COLUMBIA — A state lawmaker took Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel to task Thursday for his recent defense of former Penn State coach Joe Paterno as "a great man."
State Rep. Sara Lampe issued a statement Thursday criticizing what she called the "Mizzou coach's defense of a child rapist enabler." Lampe is a Springfield Democrat seeking her party's nomination for lieutenant governor in an eight-candidate primary election on Aug. 7.
Pinkel defended Paterno on Tuesday while speaking with reporters at the Southeastern Conference's preseason football event. He called the Penn State sex abuse scandal a "tragic situation," but said Paterno's legacy shouldn't be tarnished by the actions of Jerry Sandusky.
Paterno's former top assistant coach is awaiting sentencing after being convicted last month of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years. Paterno died in January of lung cancer at age 85.
"Joe Paterno's a friend that I got to know professionally, and you can't take away the greatness of this man," Pinkel said. "He was a great man. However you analyze this, you can't erase all that this guy's done. You can't do that. Nobody can do that."
In an interview with The Associated Press, Lampe said she felt compelled to speak out after hearing Pinkel's "revered comments."
"I believe Coach Pinkel was using his public voice to do what's right, and I'm doing the same," said Lampe, a former high school teacher and principal. "I have spent 30 years standing up for children."
Lampe said she read an executive summary of the 267-page report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, which was released on July 12. In it, Freeh concluded that Paterno, ousted Penn State President Graham Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley and other top officials ignored child sex abuse allegations against Sandusky more than a decade ago to avoid bad publicity.
Pinkel said last week that "I don't read a lot about it," and seemingly dismissed the investigation during his remarks Tuesday as a case of people who "are going to point fingers."
"It's so easy in hindsight to go back there and say what it is," Pinkel said. "But don't take away all this guy did, and to sit there and blame him for all this, I think is wrong."
Lampe said that by Thursday afternoon, she had already been excoriated for her strong words. Her statement lumped Pinkel in among "all but the most sycophantic of Paterno worshippers" who still defend the late Penn State coach despite the report's findings.
Freeh and his team, which included lawyers and former law enforcement officials, interviewed more than 430 people and examined more than 3.5 million emails, handwritten notes and other documents. Paterno died before he could be interviewed, but testified before a grand jury.
"Coach Pinkel's defense of the indefensible indicates that he holds the same attitude that allowed the reprehensible situation at Penn State to occur; the attitude that building a successful football program is more important than everything else, including protecting innocent children from rapists," Lampe's statement said.
Missouri football spokesman Chad Moller said that Pinkel and the university would not comment on Lampe's remarks.