This story has been updated.
Pennsylvania’s senators on Thursday announced that they are rescinding their support for the nomination of Joe Paterno for a Presidential Medal of Freedom, one day after the longtime Penn State football coach was fired by the school’s board of trustees in the wake of a child sex-abuse scandal that has shocked the country.
“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,” Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said in a statement.
“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 an appearance earlier Thursday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Toomey called Paterno an “icon” and described the scandal as “devastating,” but said he did not want to challenge the board’s decision, according to The Hill.
Casey had earlier told The Philadelphia Inquirer that “there’s some accountability issues here — people who may not have broken the law but have a duty that they may not have discharged.”
Another Pennsylvanian, former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), took to Twitter Thursday to call for “due process” for Paterno.
“Before you throw somebody away, due process should be done — at least an investigation. Both have failed to do that,” Sestak, a former two-term congressman who lost a bid for Senate last year, said in a tweet Thursday morning.
Sestak also posted the statement on his Facebook page Thursday — and was immediately inundated with responses that highlighted the intense emotions surrounding the issue. Only a handful of commenters defended Sestak; the majority of those posting took issue with the Pennsylvania Democrat’s statement about Paterno.
“Joe while I ‘get’ the due process bit, the indictment is rather clear,” one commenter wrote. “Is an employer obligated to follow due process in dismissing an employee?”
Another user wrote: “Yes, the facts have to be in before you fire someone. But the facts are in. He’s more or less admitted that he knew molestation was occurring. All the other evidence only suggests that it was even worse than he admits. This isn’t fire vs. not fire, this is fire vs. jail. We’ll wait for due process on that one.”
The firing of Paterno and Penn State President Graham Spanier was announced by the university’s board shortly after 10 p.m. Wednesday, hours after Paterno had stated that he intended to remain at the school through the end of the football season.
Thousands of Penn State students reacted with anger late Wednesday at the news of Paterno’s firing, overturning a news van and pulling down street lamps as they rioted in the streets around the university.
Jerry Sandusky, Paterno’s longtime assistant coach, has been charged with sexually assaulting at least eight boys over a span of 15 years.
A grand jury investigation found that in 2002, Paterno had been told by a graduate student that he had witnessed Sandusky allegedly raping a young boy late at night in the shower of the university’s football building. Paterno reported the incident to his superiors, according to the grand jury report, but he, Spanier and others at the university have been criticized for not alerting authorities.
Reaction to the incident among current and former Pennsylvania lawmakers has been mixed.
The Department of Education is launching an investigation into the scandal after Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.) earlier this week wrote a letter urging Education Secretary Arne Duncan to find “whether federal law was broken in the failure to properly report allegations of sexual abuse at Penn State.” Meehan did not have any immediate statement Thursday morning.
In an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) called Paterno an “icon” and described the scandal as “devastating,” but said he did not want to challenge the board’s decision, according to The Hill.
Sen. Bob Casey’s (D-Pa.) office did not have any immediate comment on Thursday; earlier in the week, he told The Philadelphia Inquirer that “there’s some accountability issues here — people who may not have broken the law but have a duty that they may not have discharged.”