Keep Paterno’s Statue, With One Change
By Paul Myerberg // Jul 13, 2012
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.”
Tags: Alabama, Bobby Bowden, Florida State, Joe Paterno, Nick Saban, Penn State
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