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Paterno statue's future spawns national debate

This statue of Joe Paterno is a reminder of his football legacy, but also of the sex abuse scandal that unfolded on his watch.

Associated Press

This statue of Joe Paterno is a reminder of his football legacy, but also of the sex abuse scandal that unfolded on his watch.

The words on the wall, once inspiring, are now just sad, even disturbing.

"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."

The quote forms a backdrop for the bronze statue of Joe Paterno that towers outside the stadium where the coach built a storied football program.

"He was the face of the school, just as much as the Nittany Lion was," said Joe McIntyre, a recent Penn State graduate who was football reporter for the campus newspaper. "The statue's a rallying point."

Now, the 7-foot statue has taken on a double meaning — a symbol of a legacy that spanned half a century, but also a reminder of the child sex abuse scandal that unfolded on his watch. Some football fans and former colleagues, most notably his old friend and former Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden, say the statue must come down.

Like so much about the scandal, such a suggestion was once unthinkable.

Visitors to State College often have their photos snapped in two places: the Nittany Lion shrine — a statue of a crouching lion — and the bronze of Paterno.

On graduation morning, Penn State seniors don their gowns and strike the same pose by the JoePa statue: right arm in the air, index finger raised in victory. No. 1. We're No. 1.

The future of the statue became a coast-to-coast debate overnight, with talk radio hosts, Internet forums and sports columnists weighing in.

"Penn State should keep the Joe Paterno statue," Sports Illustrated's Mike Rosenberg said in a column. "Just move it so he is looking the other way."

"Let the statue of JoePa stand in Happy Valley forever," the Denver Post's Mark Kiszla wrote. "Erasing history can't be done, no matter how many amps of anger are pumped into the project. Altering the future is difficult, but it's energy far better spent."

The statue stands less than a mile from the football training facilities where former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky molested at least one young boy in the locker room showers. Sandusky, once Paterno's main defensive coordinator, was convicted last month of 45 counts related to sexually assaulting 10 young boys over a period of 15 years.

Paterno was fired in November. He died in January.

As the scandal unfolded, the trustees commissioned a report from former FBI director Louis Freeh. The report, delivered Thursday, called the actions of Paterno and other top officials "callous indifference." Top officials knew of abuse allegations against Sandusky in 1998, Freeh said, but did nothing, fearing bad publicity.

Paterno mural loses its halo: Artist Michael Pilato has removed a halo from a mural of Paterno in downtown State College, Pa., the Associated Press reported. Pilato had added a halo after Paterno's death in January, but said he felt he had to remove it Saturday after a report that Paterno, former university president Graham Spanier and others buried allegations of child sex-abuse against Sandusky. Pilato added a large blue ribbon, instead, on Paterno's lapel, symbolizing support for child abuse victims, a cause the artist said Paterno had endorsed. Pilato earlier removed Sandusky from the mural.

Paterno statue's future spawns national debate 07/14/12 [Last modified: Saturday, July 14, 2012 7:27pm]
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