Should the Joe Paterno statue come down?

All right. Because I’ve been so negligent this week, we’ll make this a two-post day. And also because of this…

My blogging buddy, Cassie, threw down the gauntlet on Facebook. She linked a Huffington Post article entitled “Joe Paterno Statue: Must Penn State Take Statue Down After Freeh Report?” Then, she insisted that I must blog about it. My first response was “What? Am I taking requests now?” Bluz Dude will start shouting “Free Bird” pretty soon. My second response was that it wasn’t my place. I have no connection to Penn State. Who am I to weigh in on their business? About a minute later, however, the answer (and the post) emerged. It was just so obvious.

If you don’t know about the Freeh report, I envy you. It is the “independent” review (if an independent review can be paid for by the Penn State Board of Trustees) that basically confirms what we’ve suspected all along: that Penn State authorities, including Paterno and the University president, knew about at least two instances of Sandusky’s abuse of a child and decided not to report it to authorities. We now know Paterno knew of a 1998 complaint. And then Sandusky conveniently retired as defensive coordinator in 1999 at age 55. Heck, Paterno was 55 in 1981, half a lifetime ago. No other coaching jobs. No other schools came a calling. Then, in 2001, a grad assistant saw him in the shower and went to Paterno with it. At that point, most decent human beings would experience a clenching in their gut and immediately call the police. Instead, on this second instance, an Email was sent claiming that Paterno thought that not going to the authorities was the “humane” thing to do. I assume they were thinking of Sandusky, because they definitely were not thinking of the children. (Do I need to write another post about the lack of freakin’ empathy up in here?) One can only surmise that the entity they were really trying to protect was not Sandusky but dear old PSU and their cash-cow football program. And so, the abuse continued. For TEN MORE YEARS!

You have to hand it to Penn State, though. They spent over a million dollars on this review and it will now be used against them in court settlements that will cost them hundreds of millions. Stupid? Or doing the right thing?

Paterno, Spanier, Curley, and Schultz all knew they had a monster at the university and they did nothing… for TEN MORE YEARS! We know Paterno perjured himself in front of the Grand Jury, when he said he had never heard about a 1998 incident. Either that or he forgot. Believe me, 84-year-olds forget what they had for lunch yesterday but they remember the most trivial things from twenty years ago. We know that janitors saw things but were afraid to speak up, knowing the entire football program would be against them. This was the culture. Men did nothing while children were being systematically preyed upon and abused. For TEN MORE YEARS!

So, now that we know more about the cover-up and complete lack of a moral compass at Penn State University, should the iconic statue of coach Joe Paterno come down?

Absolutely not.

Take it down, and the name Joe Paterno, as well as the scandal, will fade into history. His name will become a ghost of the past, like Knute Rockney, Pop Warner, and Amos Alonzo Stagg. Within a generation, he will be forgotten by most. But keep that statue up and it becomes a permanent, bronzed reminder of perhaps the greatest moral failure that any university has ever displayed. Nobody will be able to talk about who that man was without mentioning the scandal. It becomes like a tattoo on your arm of your most embarrassing and disgraceful moment.

Imagine a statue of Woodward and Bernstein in front of the Nixon Presidential Library.

Imagine this statue in front of the JFK Presidential Library…

Oops. Embarrassing? You bet. And yet, in both of those cases, no children were criminally molested for TEN MORE YEARS!

Leaving Joe’s statue in place will become a cautionary tale for our youth. I can hear fathers telling their children about the statue now:

“Look, kids. See that number 1 he is holding up. He failed and was fired in disgrace because he was more concerned about football and with being No. 1 than in doing the right thing and protecting a child in danger. Okay, actually, there were several children who were in danger… in the athletic showers… for TEN MORE YEARS! What happened in the showers? Hey, okay, who wants ice cream?”

That awkward moment will have to be played and replayed in front of that statue year after year as long as there is college football in Happy Valley. Believe me, I’m pretty sure that there is more than one Penn State administrator who wishes that statue would just melt away like a spring snowman. I’ll bet the new football coach would be the first one in line with a sledgehammer.

So keep the statue up. Don’t give Penn State the death penalty, either. That will only punish a bunch of people who had no hand in this. After all, this scandal didn’t involve a single student, athlete, or professor. Just the top brass. So, make the university complete their tour of shame to stadiums across the country. Let them hear the shouts and taunts from other student sections. Let nervous TV announcers have to rehash the details during each national telecast. I’d be okay if the university decided on their own to shut down football as a message to the students and the rest of the country that it is not the most important thing at Penn State University. But they won’t do that because football still IS the most important thing at Penn State University.

“May no act of ours bring shame to one heart that loves thy name.” I can’t believe that’s really a line in their Alma Mater. That’s like the O. J. Simpson family crest reading “May I never cut a bitch when she gets uppity.” Ah, the sweet slap of irony.

Penn State failed in every way and in everything they stand for. Their punishment should not be to hide and let it fade away. Their punishment should be to live with it, walk in it, talk about it, teach it, and, ultimately, to make sure they learn from it. After all, they are a university.

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About carpetbagger

Tom and Jean are just a couple of Chicago transplants in Lawrenceville, a neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

Posted on July 12, 2012, in Misc, Sports and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Thank you! This is exactly what I felt but I didn’t really know if I was allowed to feel it. What happened was disgusting. The men who covered it up are nearly as disgusting as Sandusky. May that statue stand there and be a reminder to never underestimate a good coach.

  2. I respectfully disagree with most of what you said. One thing I do agree with is that the statue should remain. The reason it should remain is that Joe Paterno was a person who thought of others before himself. You might ask yourself how I know this if I didn’t personally know him or because of the fact that he didn’t go to the police when he was told of the incident in 2001. His charitable actions and the way he treated students like me when he interacted with us around campus during our time there. When students came to his house to protest the media when the story first came out Joe yelled, “GO STUDY” and nobody was surprised because that’s something he would say. The reason his statue should stand is because he was a great man. Joe is the reason Penn State is the school it is and that each and every one of the alumni is proud to sing the alma mater.“May no act of ours bring shame to one heart that loves thy name.” I will continue to proudly sing the alma mater at every Penn State game I attend for the rest of my life. There are hundreds of thousands of Penn State alumni and tens of thousands of current students that had nothing to do with the scandal, why shouldn’t we not be proud of each other for our own accomplishments? I will be the first person to tell you Joe was wrong in not doing more, but taking the statue down would be like saying no great men are allowed to make mistakes, and if they make mistakes we have to forget all the great things they did.

    • Chris, thanks for your reply. It is very hard for those of us outside of Penn State to criticize the administration and institution without using a brush that also paints faculty and students who, as you said, had nothing to do with this. It’s certainly not my intention. Have pride in the accomplishments of your fellow students. Sing your Alma Mater with pride. Stand behind the educational mission of the institution. These things should not suffer, although I fear they will.

      But you will need to separate it from a powerhouse football program that allowed this to go on. The same power that was put to use to raise money for libraries and other scholastic endeavors was also the same power that led people to remain silent, to act in ways that went against their moral code, to cover up felonious activity, and to prey upon children. All in an attempt to either protect a criminal or a program. You can call that “a mistake.” I call it a culture of unaccountability and a systematic implosion. You can’t call the abuse of 20 children over 10 years, when you knew about two early instances of it, “a mistake.” That is a criminal conspiracy. And when that happens, the “grand experiment” is over.

      I know you want to believe in your school as it was before all of this became known. You want to put the genie back in the bottle. In time, maybe that will happen. But you can’t un-ring this bell that quickly. There are lots of great people at Penn State doing great things. But they must know that their institution has failed them in a very big and very lasting way, primarily because of the standards it set for itself. It shouldn’t be a fatal blow, but it will take time to recover from. In the meantime, I feel for you.

  3. Linda Covert Campbell

    Beautifully said….I am very proud that you are my nephew!.
    .or that I am your aunt….or…well….whatever….ya done good!!

  4. See, I think eventually the terrible things that happened will fade into history. And that’s why the statue should stay up. Now, whether or not the victims should be forgotten, or whether or not Paterno will always have an asterisk by his name because of this horrid mistake, is right or wrong, I don’t know. I hope the college football culture — at Penn State or any other university — will change for the better remains to be seen. Not to put too fine a point on it, but for all the children victims in this case, I wonder how many adult victims of rape are out there as a result of drunken parties after sports events? And I don’t mean to conflate the two. What happened to those children should not have happened to any children, not once and not for TEN MORE YEARS. But there’s a culture out there that accepts sexual crimes as “just one of those things”. And the school or program is a lot more important that the scandal or trying to protect students.

  5. Tom I read this and couldn’t agree with you more. I thought it was so perfectly written. Then I read Chris’ comment and realized something important about a statue – that it is symbolic and that WHAT it symbolizes will mean different things to different people. For people that went to Penn State, that statue will probably still represent a ‘great man’. For others it may stand as a stain – helping to remember how not to prioritize getting to the top.

    So maybe now I don’t know about keeping it up… but then, to tear it down doesn’t remove those divergent thoughts from our society (nor should it, its okay that we feel differently) and I’m sure if were demolished, the site where it stood will then become more of a monument in itself.

    I think the trickiest thing about how I feel about the statue is that I start to care very little about the statue after a while because I start to remember that we’re once again talking about the ‘great JOPA’ and ‘legacy’ and ‘penn state football’ not about the many children who were severely abused.

    anyway, maybe they can keep the damn thing up but just adjust it bit so it’s looking the other way.

  6. My thoughts are all over the place on this subject. But I do feel fairly certain that I would be extremely hard on Penn State and Joe Paterno if I were not an alumna who met JoePa. I do the same thing with the Steelers and Pens; I don’t condemn what those players do as much as I would if a Raven or Flyer did a similar thing (though this relates more to on-the-field/ice behavior). It appears I am alone in this.

    For me, I want to believe the best about people. I have trouble wrapping my head around evil. And I have a big problem with lying. It is not easy for me to accept when I find out that someone I admired has lied or did something immoral or illegal.

    I am not sure about the statue. JoePa is no longer a hero to me and seeing that statue is going to make me sad for a number of reasons. My guess is that a slight majority (or probably half) of Penn Staters want it to remain whereas the vast majority of the rest thinks it should go.

    Regardless, I do have a problem with people saying that he and the other administrators were just as bad as Sandusky. These people neither committed the unspeakable acts that Sandusky did nor witnessed the acts. What they did (and particularly did not do) was wrong and they should face consequences, but condemn them to hell? Well, then I guess every single person on this earth better report every single crime or misdeed they have ever heard another speak of.

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