New Penn State president: We want to honor Joe Paterno
New Penn State President Rodney Erickson, tasked with guiding the school past a devastating child sex-abuse scandal, may be creating new controversy: He called this week for disgraced former football coach Joe Paterno to be honored.
"We will certainly want to honor Joe as the future unfolds," Erickson said while meeting with alumni in Pittsburgh, the first of three such meetings intended to rebuild trust in the school.
Paterno had long been lionized in the college sports world for his winning ways -- that is, until he was fired in November amid allegations that he put the interests of the school's football program above all else. Specifically, he's alleged to have helped downplay suspicions that a member of his coaching staff was abusing boys; Paterno admitted that he should have done more.
Erickson faced a series of tough questions from an audience that wanted details about the school's handling of the child sex-abuse scandal. And some in attendance said they were disappointed that Erickson's actions since assuming the helm of the beleaguered school seemed to raise more questions.
For one, Erickson hasn't spoken to Paterno. "I would think one of the first things on his to-do list would be to send a note to Joe. And he didn't do that," Jean Spadacene told the Associated Press, which covered the first of the three meetings.
Erickson also failed to answer a question about legal fees -- specifically, the number of defendants in the sex-abuse case who are having their legal fees covered by Penn State. Erickson labeled that "a difficult question" but promised to reveal such financial figures in the coming days.
The news service pointed out that Erickson also sidestepped when one member of the audience suggested that the entire board of trustees should resign over the scandal. "I think the board will have to make those decisions," he replied.
The child-abuse scandal erupted in October when authorities arrested former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky and charged him with molesting several boys that he had met through his charity for disadvantaged youth.
Sandusky has denied the charges, which include allegations that he used his position with Penn State to lure the young boys. In at least one case, he is accused of sexually assaulting a boy in a Penn State locker room. Paterno and other school officials learned about that alleged incident, but it was never brought to the attention of police. The fallout led to the dismissal of the school president, Paterno and at least two other top-ranking officials.
It also led to rioting, with students rampaging through the streets in support of Paterno, and rolling over a TV news van covering the case. In all, 45 students face charges. This week, at least 20 students waived their right to a preliminary hearing and will now fight the charges at trial, according to the Centre Daily Times.
-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Photo: Penn State University President Rodney Erickson waits for the beginning of a town hall meeting with alumni in Pittsburgh. Credit: Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press