Franco Harris has become collateral damage in the Penn State child sex abuse scandal.
Franco is best known for making one of the four or five greatest plays in professional football history, catching a ball that evidently bounced off the helmets and bodies of other players and then running for a game winning touchdown as time expired in the very first play-off game of the Pittsburgh Steelers team that went on to capture four Super Bowl titles in six years.
All Franco did was say that Joe Paterno, his former coach, didn’t do anything wrong and did not deserve to be fired. He showed support for the man who selected him for athletic greatness in high school and then showed him how to be both the Hall of Fame player and the community leader that Franco became after leaving Penn State for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Would you fire a son for saying that his dad was innocent?
Anyone who doubts that Joe Paterno has been a father figure for Franco Harris for forty some odd years probably has never spent even a minute in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
But first a race track fired Franco as spokesperson and then the Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh, the notoriously callow and mediocre Luke Ravenstahl, forced Franco to resign as president of Pittsburgh Promise, a local public-private partnership which guarantees college money for anyone graduating from Pittsburgh Public Schools who is admitted to a college in Pennsylvania.
I don’t agree with Franco that Joe Paterno should not have been fired. Coach had a serious lapse of ethical judgment in not following up more aggressively after he passed on the allegations of sexual abuse to his superiors. There was no excuse for it. Over time, I believe that most people will remember Joe Paterno for running a model college football program that graduated its players and prepared them for the real world of life after football. But for now, Penn State and we as a community of people have to do what we have to do, which is make sure that everyone understands that protecting our children from sexual predators is more important than a football team. Joe had to go.
But I can’t find fault with anyone for providing moral support for Joe Paterno, while making clear that they are against child abuse. I’m excluding, of course, those who select violence or the destruction of property as their means of expressing support. These hoodlums should spend a few days in jail and make restitution.
But punish Franco Harris for supporting his coach?
Let the guy continue to serve on boards, help non-profit organizations raise money and actively sell important ideas about health, education and safety to the community, while making a little money serving as a respected corporate spokesperson.
The only good coming out of L’Affaire Franco is that now we know what a witch hunt looks like.