Corbett defends Penn State's decision to fire Paterno

Franco Harris
Franco Harris
Posted: November 14, 2011

Gov. Corbett, questioned on Sunday-morning interview shows about sex-abuse charges against former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and the resulting firestorm over Penn State's response, defended the university's decision to terminate head coach Joe Paterno last week.

He also said Pennsylvania law should be strengthened to clarify the duty of university officials to report abuse, as part of a broader effort to protect children when adults have knowledge of sexual assault.

Corbett was pressed repeatedly during appearances on Fox News Sunday, NBC's Meet the Press, and ABC's This Week about apparent lapses by Paterno and other university officials in responding to allegations against Sandusky, who was arrested Nov. 5 on charges of molesting eight boys between the mid-1990s and 2008.

Corbett was attorney general when the state became involved in investigating the allegations against Sandusky, and when it expanded the inquiry to focus on Penn State's response. As governor, he serves on Penn State's board of trustees, though he said he attended his first meetings last week when the board decided to fire Paterno and university president Graham B. Spanier.

"I think one of the lessons that we need to learn from this is that, when people see something like this or hear about something like this, you need to investigate right away, you need to report," Corbett told Meet the Press host David Gregory.

Sandusky, 67, retired from Penn State in 1999. As the investigation was heating up last year, he resigned from the Second Mile, a charity he founded in 1977 that prosecutors say provided him access to his young victims.

Accusations against Penn State center on an incident in which Sandusky allegedly sodomized a young boy and was witnessed by a graduate assistant, Mike McQueary. According to the grand jury presentment, McQueary reported the alleged assault to Paterno the next day, but not to police. Paterno then reported it to his superior, Penn State's athletic director.

Neither McQueary nor Paterno was apparently obligated to do more under state law, which Corbett predicted Sunday may be bolstered by year's end.

But Corbett suggested there were moral failings by McQueary, Paterno, Spanier, and others. During an interview with ABC's Christiane Amanpour, Corbett acknowledged doubts about what Paterno knew and how he should have acted. In public statements, Paterno has denied knowing details of the attack that McQueary said he witnessed.

"It's not for me to figure out what's going on in Joe Paterno's mind," Corbett said. But the governor went further in his criticisms when speaking with Fox and NBC.

"I always have said your actions speak louder than your words. That should not have been able to continue," he told Fox News Sunday. "The actions or the failure to act, while maybe not criminal, caused me not to have confidence in the president and in the coach."

Paterno drew some defense on Fox from former Penn State and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris, who served as an honorary member of Second Mile. Harris said the grand jury found that Paterno "cooperated fully with them."

"And then, all of a sudden, something came out about a moral obligation, and everybody jumped on that," Harris told Fox. "I think it is unfair how people were treating Joe with this issue because Joe is a highly moral person and great moral character."

Contact staff writer Jeff Gelles at 215-854-2776 or

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