Penn State

Penn State canceled message to honor Paterno, emails show

Joe Paterno waits in the tunnel before a Penn State football game.  CDT/Nabil K. Mark
Joe Paterno waits in the tunnel before a Penn State football game. CDT/Nabil K. Mark

Penn State ditched plans to send out a universitywide email message honoring Joe Paterno shortly after the longtime coach died in January 2012, according to newly released emails.

President Rodney Erickson drafted a statement that he planned to send out on Jan. 27, 2012, five days after Paterno died from lung cancer at Mount Nittany Medical Center, and the draft was shared with the members of the board of trustees for their comments or reservations Jan. 25.

The next day, something had changed, as trustee office director Paula Ammerman wrote to the board members, according to the emails released to Penn State alumnus and board of trustees candidate Ryan Bagwell. Bagwell received the emails through an open-records request.

“President Erickson asked that I advise that we’ve decided not to release the statement we shared yesterday about Joe Paterno, but rather will include an introductory paragraph to his update report next week,” Ammerman wrote to the trustees.

She went on to thank the trustees for their feedback, but none of the comments were included in the emails released to Bagwell.

Paterno was fired by the board during the evening of Nov. 9, 2011, after the Jerry Sandusky scandal erupted on campus.

A grand jury presentment contained allegations about a shower incident involving Sandusky and a young boy that was witnessed by Mike McQueary in the early 2000s. McQueary reported it to Paterno, who reported it to his boss, athletic director Tim Curley, but the board said Paterno didn’t fulfill his “moral duty” to protect the child in the shower.

Erickson’s draft of the condolence email praised Paterno as someone who “did much more than prepare his players for athletic competition; he prepared them to be life-long learners and engaged citizens.” Erickson also referenced Paterno’s so-called Grand Experiment to combine academic and athletic excellence.

“This approach set a new standard for all intercollegiate programs around the nation, and became known as the Penn State way — ‘success with honor,’ ” the draft of the nixed statement reads. “The stellar graduation rate of Joe’s players and all Penn State student-athletes can be traced to his emphasis on scholarship.”

Erickson also referenced the Paternos’ financial generosity, as the coach and his wife, Sue, endowed programs and facilities “that helped to lift our academic reputation.”