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Associated Press
This photo released by ABC shows Sue Paterno, right, widow of coach Joe Paterno, with Katie Couric for an interview for the “Katie” show in New York.

Paterno’s widow defends husband’s legacy

– Breaking more than a year of silence, Sue Paterno is defending her late husband as a “moral, disciplined” man who never twisted the truth to avoid bad publicity.

The widow of the former Penn State coach is fighting back against the accusations against Joe Paterno that followed the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Her campaign started with a letter sent Friday to former Penn State players.

She wrote that the family’s exhaustive response to former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s report for the university on the Sandusky child sex abuse case will officially be released to the public at 9 a.m. Sunday on Paterno.com.

Freeh in July accused Joe Paterno and three university officials of covering up allegations against Sandusky, a retired defensive coordinator. Less than two weeks later, the NCAA levied unprecedented sanctions on the program that Paterno built.

“When the Freeh report was released last July, I was as shocked as anyone by the findings and by Mr. Freeh’s extraordinary attack on Joe’s character and integrity. I did not recognize the man Mr. Freeh described,” Sue Paterno wrote. “I am here to tell you as definitively and forcefully as I know how that Mr. Freeh could not have been more wrong in his assessment of Joe.”

The family directed its attorney, Washington lawyer Wick Sollers, to assemble experts to review Freeh’s findings and Joe Paterno’s actions, Sue Paterno wrote.

She did not offer details on findings in the letter, “except to say that they unreservedly and forcefully confirm my beliefs about Joe’s conduct.”

“In addition, they present a passionate and persuasive critique of the Freeh report as a total disservice to the victims of Sandusky and the cause of preventing child sex offenses,” Sue Paterno wrote.

Sue Paterno said neither Freeh’s report, nor the NCAA’s actions, should “close the book” on the scandal.

In a statement released through a spokesman, Penn State called Sue Paterno “an important and valued member of the Penn State community.

“We have and continue to appreciate all of her work on behalf of the university. She has touched many lives and continues to be an inspiration to many Penn Staters.”

The Associated Press left messages Friday for representatives for Freeh.

Sandusky’s arrest in November 2011 triggered the sweeping scandal, including the firing of Paterno and the departure under pressure of Graham Spanier as president days later. Prosecutors filed perjury and failure to report charges against former athletic director Tim Curley and retired vice president Gary Schultz.

Sandusky, 69, was sentenced last fall to at least 30 years in prison after being convicted in June on 45 criminal counts.

“The crimes committed by Jerry Sandusky are heartbreaking,” wrote Sue Paterno, who has five children and 17 grandchildren. “It is incomprehensible to me that anyone could intentionally harm a child. I think of the victims daily and I pray that God will heal their wounds and comfort their souls.”

Freeh released his findings the following month. His team conducted 430 interviews and analyzed more than 3.5 million emails and documents, his report said.

“Taking into account the available witness statements and evidence, it is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State University – Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley – repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse” from authorities, trustees and the university community, Freeh wrote in releasing the report.

Less than two weeks later, Penn State hastily took down the bronze statue of Paterno outside Beaver Stadium. The next day, the NCAA said Freeh’s report presented “an unprecedented failure of institutional integrity leading to a culture in which a football program was held in higher esteem.”

Penn State was given a four-year bowl ban, strict scholarship cuts and a $60 million fine. The NCAA also vacated 111 victories under Paterno, meaning he no longer holds the record of most wins by a major college coach.

Since then, Spanier, Curley and Schultz have also been charged with obstruction and conspiracy, among other charges. They have denied the allegations. So has the Paterno family, though they have promised a more detailed response when its own investigation was complete.

Paterno’s legacy wasn’t his statue or his 409 wins, but family and players, his widow said.

Paterno died in January 2012 at age 85, about two months after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

On Monday, a recorded interview Sue Paterno did with Katie Couric for her “Katie” show will air nationwide. A preview was posted on the show’s website this week.

“It is still hard to accept,” Sue Paterno told Couric when asked about hearing the Sandusky news. “But when I read the first charge, I actually got physically ill.

“I’ve had so many sleepless nights.”

In the preview, Sue Paterno elaborated.

“These are children,” she said. “Our lives have been about children. We have five children. We have 17 grandchildren. Our lives are about children, making them better, not hurting them.”

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