Harris has come under fire and has a job 'on hold' for his comments and defense of his former coach Joe Paterno. Courtesy seattlepi.com

Franco Harris Backlash: Defends JoePa, Assailed By Mayor


The scandal that has rocked an entire university has created a ripple effect that reaches students (past and present), football players and anyone with a human  conscience.  The reactions to the scandal have been rather polarizing – surprisingly polarizing.  Students who idolize Nittany Lion football and a man who has been the icon of Penn State since he began coaching at the school in 1966 were outraged at the coach’s ousting and decided that rioting in the streets was more important than reflecting on a horrific and traumatic event as sexual abuse of minors.  Others, such as alumni of the football program, are outraged at the actions of Sandusky and the inactions of the leadership within the athletic program and school itself.  But there is one former Penn State running back and Steeler who has stepped in front of criticism about his former coach and come under fire himself – Franco.

A fire quite literally, as in fired.  Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl wrote a letter to Harris on Thursday in response to Harris’ comments that Paterno fulfilled his legal obligation to notify school officials as to what took place with Sandusky and a young boy in the showers.  In that letter Ravenstahl wrote,

When I personally asked you to join the board of the Pittsburgh Promise, I had every confidence that you would exercise sound judgment in your public life. Sadly, these statements show no regard whatsoever for the well-being of the young victims of sexual abuse and have led me to question your position of trust…. It is my ethical and moral responsibility to recognize that you are no longer a suitable representative for any organization, let alone ours, and demand that you resign immediately from the Board of the Pittsburgh Promise.

Strong words and reaction towards someone who was just stating his personal opinion about a man whom he idolized for years as a coach and man.  But is Ravenstahl’s reaction appropriate or excessive?  And is Harris’ defense of JoePa misguided or emotionally displaced?

As we’ve seen in the firings and unpaid leaves of numerous folk in positions of authority at Penn State, people are trying to distance themselves like some kind of controlled burn of a raging wild fire.  And rightfully so – this was a pretty heinous act, and those who failed to act needed to be held accountable.  Ravenstahl is being very calculated and careful about having a high profile person seen in a negative light involving any civic program – especially one that deals with kids considering what this mess was all about to begin with.  Is it an overreaction?  Maybe.  It’s not like Harris said ‘Sodomy with kids is cool.’  I’m sure Ravenstahl is also concerned about his own reputation not wanting to have this reflect poorly on him as mayor (he’s got enough already doing that).  By saying Paterno did what he was obligated to ‘legally’ but not morally, Ravenstahl sees that not sound judgement.

Well all have heros in our lives.  My father is mine, and there are only a few other people that I really look up to in my life.  Harris, like many young football players, highly respected his coach.  It only makes sense – they can be like second fathers to these young men (sometimes the only father).  But we are talking about an awful crime that was committed in which no action let alone the appropriate action took place.  Paterno received the report of the actions, said things to school authorities (not police) and did nothing else.  He didn’t pursue any course of action while Sandusky continued to coach and stay on the payroll.  Wouldn’t you find that strange and investigate?  Doesn’t Paterno have a moral obligation as a leader of that team and as an upstanding human being to have some sort of followthrough?

Harris’ defense of Paterno is completely misguided.  Harris has been in the public eye since his time at Penn State as a college athlete back in early 70′s.  Since retiring from football, Harris has been sought out as a face for promotion and marketing – both for charity and for profit businesses.  Pittsburgh Promise is an organization that focuses on helping kids.  The fact Harris stepped into the spotlight to defend his former coach is in direct conflict of being a member on the board of Pittsburgh Promise.  Why would you even defend that in a public statement?  It’s terrible that this happened, and it’s sad to see that such a great coach went out this way.  But the NCAA is not bigger than human decency.  And a football coach and a team’s staff is not above human decency.  And JoePa failed.  And to defend those misgivings is wrong.  We’ve all stepped up to the plate at some point and struck out miserably at some point in our lives when it comes to choosing what is right and decent over the easy way out.  But this situation pales in comparison.

Harris, for me at least, will never be the same in my eyes.  He will forever be a hero of football and Steeler lore – no doubt about that.  But he has failed (not quite as badly as JoePa) as a person by defending his coach who failed on moral grounds.

  • ekalkeuka

    Seriously? I am sorry that you are so outraged with Mr. Harris and Coach Paterno. Those of us who had the privilege of sharing the PSU glory for a number of years are prepared to bear this shame. We all have “feet of clay.”

    I have been a counselor for 25 years; I understand the “system.” I can list at least 10 cases in my own neck of the woods where the “system” did nothing except further victimize the victims. And P.S.: I am also a victim of sexual abuse. Yet, I am not “outraged” at the actions of Joe Paterno;. Joe did what the law required him to do; and neither you, nor I know what he said to Sandusky in the years ensuing. (And I hate to through this in the mix, but perpetrators generally don’t just “sprout.” They tend to be victims of sexual abuse themselves!)

    As a counselor, I have made NUMEROUS child abuse reports. I can tell you that “reporting” is not equated with “action.” You have read the Grand Jury Report, I’m sure. What is the liability of the “investigators’ who listened to a victim’s mother confront Sandusky over the telephone wires in 1998? The Grand Jury convened in 2009 and it’s the end of 2011: where is the swift hand of justice? Why has Sandusky been on the street for the last two years?

    God bless, Franco Harris. Finally someone stood up for a man who has walked before God and the rest of us with integrity for some 80 years. Who are we to convict Joe Paterno of lacking in moral authority? I am quite sure that Joe has poured his heart out before His Maker.

    There is blood on many hands, and many of us will continue to mourn and pray for a long time, ….including Joe Paterno and Franco Harris. Maybe the all-moral governor of Pennsylvania and all-moral police commish should do likewise.

  • ekalkeuka

    Seriously? I am sorry that you are so outraged with Mr. Harris and Coach Paterno. Those of us who had the privilege of sharing the PSU glory for a number of years are prepared to bear this shame. We all have “feet of clay.”

    I have been a counselor for 25 years; I understand the “system.” I can list at least 10 cases in my own neck of the woods where the “system” did nothing except further victimize the victims. And P.S.: I am also a victim of sexual abuse. Yet, I am not “outraged” at the actions of Joe Paterno;. Joe did what the law required him to do; and neither you, nor I know what he said to Sandusky in the years ensuing. (And I hate to through this in the mix, but perpetrators generally don’t just “sprout.” They tend to be victims of sexual abuse themselves!)

    As a counselor, I have made NUMEROUS child abuse reports. I can tell you that “reporting” is not equated with “action.” You have read the Grand Jury Report, I’m sure. What is the liability of the “investigators’ who listened to a victim’s mother confront Sandusky over the telephone wires in 1998? The Grand Jury convened in 2009 and it’s the end of 2011: where is the swift hand of justice? Why has Sandusky been on the street for the last two years?

    God bless, Franco Harris. Finally someone stood up for a man who has walked before God and the rest of us with integrity for some 80 years. Who are we to convict Joe Paterno of lacking in moral authority? I am quite sure that Joe has poured his heart out before His Maker.

    There is blood on many hands, and many of us will continue to mourn and pray for a long time, ….including Joe Paterno and Franco Harris. Maybe the all-moral governor of Pennsylvania and all-moral police commish should do likewise.

  • craig.gottschalk

    @ekalkeuka Thanks for your response. I truly respect your opinion on the matter. However, it don’t care if you are from PSU or not. Blind loyalty to a college, organization, one man means nothing to me. If something like this happened at my university, I would still be proud of my university, but feel very ashamed that there are those representing that institution would allow things to happen the way they did. This isn’t a dig on PSU as a whole

    I think Paterno was a great coach and a good man. He made a pretty fatal and moral mistake. Let me ask you, past experiences aside – if you knew a co-worker sodomized a minor in a work bathroom, would you want that person still working for you and your company? Absolutely not. The fact that Sandusky was able to continue working and be with the team is very damning for Paterno in this situation. The fact that the university did not act upon this and Paterno worked alongside Sandusky in a public light that made it appear that nothing had ever happened is very disgusting. It makes me ill. Do you not think Paterno had the power to oust Sandusky when Paterno learned that nothing would happen?

    I believe it’s this kind of behavior is what enables this kind of stuff to continue happening. Why do many cases go unreported? As we’ve seen it can rock the headlines and bring huge fallout to whomever is involved – directly or indirectly. I agree with you – why was Sandusky allowed to walk? Why didn’t Paterno do more? Sure I’m obligated to do certain things required by the law on any number of matters, but does that make me a better man for just doing that rather than help to right injustices?

    Obviously it’s polarizing and a touchy subject and a ton of gray area. But to stay on point about the article – I don’t feel that Harris needed to step out and defend Paterno. There’s nothing to defend and he now has only put himself in the crosshairs of criticism.

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  • craig.gottschalk

    @ekalkeuka Thanks for your response. I truly respect your opinion on the matter. However, it don’t care if you are from PSU or not. Blind loyalty to a college, organization, one man means nothing to me. If something like this happened at my university, I would still be proud of my university, but feel very ashamed that there are those representing that institution would allow things to happen the way they did. This isn’t a dig on PSU as a whole

    I think Paterno was a great coach and a good man. He made a pretty fatal and moral mistake. Let me ask you, past experiences aside – if you knew a co-worker sodomized a minor in a work bathroom, would you want that person still working for you and your company? Absolutely not. The fact that Sandusky was able to continue working and be with the team is very damning for Paterno in this situation. The fact that the university did not act upon this and Paterno worked alongside Sandusky in a public light that made it appear that nothing had ever happened is very disgusting. It makes me ill. Do you not think Paterno had the power to oust Sandusky when Paterno learned that nothing would happen?

    I believe it’s this kind of behavior is what enables this kind of stuff to continue happening. Why do many cases go unreported? As we’ve seen it can rock the headlines and bring huge fallout to whomever is involved – directly or indirectly. I agree with you – why was Sandusky allowed to walk? Why didn’t Paterno do more? Sure I’m obligated to do certain things required by the law on any number of matters, but does that make me a better man for just doing that rather than help to right injustices?

    Obviously it’s polarizing and a touchy subject and a ton of gray area. But to stay on point about the article – I don’t feel that Harris needed to step out and defend Paterno. There’s nothing to defend and he now has only put himself in the crosshairs of criticism.

  • montewalsh

    Franco Harris is great, and political nitpicking will never tarnish Mr Harris’s brand in business, the NFL or PSU.

  • montewalsh

    Franco Harris is great, and political nitpicking will never tarnish Mr Harris’s brand in business, the NFL or PSU.