Mayor rips Harris for JoePa comment

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has called for NFL Hall of Famer Franco Harris to step down as chair of a local scholarship foundation after the Steelers legend and former Penn State player spoke out in support of Joe Paterno, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported Thursday.

In a letter sent to Harris and board members of The Pittsburgh Promise, an irate Ravenstahl said Harris displayed "callous disregard and indifference for the victims of child sex abuse at Penn State" after he said publicly that the university’s recently dismissed coach Paterno was unfairly punished for doing what he was legally obligated to do.

Harris, who visited his former coach in State College last weekend, said Paterno fulfilled his legal obligation when he informed school officials after being made aware of an alleged child abuse incident involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky in 2002.

Sandusky has been charged with sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year period — offenses he denies.

In direct words to Harris, Ravenstahl wrote, "When I personally asked you to join the board of the Pittsburgh Promise, I had every confidence that you would exercise sound judgment in your public life. Sadly, these statements show no regard whatsoever for the well-being of the young victims of sexual abuse and have led me to question your position of trust.

"As the person who created the Pittsburgh Promise for our city’s youth and families, and the one who stood by it at a time when few others did, I must continue to act in the best interest of the young Promise scholarship recipients past, present and future.

"It is my ethical and moral responsibility to recognize that you are no longer a suitable representative for any organization, let alone ours, and demand that you resign immediately from the Board of the Pittsburgh Promise."

Harris, who was a key piece to the Steelers’ run of four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s, issued a statement Thursday in light of the backlash generated from his comments.

"I am greatly saddened by the way that personal opinions I have expressed publicly over the dismissal of my dear friend and mentor, Coach Joe Paterno, have been interpreted as my apparent disregard and absence of concern for the victims of alleged sexual abuse at Penn State University.

"Nothing could be further from the truth. My heart aches for those young people and their families who were violated in the deplorable events at Penn State. Those who know me will be aware that during my many years of public service to the Pittsburgh regional community I have held steadfastly to the conviction that the protection and well-being of our children are paramount."

Saleem Ghubril, the executive director of Pittsburgh Promise, defended Harris in an email response to the Tribune-Review Thursday.

"Franco Harris has been a committed and respected leader of The Pittsburgh Promise since it was launched, demonstrating compassionate and dedicated mentorship to our students, and as a tireless advocate of the program within our region and beyond. His integrity in all aspects of his service to The Promise is unquestionable."

Harris’ own statement revealed he had no intention of stepping down from his role with the foundation, which helps provide scholarships to public school graduates in Pittsburgh.

"The Promise is working and yet, its greatest potential still lies ahead," Harris said. "As Chairman of The Promise Board, my mission is far from complete, and I aim to see The Promise’s potential fulfilled."