STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight got a standing ovation at Joe Paterno’s public memorial Thursday for defending the late coach’s response to an accusation of child sex abuse against a former assistant.
At a ceremony filled with lavish praise that would likely have embarrassed the school’s beloved coach, Knight waded into a subject that had been virtually ignored since Paterno died on Sunday from lung cancer — the immediate cause of his firing after 46 seasons leading Penn State’s football team to a record-setting 409 wins.
University trustees have said a major reason Paterno was ousted Nov. 9 was that he failed to alert anyone beyond his two superiors at the school when he was told of an abuse allegation against former assistant Jerry Sandusky in 2002. Sandusky was charged with dozens of child sex abuse counts on Nov. 5, two school officials were charged with perjury and former school president Graham Spanier was pushed out the same night as Paterno.
Commenting on those events, Knight said, "it turns out [Paterno] gave full disclosure to his superiors, information that went up the chains to the head of the campus police and the president of the school. The matter was in the hands of a world-class university, and by a president with an outstanding national reputation."
Knight added, "... this much is clear to me. If there is a villain in this tragedy, it lies in that investigation and not in Joe Paterno."
The remark drew a standing ovation from the crowd of 12,000 at the Bryce Jordan Center — with Paterno’s widow, Sue, and former defensive coordinator, Tom Bradley, among those rising to their feet.
"Who is the real trustee at Penn State University?" Knight asked.
The campus has been torn by anger over the Sandusky scandal and Paterno’s firing, but this week thousands of alumni, fans, students and former players in Happy Valley have remembered Paterno for his stellar career, his love for the school and his generosity.