Statue debate won't be the last over JoePa's legacy
Louis Freeh didn’t simply issue a report. The former FBI director – who was commissioned by Penn State to investigate the university’s culpability in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal – sparked an ugly and bitter battle, one that’s on-going and doesn’t figure to end soon. On one side you have the Joe Paterno loyalists and on the other side you have everyone else.
Paterno was a good man – an accomplished and caring coach who did more to benefit the university he loved than he did to hurt it. Paterno was a bad man – a self-serving phony who perjured himself before a grand jury and enabled the unthinkable criminal behavior of a monster. Pick your faction. The middle ground has been abandoned.
At the moment, those two groups – the people who will forever defend Paterno and those who believe he was an oversized fraud – are fighting over an inanimate object because of the powerful symbolism. That is today’s conflict. Tomorrow, they will clash over something else – perhaps the fact that Paterno’s name remains on one of the university’s libraries. After that, they will use some other pretense to continue the conflict. That is what we have learned since the Freeh Report came out – that the struggle over Paterno’s legacy will continue indefinitely.
Paterno was a good man. Paterno was a bad man. And on it goes.
Earlier in the week, hate between the two sides intensified when a Penn State spokesman said a decision would soon be made on what to do with the Paterno statue that has stood in the shadow of Beaver Stadium since 2001. It is a giant image of the former and now disgraced coach, a likeness nearly seven feet tall and 900 pounds, and it has become the latest – but surely not the last – cause for a Happy Valley-related controversy.
A halo that once floated above Paterno’s head on a State College mural has already been removed
. Nike took Paterno’s name off
the child care center on its corporate campus. And the crazed student organization once proudly known as Paternoville – a crew of hardcore football fans who live in a type of tent city near the stadium – recently changed its name to Nittanyville
And now everyone has moved on to the statue.
A plane recently flew over the campus, trailing a banner with a blunt threat: “Take the statue down or we will.” That prompted some unflinching Paterno supporters to sleep by the statue and act as unpaid, amateur security guards
It’s possible the statue could be gone by the time you read this. One reporter
said the statue will be removed this weekend, and another journalist
“confirmed” it. That naturally prompted some Penn State officials
to dispute the story. While all that was going on, Statecollege.com reported that Sue Paterno visited her late husband’s statue on Friday along with her son and Franco Harris.
Keep the statue up. Take the statue down. Everyone has an opinion. The statue is merely the current tool used to express how people feel about Paterno and Penn State. Angelo Di Maria – a 65-year-old sculptor from Reading who created the supersized image of the former Nittany Lions head coach more than a decade ago – also got involved recently, though his idea was so noncommittal that people who love Paterno and hate Paterno both rejected it as a mindless half-measure.
“I think we should all wait on it. Put a cover on it," Di Maria said
. "Let's see how everyone feels in six months ... or a year."
In six months (or a year), it’s unlikely that the fight over Paterno will be finished. It doesn’t matter whether the statue is left alone or toppled Saddam Hussein-style and dragged through campus by an angry mob. The statue is a symbol – a significant one, but not the only one. There will be a war over the statue until there is a war over something else that concerned Paterno. That is the current and future reality for Penn State and its community.
Not far from the Paterno statue, there’s a plaque with a message engraved on it. The statement is from Paterno. It reads, in part, that he hopes people will “write I've made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach.”
There was a time when that would have happened. It seems so long ago.E-mail John Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org