In defense of Paterno
February 19. 2013 2:56AM
Not on this day. Not at this time.
But Phil Knight did take an opportunity on Thursday to scorch leadership in Pennsylvania and at Penn State for the handling of the Sandusky scandal. Speaking at an on-campus memorial for Joe Paterno, the co-founder and chairman of Nike delivered perhaps the most impassioned public defense of Paterno since his firing in November.
Knight, a multi-billionaire and a close friend of Paterno, began his speech with colorful stories about the former coach, who died Sunday at age 85.
But as he reached the end of his time at the podium, Knight sounded off on those whom he said brought down a man he called his hero.
‚??Whatever the details of the investigation are, this much is clear to me,‚?Ě Knight said. ‚??There was a villain in this tragedy. It lies in the investigation, not in Joe Paterno‚??s response to it.‚?Ě
The Paterno-partisan crowd rose to its feet and delivered the loudest standing ovation at the Bryce Jordan Center on a day that featured at least a dozen of them. Paterno was fired Nov. 9 by the school‚??s board of trustees in the wake of allegations of sexual abuse of children by Sandusky, his former defensive coordinator.
The next week, Paterno was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died two months later.
Knight was not finished, going on to praise Paterno and ask, ‚??Who is the real trustee at this university?‚?Ě
After the applause ended, Knight recounted the grand jury testimony that stated Paterno, when told of an alleged assault by a graduate assistant, took the matter to two senior school administrators.
‚??And yet, for his actions, he was excoriated by the media and fired over the telephone by his university,‚?Ě Knight said. ‚??Yet, in all his subsequent appearances in the press, on TV, interacting with students, conversing with hospital personnel, giving interviews, he never complained, he never lashed out.
‚??Every word, every bit of body language conveyed a single message: We are Penn State.‚?Ě
Knight was not the only one of the 12 speakers to make reference to the scandal that led to Paterno‚??s downfall during the two-and-a-half-hour memorial, but he was easily the most outspoken.
Michael Robinson, a former quarterback who led the Nittany Lions to a Big Ten title in 2005, made multiple references to school administrators he called ‚??sharks‚?Ě who were ‚??looking to get (Joe) out of there.‚?Ě
‚??I didn‚??t understand the pressure he was under,‚?Ě Robinson said of the tumultuous 7-16 stretch the Lions went through during his sophomore and junior seasons.
Robinson spoke of his appreciation for Paterno, and that gratitude was reflected by the long trip he made back to State College.
Recently selected as a replacement at the Pro Bowl, Robinson ‚?? now a fullback for the Seattle Seahawks ‚?? flew 11 hours from Honolulu to get back to Pennsylvania in time for the memorial.
‚??Joe actually told me he thought I would be a Pro Bowl running back or fullback,‚?Ě an emotional Robinson said. ‚??And as God as my witness...‚?Ě
He was cut off by applause.
Former Penn State tailback Charlie Pittman ‚?? one of Paterno‚??s first recruits as a head coach in the 1960s ‚?? said he was as impressed by Paterno in the final months of his life as any other time.
‚??Despite being pushed away from his beloved game and under extreme pressure in the past few months, Joe‚??s grace was startling. ‚?Ľ I didn‚??t think he had any lessons left for me. I was wrong.
‚??I got the call that he passed away on my birthday. On my birthday. What an omen. (It said) our work is not done. We must continue that grand experiment. It is needed now more than ever.
‚??Rest in peace, Coach. We‚??ll take it from here.‚?Ě