Bush Regrets ‘Mess’ Surrounding Paterno Speech
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno said Wednesday that George Bush had expressed regrets to him about a controversy dogging the coach’s speech at the Republican National Convention.
Paterno has drawn criticism from Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor for agreeing to deliver a brief address on Wednesday seconding Bush’s presidential nomination.
Bush telephoned Paterno last week and said, ″Gee, I hope I didn’t get you into a mess up there,″ the coach told reporters.
Paterno, 61, admitted he had second thoughts about giving one of the seven speeches on behalf of Bush’s nomination, but decided to go forward because of his admiration for the vice president.
In his speech, Paterno said, ″I know a lot of you are wondering what an Italian-American football coach from Brooklyn is doing here. So am I. But, after 40 years of trying to help young men and women reach their potential as human beings, I’m here as an educator.″
Recalling the spirited defense of Bush from former President Gerald R. Ford earlier this week, Paterno shouted, ″I’ll be damned if I’ll sit still while people who can’t carry George Bush’s shoes ridicule him.″
Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey has said it was ″probably not a good thing for the university″ for Paterno to make the televised appearance at the political convention.
Seth Williams, Penn State’s student government president, said, ″It’s wrong for an academic institution to actually involve itself in partisan politics.″
Asked before his two-minute speech whether he had any second thoughts, Paterno replied, ″To be frank with you, a little bit after the flak came out. And then I said, that’s ridiculous because I really want to do it. Let me put it this way - because I have that kind of respect for Bush.″
Pate Paterno said that, if asked, he would even appear in a campaign commercial for Bush.
The coach’s speech marked his return to the Superdome, where his football team has won one Sugar Bowl game and lost two. Paterno won his first national championship at the arena by beating Georgia in 1982.
Paterno dismissed suggestions that his speech could serve as a springboard into politics, saying he liked to participate in campaigns but has no personal political ambitions.
″I have not prepared for that. I have not sat down and tried to figure how you get legislation passed and figure out politics, in the best sense of the word,″ Paterno said. ″I’m always hoping there is somebody out there like a George Bush who has dedicated himself for a job.″