Nike co-founder Phil Knight has issued a statement blasting the Freeh report's characterization of Penn State coach Joe Paterno in the child sex abuse scandal involving assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
Following the release last year of former FBI director Louis Freeh's report, Knight issued a statement saying he was saddened that Paterno apparently made missteps that led to “heartbreaking consequences.”
But Knight now says that he may have jumped to conclusions, after a new critique that was commissioned by the Paterno family and carried out by experts that included Dick Thornburgh, a former U.S. attorney general and governor of Pennsylvania.
In a statement released Monday, Knight called the findings of the Freeh report unjustified and unsubstantiated. He also criticized the NCAA's subsequent sanctions on Penn State's football program as unwarranted.
“When this tragic story first unfolded Joe cautioned all of us to slow down and carefully gather the facts before jumping to conclusions,” Knight said in the statement. “We owed it to the victims, he said, to get to the truth. It was counsel we all should have followed.”
Sandusky, 69, is serving a 30- to 60-year prison term for the sexual abuse of 10 boys over a period of 15 years, including attacks on children inside Penn State athletics facilities.
Paterno died in January 2012 at age 85. Knight spoke at Paterno's memorial service, but after the Freeh report was released he took the name off the Joe Paterno Child Development Center at Nike headquarters in Beaverton.
The Freeh report concluded that Paterno and other university officials covered up allegations against Sandusky to spare the university bad publicity. But the family's review said the cover-up claims were inaccurate, were unfounded and equated to a “rush to injustice.”
Paterno's family released the review of Freeh's investigation on Sunday. The findings were posted on the website paterno.com.
“There's simply nothing in this record, in the Freeh report, that indicates he (Paterno) was involved in any way,” Thornburgh told The Associated Press.
Freeh defended his report.
“I stand by our conclusion that four of the most powerful people at Penn State failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade,” he said in a statement issued Sunday through a spokesman.
The NCAA took unprecedented action in the wake of the Freeh report by quickly levying strict sanctions on Penn State's football team, including a four-year bowl ban, strict scholarship cuts and a $60 million fine on the university. College sports' governing body also vacated 111 wins under Paterno, erasing what had been his major college record of 409 career victories.
Knight took issue with the sanctions in his statement, which was first obtained by ESPN.com.
“The NCAA acted outside its charter and rendered judgment absent any kind of investigation or judicial hearing. It was simply grandstanding,” Knight said.
An NCAA spokeswoman said the organization stood by its previous statements and declined to comment Sunday.