Pennsylvania State University will remove the statue of the late football coach Joe Paterno outside Beaver Stadium following a report that showed he helped cover up child sex-abuse allegations against former assistant Jerry Sandusky.
The 7-foot likeness depicts Paterno, who won a Division I-record 409 games over 46 years, running onto the field pointing at the sky, jacket open, tie blowing to the side, like any fall Saturday afternoon in State College, Pennsylvania, where more than 100,000 fans regularly fill the stands to root for the Nittany Lions.
Paterno died in January before being able to respond to an investigation that found he didn’t block his former defensive assistant from associating with the university despite awareness of allegations. Sandusky, 68, who spent 31 seasons with Paterno, was convicted last month on 45 criminal counts tied to the abuse of 10 boys over a 15-year period and is awaiting sentencing.
“Coach Paterno’s statue has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing in our university and beyond,” President Rodney Erickson said today in a statement on the school’s website. “I have decided that it is in the best interest of our university and public safety to remove the statue and store it in a secure location. I believe that, were it to remain, the statue will be a recurring wound to the multitude of individuals across the nation and beyond who have been the victims of child abuse.”
Penn State will retain the Paterno name on the university library, which was named after the coach and his wife, Sue, in 1994. The Paterno Libraries Endowment has more than $7.5 million in funds, and buys thousands of books each year for campuses, the university said in January after Joe Paterno’s death.
The statue became a rallying point for those who want to erase any connection with the former administrators and coaches who were involved in the sex scandal that has rocked school and the central Pennsylvania region.
“Take the statue down or we will,” read a banner that was flown over the stadium earlier this month. Students quickly assembled around the statue to protect it from vandals in an example of the opposing viewpoints that have torn at the campus in recent months as details emerged about the sex abuse and administrators efforts to protect the school from bad publicity.
Lettering on a wall behind the statue calls Paterno an “educator” and “humanitarian,” and includes a quote from the man who preached “victory with honor.”
“They ask me what I’d like written about me when I’m gone,” it reads. “I hope they write I made Penn State a better place not just that I was a good football coach.”
Recent calls for the removal of the statue followed an independent probe by former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis Freeh, whose findings were made public July 12.
In the report, Freeh said that Paterno had known of accusations against Sandusky before and after the assistant’s retirement in 1999 yet didn’t ban him from the university and failed to act aggressively to protect victims of potential future abuse.
Paterno, who was fired in November after charges were filed against Sandusky, died of lung cancer in January at the age of 85. He attempted to tell his side of the story when the allegations surfaced but was asked by the university to wait until after an investigation was conducted. He told Freeh he wanted to talk to him, but died before an interview could be arranged.
Freeh said at a news conference in Philadelphia when the report was released that the saddest finding in his investigation was the “total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State.”
Penn State isn’t the only business or school trying to end its association with Paterno’s name and now-tainted legacy.
Nike Inc. took his name off its child-care center the day details of the Freeh report were revealed.
Brown University, Paterno’s alma mater, removed his name from its annual award given to top freshman athletes and coaching positions. It still might remove him from the school’s athletic Hall of Fame.
Penn State students recently changed the name of the area where they camp out for tickets the week of home football games to “Nittanyville” from “Paternoville.”
Jason Lanter, a professor of psychology at Pennsylvania’s Kutztown University and former president of the Drake Group, which defends academic integrity in intercollegiate athletics, said he didn’t think the statue should be removed.
“Penn State may want to wipe their hands and move forward, but they can’t, and I don’t think they should,” he said in a telephone interview. “I think it needs to be there as a reminder of the good that can happen and the bad that’s associated with it.”