Early Sunday morning, Penn State issued the order to take down the iconic statue of Joe Paterno in front of Beaver Stadium. This ends a weeks-long controversy about what to do with the statue in the wake of the devastating Louis Freeh report that implicated Paterno and many others in a cover-up of child sex abuse by Jerry Sandusky.
Some time between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. local time on Sunday, crews arrived at the site of the statue to take it down. Police cordoned off an area and then fenced it off behind a tarp to limit visibility of the unceremonious removal. A crowd of dozens gathered at the site to watch, but fortunately, everybody involved was civil and, as hoped, there were no incidents.
It had previously been announced that the fate of the statue lay in the hands of Penn State president Rodney Erickson. With the removal of the statue also came a full statement by Erickson, which was released Sunday morning here. Below are two excerpts.
First, the fate of Paterno's two campus namesakes, the statue and the Paterno Library:
I now believe that, contrary to its original intention, Coach Paterno's statue has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing in our University and beyond. For that reason, 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.
On the other hand, the Paterno Library symbolizes the substantial and lasting contributions to the academic life and educational excellence that the Paterno family has made to Penn State University. The library remains a tribute to Joe and Sue Paterno's commitment to Penn State's student body and academic success, and it highlights the positive impacts Coach Paterno had on the University. Thus I feel strongly that the library's name should remain unchanged.
And as for how the Penn State community will handle his decision:
The world will be watching how Penn State addresses its challenges in the days ahead. While some may take issue with the decisions I have made, I trust that everyone associated with our University will respond in a civil and respectful manner.
I fully realize that my decision will not be popular in some Penn State circles, but I am certain it is the right and principled decision. I believe we have chosen a course that both recognizes the many contributions that Joe Paterno made to the academic life of our University, while taking seriously the conclusions of the Freeh Report and the national issue of child sexual abuse. Today, as every day, our hearts go out to the victims.
Rodney Erickson is right. Taking down the statue isn't only about limiting reminders of the lingering controversy, it's about doing right by the victims and survivors of Jerry Sandusky's abuse no matter what.
If he had said the statue would stay up, he'd basically be telling the abuse survivors that, while Paterno likely played an active role in keeping Sandusky free, he was still popular enough to be celebrated at the stadium, so his popularity mattered more than this small measure of accountability. And that's pretty gross.
For those who want to divorce Paterno's philanthropic legacy from everything else (and he had a great such legacy, one that had nothing to do with Sandusky or anyone else in athletics), the library remains untouched—as well it ought to.
That philanthropy, just like Paterno's record as a coach and just like his shortcomings as a protector of abused children, should stand. It's just that the man doesn't need a statue celebrating him anymore.
Now, there is the fact that if Penn State denies Paterno's status as a benefactor, it should probably return all his donations as well—and that isn't about to happen. So there is a significant financial incentive to not taking such a high moral ground that Paterno's name comes off it. But it really shouldn't regardless.
With all that, too, it's hard to imagine that we'll ever see Paterno's statue again.
As mentioned before, with an exhaustive accounting of the Penn State scandal already done by the Freeh report, it's hard to imagine that there are a whole lot of facts left to come out. Thus, if Penn State didn't have a destination in mind for the Paterno statue other than just a secure storage location, then sending the statue elsewhere is going to have to be its own separate act.
So, with all the information already out and the statue put away as a result, Penn State's only rationale for replacing the statue somewhere in public is basically going to have to be something to the effect of "it's been long enough, let's bring JoePa back." And that is totally antithetical to the morals behind Erickson's statement.
The statue's removal is about doing right by the survivors of Sandusky's abuse. They remain the most important party involved in all of this. Complaining about what the removal of the statue does for fans or the football program is essentially losing sight of those survivors. But fortunately, Erickson is a better man than that.