Joe Paterno's Family Files Lawsuit Against NCAA, Freeh Report

The family of legendary Penn State Football coach Joe Paterno has filed a lawsuit against the NCAA alleging college football's governing body did not have jurisdiction to punish the former coach.  The lawsuit relies, in large part, on criticizing the process that resulted in the punishment as being unfair and overly reliant on the now-famous report published by former FBI director Louis Freeh that indicted Joe Paterno and other PSU officials as covering up years of sexual abuse.  Claiming the report was facually inaccurate, the Paterno family and others in the lawsuit are attempting to discredit the process that indicted the legendary head coach, resulting not only in the loss of official wins but also the severe tarnishing of a legacy that placed the former coach among the great figures of the sport. 

Paterno Family Lawsuit

In an effort to clear the family name and publically discredit the Freeh Report, the Paternos – joined by Penn State’s Board of Trustees, faculty, and former players and coaches – have taken the NCAA to court for “unlawful conduct" stemming from its "improper interference in and gross mishandling of a criminal matter that falls far outside the scope of their authority.”  With these allegations, the Paternos are claiming that the NCAA had no business issuing punishment against Joe Paterno as a football coach or Penn State’s football program for criminal behavior. 

The NCAA can, and does, punish college athletic programs for violations of it myriad of rules designed to ensure universities do not gain competitive advantage by paying players or engaging in unfair recruitment.  While criminal behavior will occasionally intersect with violations of athletic program integrity that fall under the NCAA’s umbrella of authority, the Paternos have argued that Sandusky’s conduct was so far removed from the Penn State athletic program that the NCAA exceeded its jurisdiction with its punishment. 

Stating that the NCAA “breached their contractual obligations and violated their duties of good faith and fair dealing, intentionally and tortiously interfered with Plaintiffs’ contractual relations, and defamed and commercially disparaged Plaintiffs,” the lawsuit claims that the NCAA’s improper involvement caused damage to the Paterno family and the University.

Discrediting the Freeh Report

At the heart of the defamation allegations in the lawsuit sits the Freeh Report, which has drawn ire from the Paternos and their supporters since its release.  Pulling no punches, the Freeh Report alleged widespread cover up by high ranking members of Penn State’s athletic department, including Paterno, that not only allowed Sandusky to escape prosecution, but enabled continued sexual abuse by failing to take action. In the wake of the Freeh Report, the NCAA vacated 111 of Paterno’s career wins – denying him a place in the history books as college football’s most successful coach – and fined Penn State University $60 million.  Paterno became the public face of the cover up scandal, lost his job as coach, and saw his legacy tarnished before his death last year.The Paterno family has made no secret of its disdain for the Report, and have taken repeated efforts to dispute the findings – including releasing their own, much less respected, report that directly contradicted Freeh’s findings.  The lawsuit focuses significant detail to the Report, claiming that its findings were the result of a conspiracy rather than a legitimate study.

Alleging the Freeh Report was the lynch pin supporting the bridge between Sandusky’s criminal conduct and the improper cover-up by the Penn State athletic department, the Paternos claim the Report itself was shaped by the NCAA’s desire to punish Coach Paterno and Penn State. The Report’s findings established the necessary connection between the sexual assaults and the athletic department by determining Paterno and other high ranking PSU officials covered up the events.  If the Report, which was commissioned by the NCAA, was driven by an agenda to connect responsibility for Sandusky’s continued abuses to Paterno and PSU, then not only are the NCAA’s actions questionable, but, more importantly for the Paterno family, the Freeh findings will be discredited.

It is not surprising that Joe Paterno’s surviving family have undertaken a passionate crusade to publicly clear his name, and it seems that this lawsuit offers the last chance of success.  IF a judge agrees that the Freeh Report was a conspiracy, then the indictment of Coach Paterno in the Sandusky cover up is called into question.  Ultimately a lawsuit will not change minds entirely, but as things stand the Freeh Report has been given significant credence – a fact that the Paterno family is hoping to change by officially denouncing it in a civil lawsuit.  The family makes a compelling case in its lengthy brief filed to support the suit, and they may be rewarded with the vindication they seek if all the accusations have sufficient factual support.  In the meantime, it appears that there are more facts to reveal before this story is fully written, leaving the likely final act of the Paterno family drama an interesting case to follow.

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