Group of Penn State football lettermen call Paterno movie 'uninformed' and 'reckless'

Al Pacino as Joe Paterno. (HBO)
Al Pacino as Joe Paterno. (HBO)

Many of Joe Paterno’s players were not pleased with how the longtime Penn State coach was portrayed in the HBO film “Paterno.”

A statement signed by nearly 300 Penn State football lettermen, including Franco Harris and Ki-Jana Carter, called the film, which stars Al Pacino as Paterno, “uninformed” and says it “fails in every manner” to depict the late coach. The film’s director, the statement says, “takes shameless liberties about the Jerry Sandusky scandal and Joe’s knowledge of it that would certainly be proven libelous if Joe were alive today.”

Here is the statement in its entirety:

“As Penn State Lettermen, there was never a question that one day we would see a movie made about Joe Paterno, one that showcased his impact on the game of football, on Penn State University and, on the thousands of men he coached and mentored over his 61-year career.

“Sadly — and wrongly — HBO’s ‘Paterno’ is not that movie. It has been described by producer Barry Levinson as a work of fiction, which is likely the only truth in the entire project. Incredibly, in making the movie, Levinson and his team never consulted a single person who was close to, worked with, or was coached by Joe Paterno. Not even family members or us, who undoubtedly knew him best of all.

“As a result, this uninformed depiction of Joe fails in every manner about the man we knew and loved. Deviously using ‘fiction’ as his shield, Levinson takes shameless liberties about the Sandusky scandal and Joe’s knowledge of it that would certainly be proven libelous if Joe were alive today.

“As a coach, educator and philanthropist, Joe Paterno was a positive force in our lives, molding us not only to win games, but to win in life. His character, integrity, and moral compass will live on in us long after the ill-gotten ratings of this reckless attempt at entertainment fades away.”

“Paterno,” which premiered on HBO on Saturday night, focused on the the Sandusky scandal at Penn State, beginning around the time the Sandusky indictment became public in November 2011.

Sandusky, a longtime assistant coach under Paterno, was found guilty of 45 counts of child sexual abuse in June 2012. He coached under Paterno at Penn State from 1969 until his retirement in 1999.

Paterno was PSU’s head coach from 1966 until he was fired Nov. 8, 2011, three days after Sandusky’s arrest. Paterno died of lung cancer in January 2012.

Levinson said the film aimed to have viewers make their “own judgment” about what Paterno may or may not have known about Sandusky.

“‘Paterno’ is not a sprawling piece that spans years,” Levinson said in an HBO release. “It unfolds largely over a two-week period, when we watch the events play out. I’m not following an agenda or trying to tell the audience to take a certain side in regards to Coach Paterno. The film lays out the elements of the story and leaves you to make your own judgment. There are times when you may feel one way, and times when you may feel a totally different way, and I think that’s what makes the piece so compelling. Joe Paterno was known as an honorable man, an educator, a humanitarian — so trying to make sense out of what happened is, for me, the most fascinating aspect of the story. What did he understand? What did he not understand?”

Ahead of the film’s premiere, the Paterno family issued a statement:

“The HBO movie regarding Joe Paterno is a fictionalized portrayal of the tragic events surrounding Jerry Sandusky’s crimes. Numerous scenes, events and dialogue bear no resemblance to what actually transpired.”

In grand jury testimony from winter 2011, Paterno testified that former PSU assistant Mike McQueary told him he had seen Sandusky “fondling a young boy” in the showers and that it was “of a sexual nature.” Paterno said McQueary did not get into specifics. Paterno said he notified then-athletic director Tim Curley about what McQueary told him. Paterno has been criticized for not doing more.

In the Freeh Report, a Penn State-sanctioned investigation into the Sandusky situation released in July 2012, it is alleged that Paterno, along with former school president Graham Spanier, Curley and former senior vice president for business and finance Gary Schultz, were aware of complaints against Sandusky. In one instance, the Freeh Report accuses Spanier, Curley and Schultz of choosing not to report the allegation against Sandusky which was relayed from McQueary to Paterno.

The Paterno family has long argued that Joe did not have knowledge of Sandusky’s crimes.

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Sam Cooper is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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