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P.S.R. Op-Ed

Keep Paterno’s Statue, With One Change

At Alabama, boosters and trustees built a statue for Bear Bryant, and another one for Nick Saban, because each brought prestige to a university defined by one single aspect of its entire existence: football. Likewise at Florida State, where a statue of Bobby Bowden juts out from a corner of Doak Campbell Stadium.

And Nebraska. And others. Coaches are honored for winning, just as they’re dismissed and derided for losing, and as through the ages, we celebrate our champions physically: with statues and pictures, images and words, with the sort of idolatry, one could say, best saved for those whose impact stretches beyond the playing field.

At Penn State, however, a statue was constructed honoring a football coach – Joe Paterno – not only for his on-field success but for what he symbolized for an entire community. For how he carried himself; for how he represented all that was great about Penn State; for, yes, being more than a football coach.

For evidence, look no further than the quote on the statue itself. Said Paterno, “They ask me what I’d like written about me when I’m gone. I hope they write I made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach.”

This is no ordinary statue. It’s not Bowden’s likeness in Tallahassee. It’s not Bryant and Saban outside of Bryant-Denny – Saban’s statue built after only three years with the program. It’s a statue that crystallizes the idea that Paterno was “more than a football coach.” He was Penn State – not just football, but the university.

So you can see why the statue lies near the center of the furor over Paterno’s legacy. It’s the only physical monument left standing. It’s also the final piece connecting what was with what is: Paterno’s memorable past, his stature prior to last November, against the tainted and tarnished reputation he’ll carry into history.

Interviewed yesterday by Cory Giger, a reporter for the Altoona Mirror, Bowden said, “Every time somebody walks by and sees that statue, they’re not going to remember the 80 good years. They’re going to remember this thing with Sandusky.”

“And I say for Joe’s sake, for the family’s sake, I would remove that statue… I mean, just think, every time you go to a ballgame at Penn State and they shine that camera on that statue, that’s going to be brought up again. So if I was Penn State and I was Joe’s family, I’d say remove all that stuff.”

Let’s say it wasn’t Penn State. Would this sort of memorial last anywhere else? No chance – then again, there was only one Paterno, not just in the win column but in the way he defined the university for decades. So Penn State is left in a quandary: Save our past, cherish the good times, or completely turn the page, tear down the statue, start with a blank slate.

The university has no choice: leave it up. It can’t come down. It can’t come down, and not because Paterno meant so much to the university. It can’t ever come down because you can’t rewrite history – you can’t be like Paterno, who along with three senior members of the university’s administration attempted to hide the truth behind layers and layers of lies and deceit.

So leave it up. Let it remain, collecting dust, and force Penn State and its community to explain to any passersby how it was that a man and coach they held in such esteem was eventually proved to be utterly unworthy of their undying gratitude and respect.

Just do one thing: remove that damned quote. Try this instead: “Coach Joe Paterno once hoped that they would write that he had made ‘Penn State a better place.’ He didn’t. He just won more games than any coach in F.B.S. history.”

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  1. Bill condon says:

    There is quite a lot of talk now about the death penalty for Penn State football, mainly because of,the lack of institutional control. Paterno seems to have called,a lot of the shots. What do you think,about that possibility, Paul? Will/should the NCAA get involved? Is the death penalty a likelihood?

  2. Parker says:

    Good article, Paul.

    While they’re at it, they need to remove the word “Humanitarian” from that wall. Last I checked, humanitarian meant:

    “Someone concerned with the interests and welfare of humans.”


  3. Clayton says:

    Agreed with Parker. People who protect pedophiles aren’t really humanitarians in my book. JoePa was more concerned with the interest and welfare of Penn State football.

  4. Dave says:

    Not sure how I feel about the death penalty – there are, after all, a lot of people (i.e. current/future players) whose hands ARE clean, and who would be being punished purely for association.

    But one thing is certain – if the NCAA doesn’t give it for THIS, the death penalty can never, ever be used as a credible threat against any other program. If this tragedy has ANY silver lining (and I don’t think it does), it has at least put booster payments, tattoos and recruiting violations in perspective. Even the U’s allegations looks pretty tame in comparison.

  5. KDRLAX says:

    One thing I constantly hear — on radio, on tv, in print and online – regarding the threat of the death penalty, is the stance that “It isn’t fair to the student and people there NOW. They are clean of the crime. Why should they pay?”

    My (convoluted) feelings are basically that “any sweeping, severe penalty doesn’t properly penalize the ‘people’ involved (especially in the PSU case), but it isn’t about them really. It’s a penalty against the institution for their misdeeds and LACK of control.”

    Yes, It would be unfortunate for an incoming freshman who has just received a football scholarship. But the program he’s about to play for has made serious mistakes and must face the consequences.
    Especially in the PSU case, I would have to believe that if he was worthy of a scholarship there, other schools must want him as well. Perhaps that univ. is his ‘dream’ college – the place he’s envisioned since grade school of playing for. It’s sad, but this is just one example of the uncertainty and challenge of “life.”

    Sometimes things change… sometimes life doesn’t seem fair. If a death penalty is given, that player would have to go elsewhere. Find a new place to shine. At 17 yrs of age, I find it hard to believe that he could still be naive to the ways of the world. 17 yr olds have already faced other life lessons. This is nothing like prematurely bursting the bubble of some tot about the reality of Santa Claus.

    I can’t and won’t let my personal empathy for a player interfere with the sanctions that the entire university must face. The players must look elsewhere. With everything swirling around in the Penn St case, these prospective recruits must take the possible penalty into account. – Seriously consider those other offers.

    I just can’t side with the argument that it’s ‘unfair to the innocent, current students & players.’ That feels like a bit of a cop-out to the more important rules of society.

    …Just my garbled two cents worth….

  6. Gotham Gator says:

    That quote now carries with it a very large dose of irony.

    And that irony generates a warning to everyone that reads it. A warning about how quickly a lifetime of doing the right thing can come tumbling down.

    That’s why the statue and the quote should remain in place.

  7. Gotham Gator says:

    And to the rest of you, shame for hijacking a perfectly good discussion of the statue with an absurd discussion of the death penalty. It’s not going to happen, and it shouldn’t. These weren’t NCAA violations, they were state and federal crimes. Those who covered up will be answering to a higher authority. Their careers are ruined, and they will probably be going to jail. There is no reason for the NCAA to extend that punishment to everyone else.

  8. Burnt Orange says:

    A few opinions.

    First, the Sandusky tragedy occurred in a culture where something mortal ( Paterno ) was worshipped. Whenever that occurs, whether it be a coach, dictator,politician, or unsinkable ship, someone is about to get knocked on their ass. The greater the idolatry, the harder the fall.

    Second, I am basically with Gator on what to do with the statue. In virtually every courthouse square in the South, there is a Civil War memorial and some are tasteful,memorials to those who died in action but others bear inscriptions which make you cringe. Let it stand and do not change a thing – let those that erected it live with it.

  9. Patrick says:

    We’re a country of short memories.

    Once the games get started again – and they will – it’s only a matter of time before this passes.

    You don’t have to like it, but it’s true.

  10. Dave says:

    @ Gotham Gator –

    If you simply don’t believe in collective punishment, that’s fine (and I’m on the fence myself), but you can’t be for the death penalty in cases like SMU or Miami and not be for it here. In every case involving the death penalty, there are plenty of people with clean hands who are going to be affected. But the rationale for the death penalty is that the violation (and I’m pretty sure you can find at least one or two NCAA bylaws that are violated by a head coach and athletic director failing to report a felony to the police) is so serious – and the culture than enabled it rooted so deeply – that the only way to eradicate it is to eliminate the program completely, at least for a few years.

    It’s an important discussion to have – after all, nobody outside Happy Valley will ever see the statue, but you can bet people around the country will take note if a BCS team with the pedigree of Penn State is given the death penalty.

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