President Erickson Doesn’t Remember Nixed Paterno Tribute

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Penn State President Rodney Erickson says he doesn’t remember any of the circumstances surrounding a canceled statement that would have honored Joe Paterno after his death. Revelations about the statement have come to light in recent days from Ryan Bagwell as a result of his Right to Know crusade, along with forwarded emails from current trustee Joel Myers.

Fellow Onward Stater Tim Gilbert and I sat down for an interview with President Erickson last week as part of a profile on his legacy (that story is forthcoming). Here is the verbatim excerpt from that interview, as it relates to the Paterno statement:

Onward State: So, within the last couple of days there was the Post-Gazette report that said that you had this statement planned for Joe Paterno. Could you open up a little bit about why that was removed?

Rodney Erickson: No, I can’t, because it’s over two years ago, and I really don’t remember any of the circumstances.

OS: So, but let’s walk through what happened with that. You have to remember at least that you had something planned for Paterno more than what was actually said.

RE: No, I honestly don’t.

OS: You really don’t?

RE: No.

About an hour after we left Old Main, Spokeswoman Lisa Powers emailed me the following:

During your conversation either you or Tim mentioned the two- and three-year-old emails that have surfaced and you asked if he recalled them or what he may have said in regards to honoring Joe Paterno. Just as an aside, there was so much happening at that time, that it’s tough to remember who proposed what or what was proposed — however, I do recall that he did issue a statement related to the late coach and I’m going to try to find that for you, because he did express his thoughts publicly on the matter at several points in his presidency. Let me see if I can get my hands on it.

The statement Powers referenced was released on the day of Paterno’s death on behalf of Erickson and the Board of Trustees. It was a statement of praise but Erickson wasn’t done — he planned an elaborate tribute to be delivered five days after Paterno’s death.

Erickson was to relay the comments on Jan. 27, 2012. It was going to be full of appreciation for Paterno’s contributions to the university, even lauding him for the “Grand Experiment of combining academic excellence with championship-caliber athletic performance.” The statement was later amended to one paragraph.

Following the reports that stemmed from emails shared with the media by Bagwell, Myers decided to release the emails himself.

Here’s the email in which President Erickson sought advice from the Board on the statement four days after Paterno’s death (to which Myers responded “Yes. Well done.”)

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And here’s the email from Ammerman nixing the statement a day later for undisclosed reasons.Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 2.51.29 AM

Myers was frustrated that trustees were not part of the decision regarding the Paterno tribute.

“What the records do not show, because they were not all released, is that trustees were informed – not asked – about the statement,” Myers said. “I expected the tribute to be made, and supported it.  I was informed the next day that President Erickson had decided not to issue the statement.  I did not reverse course.”

Erickson’s tribute was cut down to one paragraph, which was added to the president’s update delivered the week after Paterno’s death.

But President Erickson doesn’t remember.

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Jessica Tully

Jessica Tully is a senior majoring in journalism and political science from Wexford, Pa. She is one of three members of the Tully family currently enrolled at Penn State. Jessica has also written for USA TODAY, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and The Daily Collegian.

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