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Why Phil Knight changed his opinion on Joe Paterno

Phil Knight, cofounder of Nike, changed his opinion after hearing the Paterno family's rebuttal to the claims that Coach Joe Paterno knowingly allowed Jerry Sandusky's sexual abuse of children to continue.

By Genaro C. ArmasAssociated Press / February 11, 2013

Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach convicted of sexually abusing boys, leaves the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pa. on Dec. 13, 2011. Longtime coach Joe Paterno has been accused of turning a blind eye to the abuse, but Nike chairman Phil Knight said Monday that he no longer believes that.

Matt Rourke/AP/File

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa.

Phil Knight, cofounder of Nike, has shifted from his previously stated opinion to side with Joe Paterno's family. The Paterno family released its response to Penn State's report on the Jerry Sandusky scandal Sunday, attacking Louis Freeh's conclusion that the coach hid sex abuse allegations against his longtime assistant.

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In a report commissioned by the family, former US Attorney General and Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh said the investigation by former FBI director Freeh resulted in a "rush to injustice." Phil Knight agreed, calling the Freeh report "unjustified."

That report, authorized by the university, found that Paterno and three former administrators covered up child sexual abuse allegations against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Those findings last July were unsupported by the facts, said the family critique.

"The lack of factual report for the ... inaccurate and unfounded findings related to Mr. Paterno, and its numerous process-oriented deficiencies, was a rush to injustice and calls into question the credibility of the entire Report," Thornburgh was quoted as saying in the family's analysis, posted on the website paterno.com.

Months in the making, the report was billed as an independent analysis of the work by Freeh, who defended his report Sunday.

"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 through a spokesman.

The family's report concluded that observations related to Paterno in the Freeh report were unfounded, and were a disservice to Paterno, the university community and Sandusky's victims, "and the critical mission of educating the public on the dangers of child sexual victimization."

The central claim that Paterno "was engaged in a conspiracy ... there's simply no basis anywhere in the report for that finding. That in my view renders the whole report of very little value," Thornburgh said in an interview with The Associated Press. "There's simply nothing in this record, in the Freeh report, that indicates he was involved in any way."

Freeh's findings also implicated former administrators in university President Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and retired Vice President Gary Schultz. Less than two weeks after the Freeh report was released in July, the NCAA acted with uncharacteristic speed in levying massive sanctions against the football program for the scandal.

"Taking into account the available witness statements and evidence, it is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State University – Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley – repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's childabuse," Freeh wrote in releasing the report.

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