Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno was always larger than life, racking up more bowl games than any coach in college football history, the man revered as “JoePa” by generations of students over his 46 years coaching there, whose first name seemed to become “Legendary.”
His statue outside Beaver Stadium literally was larger than life – 900 pounds of bronze and seven feet tall.
Now it’s been removed, lifted ignominiously by crane early Sunday morning to be stored “in a secure location,” according to university officials. This inanimate object, it seems, had become another victim of a shocking child sex-abuse scandal that went on for years, apparently with at least some knowledge by Mr. Paterno.
IN PICTURES: Fallout from the Penn State scandal
“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,” Penn State President Rodney Erickson said in a statement Sunday.
“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,” he said. “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.”
In a way, it was a Solomonic decision. Remaining in place – and without any name change, at least for now – will be the campus library that bears Paterno’s name.
“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,” Mr. Erickson said. “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.”
Over the years, the Paterno family had made large financial contributions to the university.
Paterno’s fall from Penn State football grace came with the horrific reports of child sexual abuse committed over years by Paterno’s chief assistant and friend Jerry Sandusky.
Mr. Sandusky now awaits sentencing for his conviction last month on 45 charges of child sex abuse involving 10 boys over 15 years.
All along Paterno (who was in his 80s when he died in January of problems related to an illness that his family had announced some time earlier) maintained that he had no idea that Sandusky was a pedophile whose abuse of many boys stretched over years.
But he acknowledged being told of one instance reported in 2001 by Mike McQueary, at the time a graduate assistant in Penn State’s football program, who said he witnessed what looked like Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in the team locker-room shower.
In an independent report on the whole affair, former FBI director Louis Freeh wrote that Paterno was among a group of senior university officials who “in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity … repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the Board of Trustees, Penn State community, and the public at large.”
Along with Penn State President Graham Spanier, vice president Gary Schultz, and athletic director Tim Curley, Paterno “never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky’s victims until after Sandusky’s arrest,” Mr. Freeh said in a statement releasing his report earlier this month.
“The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized,” Freeh said.
The four former officials already had lost their jobs in the scandal. Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz await trial on charges of failing to report child abuse and lying to a grand jury. Former president Spanier hasn't been charged. Paterno's family, along with attorneys for Spanier, Curley and Schultz, vehemently deny any suggestion they protected a pedophile.
Some commentators and former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden had urged university officials to remove Paterno’s statue. At one point, a small airplane pulled a banner over State College reading, "Take the statue down or we will."
“The world will be watching how Penn State addresses its challenges in the days ahead,” university president Erickson said Sunday. “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,” he added. “Today, as every day, our hearts go out to the victims.”
Paterno’s statue was built in 2001 in honor of his record-setting 324th Division 1 coaching victory and his "contributions to the university."
As workers lifted the statue off its base, using a forklift to move it into Beaver Stadium early Sunday, 100 to 150 students chanted "We are Penn State."
IN PICTURES: Fallout from the Penn State scandal