request for a board meeting with former FBI Director Louis Freeh, so that members at large can have their first opportunity to confront him with their questions.
Board members gave no indication that they are ready to act on those demands Friday – to date, only a small minority have expressed public misgivings about Freeh’s findings that Penn State’s top administrators and Paterno – gave cover for Sandusky in 2001.
Sandusky, Paterno’s longtime defensive coordinator, was convicted last year of sexually abusing 10 boys between 1994 and 2008. He has been sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in state prison.
The university, meanwhile, is now trying to negotiate civil settlements with 30 men who claim they were abused by Sandusky over the last 35 years.
Freeh’s findings have largely been echoed in a statewide grand jury presentment last fall that resulted in criminal obstruction of justice, child endangerment and other charges against former Penn State President Graham Spanier and two of his top administrators. (However, Paterno was not implicated in this presentment).
For the first time several trustees actually engaged in a direct discussion about Freeh’s findings, with Lubrano reiterating his concerns and Ken Frazier, chair of the special committee that hired Freeh, defending the report.
And after the meeting, Trustees Chairman Keith Masser said that he felt the board’s legal committee, where Frazier touched off this week’s Freeh discussion Thursday, has an obligation to consider Lubrano’s request.
“Whether it comes out of the committee (with a positive recommendation) is another question,” said Masser, who also sits on the Legal Committee. “But we can make sure that it gets addressed.”
Masser declined to offer his own opinion on whether the board should revisiting the reports. “It’s not appropriate for us to pre-empt committee discussion,” he said Friday.
The lettermen who set the tone for the public comment period, however, said afterward that in their mind, this is the only path back to respectability for this board after, in their view, betraying Paterno and Penn State for 16 months.
“They have an opportunity for a second chance… because a new viewpoint of what happened at Penn State with Jerry Sandusky has come out,” through the Paterno-financed critique of the Freeh Report authored by former Gov. Dick Thornburgh, said former player Tom Donchez, now of Bethlehem.
“Let’s see what they do. Let’s see if they come out and do something for this university.”
The players said they are not worried that their continuing crusade against the Freeh report and the NCAA sanctions effectively validates concerns cited by NCAA President Mark Emmert and others that Penn State does have a football-first culture.
That’s because, they said, any fair examination of the record shows that Paterno himself was so much more than football.
Mickey Shuler, an East Pennsboro High School star who played for Paterno, noted the coach’s role in elevating the entire university through his fundraising, demands on the trustees and expectations of his players.
As a player, Shuler said, Paterno’s expectations were that everyone was “responsible and accountable to one another, the team and most importantly, the university… representing that university in a positive light everywhere you go.
“And that concept,” added Shuler, who now lives in Marysville, “just became contagious… His was an example that the whole university, I think, feels they have to live up to his expectations.”