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Paterno, in letter, defends PSU football

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Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno defended his program's integrity in a 7-month-old letter released Wednesday, a day ahead of a report that could forever mar his legacy. (AP photo)

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno defended his program’s integrity in a 7-month-old letter released Wednesday, a day ahead of a report that could forever mar his legacy.

In the letter, written shortly before his death and confirmed as legitimate by his family, Paterno rejected the notion that his former assistant Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of boys amounted to a “football scandal” or tarnished the accomplishments of his players or Penn State’s reputation as a whole.

The results of Penn State’s internal investigation into the Sandusky scandal are set to be released today in a report that should answer many of the troubling questions swirling around one of the worst scandals in sports history.

A team led by former federal judge and former FBI director Louis Freeh interviewed hundreds of people to learn how the university responded to warning signs that its once-revered former assistant football coach – a man who helped Paterno win two national titles for a university that touted “success with honor” – was a serial child molester.

Sandusky was convicted on 45 criminal counts last month at a trial that included gut-wrenching testimony from eight young men who said he abused them as boys. By contrast, the Freeh report, to be released online at 8 a.m. today, will focus on Penn State and – what it did – or didn’t do – to protect children.

Eight months after Sandusky’s arrest, it remains unclear how top university officials handled reports dating back at least 14 years that Sandusky was behaving inappropriately with boys he met through his charity, taking them on campus and forcing them into sex acts.

Among those who will be scouring the Freeh report are school officials trying to repair Penn State’s shattered reputation and ex-players and alumni who remain outraged over Paterno’s ouster in the wake of Sandusky’s arrest. The Hall of Fame coach died from lung cancer in January, two months after school trustees fired him for what they called a failure of leadership.

Paterno offered a passionate defense of the university and its football program in the letter, which surfaced for the first time Wednesday.

The Paterno family said the letter was given in draft form to a few former players around December. One of the ex-players circulated it to other former players Wednesday, and it was posted on the website FightonState.com, which covers the team.

“Over and over again, I have heard Penn State officials decrying the influence of football and have heard such ignorant comments like Penn State will no longer be a ‘football factory’ and we are going to ‘start’ focusing on integrity in athletics,” Paterno wrote. “These statements are simply unsupported by the five decades of evidence to the contrary – and succeed only in unfairly besmirching both a great university and the players and alumni of the football program who have given of themselves to help make it great.”

Paterno also wrote, “This is not a football scandal and should not be treated as one.”

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