STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State University will remove the famed statue of Joe Paterno outside its football stadium, eliminating a key piece of the iconography surrounding the once-sainted football coach accused of burying child sex abuse allegations against a retired assistant.
The university said Sunday that it will take down the larger-than-life monument in the face of an investigative report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh that found the late coach, along with three top Penn State administrators, concealed the abuse claims against Jerry Sandusky more than a decade ago in order to shield the university and its football program from negative publicity.
A spokeswoman for the Paterno family did not immediately return phone and email messages Sunday morning.
Construction vehicles and police arrived shortly after dawn Sunday, barricading the street and sidewalks near the statue, erecting a chain-link fence then concealing the statue with a blue tarp.
A live video feed posted on the website of the Centre Daily Times of State College showed workers in white hard hats draping a plastic sheet over the statue, preparing for its removal.
Penn State President Rod Erickson said he decided to have the statue removed and put into storage because it “has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing.”
“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,” Erickson said in a statement released at 7 a.m. Sunday.
He said Paterno’s name will remain on the campus library because it “symbolizes the substantial and lasting contributions to the academic life and educational excellence that the Paterno family has made to Penn State University.”
The bronze sculpture outside Beaver Stadium has been a rallying point for students and alumni outraged over Paterno’s firing four days after Sandusky’s Nov. 5 arrest — and grief-stricken over the Hall of Fame coach’s Jan. 22 death at age 85.
But it turned into a target for critics after the Freeh report’s stunning allegation of a cover-up by Paterno, ousted President Graham Spanier and two Penn State officials, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz. Their failure to report Sandusky to child-welfare authorities in 2001 allowed him to continue molesting boys, the report found.
Paterno’s family, along with attorneys for Spanier, Curley and Schultz, vehemently deny any suggestion they protected a pedophile. Curley and Schultz await trial on charges of failing to report child abuse and lying to a grand jury but maintain their innocence. Spanier hasn’t been charged. Sandusky was convicted last month of 45 counts of sexual abuse of 10 boys.
Some newspaper columnists and former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden have said the statue should be taken down, while a small plane pulled a banner over State College reading, “Take the statue down or we will.”
But Paterno still has plenty of fans, and Penn State’s decision to remove the monument won’t sit well with them. One student even vowed to “chain myself to that statue” if there was an attempt to remove it.
University officials had called the issue a sensitive one in light of Paterno’s enormous contributions to the school over a 61-year coaching career. The Paterno family is well-known in the community for philanthropic efforts, including the millions of dollars they’ve donated to the university to help build a library and fund endowments and scholarships.
The statue, nearly 7 feet tall and weighing more than 900 pounds, was built in 2001 in honor of Paterno’s record-setting 324th Division 1 coaching victory and his “contributions to the university.”
Penn State President Rodney Erickson has released a statement this morning pertaining to Joe Paterno’s statue:
Since we learned of the Grand Jury presentment and the charges against Jerry Sandusky and University officials last November, members of the Penn State community and the public have been made much more acutely aware of the tragedy of child sexual abuse. Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to those victims of Mr. Sandusky and all other victims of child abuse. I assure you that Penn State will take a national leadership role in the detection and prevention of child maltreatment in the months and years ahead.
With the release of Judge Freeh’s Report of the Special Investigative Counsel, we as a community have had to confront a failure of leadership at many levels. The statue of Joe Paterno outside Beaver Stadium has become a lightning rod of controversy and national debate, including the role of big time sports in university life. The Freeh Report has given us a great deal to reflect upon and to consider, including Coach Paterno’s legacy.
Throughout Penn State, the two most visible memorials to Coach Paterno are the statue at Beaver Stadium and the Paterno Library. The future of these two landmarks has been the topic of heated debate and many messages have been received in various University offices, including my own. We have heard from numerous segments of the Penn State community and others, many of whom have differing opinions. These are particularly important decisions when considering things that memorialize such a revered figure.
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.
Coach Paterno’s positive impact over the years and everything he did for this University predate his statue. At the same time it is true that our institution’s excellence cannot be attributed to any one person or to athletics. Rather, Penn State is defined by our actions and accomplishments as a learning community. Penn State has long been an outstanding academic institution and we will continue to be.
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.