Franco Harris Wants Stickies with a Side of Answers
Last night, Ryan Beckler and I received a tip that former Penn State football–and Pittsburgh Steeler–great Franco Harris would be meeting with University officials at The College Diner (Yes, the Diner). We investigated and found Harris eating those famous grilled stickies with about ten other people. Just before he left, we were able to share a booth with the Penn State legend to discuss the recent events surrounding Penn State and to talk about his purpose for coming here. And boy, did he have a lot to say.
As it turned out, Harris extended an invitation for President Rodney Erickson and Chairman Steve Garban of the Board of Trustees to meet with him to discuss the dismissal of Joe Paterno. Neither showed up, but he did hold an impromptu meeting with friends and media to discuss his plans to find answers regarding his former coach.
When asked why he came to State College he simply responded, “I came here for answers. I came here to find answers for Joe Paterno.”
“It was unjust what they did to him,” he said, “But we can turn that around.”
“I called the president yesterday and I left a message asking him if he would rehire Joe Paterno. I’m going to call every member of the Board of Trustees individually and ask them to rehire Joe. We need another vote, a public vote.”
Nearly forty years after Franco Harris stepped off the Beaver Stadium grass for the final time, he was back in State College to fight for his old coach. The passion he still feels for this school and Coach Paterno was extremely evident. After all, we are just a couple of (extremely attractive) college reporters. He is a nine-time Pro Bowl-er and a Super Bowl MVP. Why would he take a half-hour out of his night to talk to us?
“I need to get the word out. We need to get the word out to everyone. We’re all silent. All the students are silent, all the alumni are silent, and everybody is afraid. Nobody is holding the board accountable for what they did.”
“The biggest thing is, he means so much to Penn State. Joe would have fought for every Penn Stater. He would fight for Penn State to the core. And we don’t fight for him.”
Harris understood why the board acted as they did, but he said he didn’t believe it was justified. I asked him if he thought the media pressure had anything to do with the board’s decision to fire Paterno.
“No, I don’t. The Board of Trustees has wanted Joe gone for years and this gave them the opportunity. They had their opening and they took it hard. They acted way too fast.”
Harris is well aware of the polarization that invoking the Paterno name engenders, ever since the scandal broke. In fact, Harris was recently dismissed from his position at The Meadows Casino because of his public support for Paterno. But none of this matters to him.
“That position I had with the casino, I wouldn’t have had it if it wasn’t for Joe Paterno. I owe everything I’ve accomplished to that man. I know I’m not going to win arguments with people who [hate Joe Paterno] so I don’t even try. I feel kinda alone in this, but that doesn’t matter to me.”
Harris knows that people who have stood up for Paterno recently have been labeled as insensitive. But he disagrees with the premise that Paterno supports are supporting covering up sexual abuse.
“We can do two things at once. We can defend Joe and we can defend [against] sexual abuse. We can do both and we are going to do both.”
Harris previously served as an honorary board member for The Second Mile that Jerry Sandusky founded. According to the Grand Jury presentment, Sandusky found many of his victims were found through the charity. However, Harris has no reservations for his work with The Second Mile and expressed remorse that it has been brought down by all this.
“That charity has helped thousands upon thousands of kids. It’s a shame what has happened to it.”
No matter what your opinion is on Paterno’s role in the scandal, you can’t deny the love and appreciation that former players share for the man. Franco Harris is just one of the thousands of lives Paterno has touched over the years, and the loyalty Harris has shown in return is nothing short of commendable. As we were about to leave and shake hands, Franco Harris left us with one final thought:
“Joe Paterno would stand up for every Penn Stater. Now it’s time we stand up for him.”