Support for a nomination for Joe Paterno for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, has been rescinded by two of the men who made the recommendation.
In September, U.S. Sens. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, Pat Toomey, R-Zionsville, and U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, crafted a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to consider awarding the then-Penn State University football coach “for his substantial contributions to collegiate athletics, higher education and American society.”
Since that time, much has changed.
On Wednesday, Paterno, 84, was fired from the position he has held for 46 years amidst an ongoing sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the university. Paterno’s former assistant Jerry Sandusky is charged with abusing eight boys over a 15-year period. National media attention has engulfed the bucolic town of State College and the scandal, in addition to Paterno, has also cost Penn State President Graham Spanier his job. Multiple investigations are under way by the school, state and federal governments to find out the extent of the abuse and any cover up.
A statement issued Thursday by the two senators explains their decision to rescind their nomination.
“In light of the recent events in State College, we are rescinding our support for the nomination of Joe Paterno for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. We hope the proper authorities will move forward with their investigation without delay. Penn State is an important institution in our commonwealth. We should turn our attention to the victims of these atrocious crimes and ensure they get the help they need. Our hearts and prayers go out to them and their families.”
In the letter dated Sept. 7, the trio asked Obama for his support. The letter details Paterno’s on-field endeavors and accomplishments including records for most major college football wins and two national championships.
“While these numbers are unrivaled, Coach Paterno’s contributions to society off the field are even more noteworthy,” the letter states. It goes on to say: “Coach Paterno over the years has shown tremendous character and loyalty. Throughout his time at Penn State, he has remained committed to reaching goals without sacrificing the ideals that are central to higher education.”
In an emailed comment, Thompson said, “The Senators have every right to rescind their nomination.” He said there were dozens of members of Congress that signed on to the letter recommending the nomination and each of those members also have the opportunity to rescind their support. Support for Paterno, Thompson said, is something “you’d be hard pressed to find given the troubling events that have come to light over the past few days.” His spokesman did not reply to a question asking whether Thompson too would rescind his support.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom honors individuals who make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
More than 1,000 people have received the award, which was first issued in 1963, including dozens from the world of sports. Among past recipients are Hank Aaron, Muhammad Ali, Jesse Owens, Bear Bryant and John Wooden.