Just two months ago, Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) nominated recently fired Penn State football coach Joe Paterno for the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, according to the New York Daily News. They all sent a letter to President Obama recommending Paterno, the all-time Division I football leader in wins (409), for the award, while citing his substantial contributions to collegiate athletics, higher education and American society.
However, on Thursday, Toomey and Casey rescinded their nomination less than 24 hours after the Nittany Lions legend was axed.
On Friday, Thompson, who is a Penn State alumnus, followed suit in a letter to Obama. It read:
Dear Mr. President:
Last month, I wrote you along side of my congressional colleagues to request your consideration of The Pennsylvania State University's football coach Joe Paterno for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The recommendation for the highest civilian honor was based upon Mr. Paterno's long term contributions to society on and off the field, and his personal commitment to the success of his students and numerous philanthropic endeavors.
Due to the tragic events that surround The Pennsylvania State University, it is with a heavy heart that I respectfully withdraw my support for Mr. Paterno's nomination. As a proud Penn State alumnus, I believe the nomination at this time only serves as a distraction from the most important issue - supporting the victims, their families and our community.
Glenn 'GT' Thompson
Member of Congress
Meanwhile, Toomey and Casey, in a joint statement Thursday, wrote: 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.
The withdrawal of the nomination from the three Congressional members comes amid Paterno's implication in the sex abuse scandal surrounding his former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
Paterno, who was alerted in 2002 by Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant at the time and current receivers coach, that McQueary had seen Sandusky allegedly having anal sex with a 10-year-old boy in the showers of the football locker room, testified to a grand jury that he reported McQueary's allegations to school officials, but did not notify police. After the incident, Paterno allowed Sandusky, who no longer coached at the school, access to university facilities.
The school officials that Paterno notified in 2002 -- athletic director Tim Curley and Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz -- have been charged with failing to report the incident to police, despite the two reporting it to their own boss, President Graham Spanier. Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly, however, has not ruled out charges against Spanier.
Paterno himself is not a target of the criminal investigation, but the state police commissioner called his failure to contact police himself a lapse in moral responsibility.
Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who played for Paterno and has been on the football staff for 33 years, was appointed interim coach. According to ESPN, Bradley said he called Paterno after the firings Wednesday night but declined to divulge what was said. He did speak about his personal connection with Paterno, though.
Coach Paterno has meant more to me than anybody except my father, said Bradley. I don't want to get emotional talking about that. Coach Paterno will go down in history as one of the greatest men, who maybe most of you know as a great football coach. I've had the privilege and the honor to work for him, spend time with him. He's had such dynamic impact on so many, so many, I'll say it again, so many people and players' lives. It's with great respect that I speak of him and I'm proud to say that I worked for him.
Paterno said in his statement earlier Wednesday that he was absolutely devastated by the Sandusky case.
This is a tragedy, Paterno said. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.