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Rush to Judgement?

Al Clemens talks to WTAJ about the decision to fire Joe Paterno and sue the NCAA
Those critical of Penn State's handling of Joe Paterno, the Louis Freeh Report and the NCAA sanctions often sum up their frustration with three words. Rush to judgment. Now a trustee that voted to fire Paterno talks to WTAJ about that decision, how the university handled the following weeks of crisis, and what lies ahead.

Penn State's Board of Trustees, fired Joe Paterno on November 9th, 2011. Trustee at the time, Al Clemens says only 4 people on the board knew about the grand jury presentment before it was leaked to the media. The other trustees, including Clemens found out on november 5th. With a home game in a couple of days, firing Paterno and Spanier happened fast. Clemens participated via phone conference on November 9th.
He says, "Well it was clear Joe couldn't walk on the football field, because of hysteria that the press created." He recognizes that people didn't like how they fired Paterno over the phone. Adding, "There were so many people , so much press, students were camped out at Paterno's yard. It was considered dangerous. Surma thought he'd do it the best way, but that's not how it turned out."

Nittany Nation was stunned. Hundreds of rioters stormed through State College. They overturned and attempted to set fire to a WTAJ news truck. Clemens doesn't know what else he could have done, but recognizes it was handled poorly. In March 2014, he stepped down from the board, writing "after 61 years of exemplary service, Coach Paterno was given no chance to respond. That was a mistake. I will always regret that my name is attached to that rush to injustice."

Clemens thinks the other key mistake by the board he sat on, was failing to review the Louis Freeh report. PSU President Rodney Erickson says reviewing the Freeh report was considered, but it just wasn't feasible. He told WTAJ, "from the standpoint of the board, there was the sense that they might be criticized. that they had tampered with the findings if they had access to it. On a preliminary basis or a draft basis." While tough, he stands by the decision, saying "I still think it was the right decision to accept the consent decree that was imposed on us."

Al Clemens's roots to Penn State extend back to the 1959 class of Beta Theta Pi. The Philadelphia man, who's made his living running various insurance-related companies, donated millions to fund part of the Beaver Stadium Expansion. He is the only board member who was part of the group that fired Joe Paterno, that changed course, and joined the Paternos' lawsuit against the NCAA. Clemens is hot over what he calls "outrageous penalties on the Penn State players, without due process." He is confident of success in the lawsuit against the NCAA. He says "I think we're going to win everything, get the $60 million back, get the sanctions eliminated, get our reputation back, and get our brand restored."

He wants that to include the restoration of Joe Paterno's standing in the community and thinks when they beat the NCAA in court, Joe Paterno's statue will go back up. Al Clemens has been at odds with some at the university, but is optimistic that Dr. Eric Barron will take Penn State in the right direction.

Coming up on May 19th, Clemens and others in the lawsuit against the NCAA have a hearing in Bellefonte. They think it's going to be a crucial step in their ability to move the case forward. If it goes their way, they'd like to begin deposing or interviewing witnesses. Clemens says his hope is that their first witness to question is NCAA President, Mark Emmert.

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