Franco Harris doesn't believe the NCAA sanctions against Penn State will stand, nor is he convinced that the trials of former Penn State officials will occur. Further, the former Penn State running back said, he sees opinions shifting about his alma mater's role in the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
"The narrative is starting to change," Harris said Friday. "The [grand jury] presentment and the Freeh Report are falling apart. The NCAA [sanctions], that will fall apart. There will be no trials for [Tim] Curley and [Gary] Schultz. There's no case. We're starting to find the truth."
More than 200 turned out Friday in King of Prussia for an event Harris hosted and funded, presenting a defense of Penn State and late football coach Joe Paterno. "Upon Further Review: Penn State One Year Later" offered a critical look at the Sandusky investigation, former FBI Director Louis Freeh's findings and the media's coverage of the entire scandal.
It was the second of three such sessions, and Harris said he hopes to schedule more in the future. The first was held last December in Pittsburgh. Another is scheduled for Saturday night near Washington, D.C.
Friday's crowd heard more than three hours of presentations detailing what panelists called flaws in the following: the November 2011 grand jury presentment that led to charges against Sandusky, former Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and former Vice President Gary Schultz; Freeh's July 2012 report that concluded Paterno and other Penn State officials concealed allegations against Sandusky to avoid negative publicity; and media coverage whose focus weighed too heavily on Paterno.
"Yes, in time we believe the truth will eventually vindicate Penn State and Joe Paterno," said Eileen Morgan, a 1990 Penn State graduate who has analyzed the grand jury presentment and the Freeh Report. "But most important, we seek the truth for the victims [of Sandusky], so what happened doesn't happen again."
Sandusky, convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse last June, is serving a 30-to-60-year sentence in a maximum security state prison in Greene County. Curley, Schultz and former Penn State President Graham Spanier await trial on various charges, including perjury, with regard to their role in the Sandusky scandal. Paterno, who was fired in November 2011, died two months later.
Harris, the former Penn State and Pittsburgh Steelers running back, said he has undertaken this defense because so much of what happened "doesn't make sense" to him. Harris said Penn State's board of trustees overreacted in firing Paterno based on the grand jury presentment.
He said that the NCAA did the same in sanctioning Penn State's football program based on the Freeh Report. Both documents contained "fallacies and misleading statements," Harris said.
"We're just trying to find the truth," Harris said. "Can you believe what people have found out in a year, doing it in their spare time and for free? They didn't get paid $6.5 million."
Penn State said last summer that the Freeh Report cost $6.5 million. Anthony Lubrano, a panelist Friday and a Penn State's trustee, estimated the cost at closer to $12 million.
Panelist Ray Blehar, who has served as a U.S. government analyst for 27 years, broke down the first of a series of reports he's writing on the Freeh Report and the NCAA sanctions. Blehar, who has an MBA from Penn State, said he wrote a letter to Penn State President Rodney Erickson last year offering to help rebut the report's findings.
After receiving no response, Blehar said, he began work on his reports, the first of which he released last week. Blehar noted 50 findings of the Freeh Report, only five of which he could substantiate.
In an upcoming report, Blehar said he will break down his case for repealing the NCAA's sanctions against Penn State, which include a $60 million fine, a four-year bowl ban and scholarship reductions.
"The easy part to me is the NCAA sanctions," Blehar said. "Everybody in this room right now feels they're not going to stand, because the evidence is so slim and the NCAA is fighting for its life."
The program began with a showing of the 30-minute documentary "The Framing of Joe Paterno." Los Angeles filmmaker John Ziegler, who did not attend Penn State, said he began the project to expose how the media created a narrative that did not adhere to "the actual facts."
Ziegler, a former radio and TV host in Philadelphia, hired a polling firm last year to examine public perception about the scandal. When asked whether the statement "Joe Paterno was accused of molesting children," was true or false, 55 percent of the poll's responders said it was false. Twenty-eight percent said it was true.
"As we've seen with Lance Armstrong and Manti Te'o, when the media fall in love with a narrative, look out," said Ziegler, who's film will be shown at a national documentary festival in April. "This isn't a case of reasonable doubt or rush to judgment. This is a case where the actual facts are totally different than what has been portrayed."