After playing for Joe Paterno from 1969-1971, Franco Harris has remained staunchly loyal to his former head coach in the ensuing decades.
Despite the circumstances surrounding Paterno’s firing late Wednesday night, the former Nittany Lion and Pittsburgh Steelers running back, Harris remains a very vocal supporter of the former head coach. In fact, Harris may be even more resolute now in that support than he was prior to the events that came to light exactly a week ago today.
In an interview with Kevin Gorman of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the NFL Hall of Famer blasted his alma mater’s Board of Trustees for their decision to fire Paterno. In Harris’ mind, the decision amounted to nothing more than making Paterno a scapegoat for a deeper institutional issue.
“I feel that the board made a bad decision in letting Joe Paterno go,” Harris told the Tribune-Review. “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 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.”
Harris also questioned those who have stated Paterno and others had a moral obligation to go beyond the letter of the law and report the sexual abuse of a child, including the Pennsylvania state police commissioner.
“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 is free to parse the legal and moral obligations of all who had knowledge of the allegations, but we’re guessing that the eight — or more — alleged victims would have a different interpretation.
There’s nothing wrong with supporting your former coach, especially one as storied as Paterno. There’s also nothing wrong with stating that, based on the information contained in the grand jury’s report, he’s culpable morally for sitting down when he should’ve been standing up for the victims. Hell, even the coach himself recognizes that.
“I wish I had done more,” Paterno said in a statement announcing, before his firing, his retirement at season’s end.
Even hallowed legends have lapses in judgment, with the lapse in this case setting off a string of unintended but nonetheless tragic consequences for children who might have been kept from becoming victims of an alleged pedophile. If Harris can’t see that, well, that’s on him and his blind loyalty.