Sue Paterno defends late husband

Sue Paterno, the widow of late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, has emailed a letter to hundreds of former Nittany Lions players informing them that a report, commissioned by the family in response to the Freeh report that followed the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case, will be released Sunday.

The Freeh report, authored by former FBI head Louis Freeh, was highly critical of Joe Paterno and other administrators at Penn State in their handling of the Sandusky scandal. The NCAA later imposed unprecedented sanctions on Penn State based on the conclusions of the Freeh report.

Breaking more than a year of silence, Sue Paterno said in her letter to players Friday that her commissioned report presents "a persuasive critique of the Freeh report as a total disservice to victims of Sandusky and the cause of preventing child sex offenses."

The report also questions the interpretation of evidence by the Freeh report and the NCAA's actions in sanctioning Penn State. In her letter to players, Sue Paterno also defends her late husband as a "moral, disciplined" man who never twisted the truth to avoid bad publicity.

Joe Paterno died in January 2012 at age 85, about two months after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

"When the Freeh report was released last July, I was as shocked as anyone by the findings and by Mr. Freeh's extraordinary attack on Joe's character and integrity. I did not recognize the man Mr. Freeh described," Sue Paterno wrote. "I am here to tell you as definitively and forcefully as I know how that Mr. Freeh could not have been more wrong in his assessment of Joe."

The family directed its attorney, Washington lawyer Wick Sollers, to assemble experts to review Freeh's findings and Joe Paterno's actions, Sue Paterno wrote.

She did not offer details on findings in the letter, "except to say that they unreservedly and forcefully confirm my beliefs about Joe's conduct."

Sue Paterno said neither Freeh's report nor the NCAA's actions should "close the book" on the scandal.

"This cannot happen," she wrote. "The Freeh report failed and if it is not challenged and corrected, nothing worthwhile will have come from these tragic events."

In a statement released through a spokesman, Penn State called Sue Paterno "an important and valued member of the Penn State community.

"We have and continue to appreciate all of her work on behalf of the university," the school said. "She has touched many lives and continues to be an inspiration to many Penn Staters."

At 9 a.m. ET Sunday on ESPN, "Outside the Lines" will convene an exclusive panel composed of authors of the new report to discuss their review of the Freeh report and their assessment of the NCAA's actions. The Paterno family's response to the Freeh report will officially be released to the public at 9 a.m. Sunday on paterno.com.

Sandusky's arrest in November 2011 triggered the sweeping scandal, including the firing of Joe Paterno and the departure under pressure of Graham Spanier as president days later. Prosecutors filed perjury and failure to report charges against former athletic director Tim Curley and retired vice president Gary Schultz.

Sandusky, 69, was sentenced this past fall to at least 30 years in prison after being convicted in June on 45 criminal counts. Prosecutors said abuse occurred on and off campus.

"The crimes committed by Jerry Sandusky are heartbreaking," wrote Sue Paterno, who has five children and 17 grandchildren. "It is incomprehensible to me that anyone could intentionally harm a child. I think of the victims daily and I pray that God will heal their wounds and comfort their souls."

Freeh released his findings in July. His team conducted 430 interviews and analyzed more than 3.5 million emails and documents, his report said.

"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 child abuse" from authorities, trustees and the university community, Freeh wrote in releasing the report.

Less than two weeks later, Penn State hastily took down the bronze statue of Joe Paterno outside Beaver Stadium. The next day, the NCAA said Freeh's report presented "an unprecedented failure of institutional integrity leading to a culture in which a football program was held in higher esteem."

Penn State was given a four-year bowl ban, strict scholarship cuts and a $60 million fine. The NCAA also vacated 111 wins under Joe Paterno, meaning he no longer held the record of most wins by a major college coach.

Since then, Spanier, Curley and Schultz have been charged with obstruction and conspiracy, among other charges. They have vehemently denied the allegations. So has the Paterno family, although it had promised a more detailed response when its own investigation was complete.

Joe Paterno's legacy wasn't his statue or his 409 wins, but family and players, his widow said. Less than an hour after the letter was released, a copy was circulating on social media and websites, including one belonging to Seattle Seahawks fullback and former Nittany Lion Michael Robinson.

"The great fathers, husbands and citizens you have become fulfill the dreams Joe had," she wrote to the former players. "All that we want -- and what I believe we owe the victims, Joe Paterno and everyone who cares about Penn State -- is the full record of what happened."

The way university leadership handled Joe Paterno's ouster -- over a late-night telephone call -- and its handling of the Freeh report and NCAA sanctions remain a sensitive topic for factions of dissatisfied alumni, former players, staff and community members.

"I think Sue hit it directly on the head with everything," Robinson said. "Personally, I've been feeling this way for the past year. The Joe the media was portraying was so different from the Joe I know."

Trustee Anthony Lubrano, who joined the board last year after drawing support from disgruntled alumni, has been among more vocal critics who say school leaders rushed to judgment on Joe Paterno. Critics also have said Freeh's report downplayed failures of Pennsylvania's child-protective services.

"I knew Joe Paterno as well as one human being can know another. Joe was exactly the moral, disciplined and demanding man you knew him to be," Sue Paterno wrote. "Over the years I watched as he struggled with countless personal and professional challenges. Never -- not once -- did I see him compromise his principles or twist the truth to avoid bad publicity or protect his reputation."

The Paterno family has remained supportive of the football program and Joe Paterno's successor, Bill O'Brien. Sue Paterno has been active in organizing Special Olympics, which was again held on campus last summer; son and former assistant coach Jay Paterno has done speaking engagements with students and attends sporting events.

On Monday, a recorded interview Sue Paterno did with Katie Couric for her "Katie" show will air nationwide. A preview was posted on the show's website this week.

"It is still hard to accept," Sue Paterno told Couric when asked about hearing the Sandusky news. "But when I read the first charge, I actually got physically ill. I've had so many sleepless nights."

In the preview, Sue Paterno elaborated.

"These are children," she said. "Our lives have been about children. We have five children. We have 17 grandchildren. Our lives are about children, making them better, not hurting them."

The family's response comes a month after Gov. Tom Corbett filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA to overturn the sanctions. The NCAA this week asked a judge to throw out the suit.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.