Penn State University’s president announced on Sunday morning that the iconic status of long-time football coach Joe Paterno would be removed in the wake of the publication of the Freeh report. As Ben Jones, who writes for StateCollege.com, tweeted, crews arrived at Beaver Stadium around 8:00 am, wrapped the status with its upraised finger in padding, got to work with jackhammers and, in the presence of about 20 people, removed it. Workers also removed the letters spelling out Paterno’s name.
The report, conducted by former FBI director Louis Freeh, found that Paterno, former university president Graham Spanier and other Penn State officials had shown “total disregard” to protect children from abuse by Jerry Sandusky, an assistant defense coach for 31 years. Among much else, the report revealed that, back in May of 1998, Paterno was told that an 11-year-old boy had been groped by Sandusky in the athletic facilities of Penn State University, but did not report the abuse to authorities.
CBS News reports that, on Monday morning at 9:00 am, the NCAA will announced “unprecedented” penalties against both Penn State University and its football team. In a later statement, the NCAA said that “corrective and punitive measures” would be levied against Penn State. According to ESPN’s Joe Schad, the NCAA will not be closing down Penn State’s vaunted Nittany Lions football program, but the team could face the loss of bowl games and scholarships.
However, as Ellen Staurowsky, a sports management professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia, pointed out, the NCAA is not really the “appropriate organization to issue punishment” to Penn State, given that the NCAA derives millions of dollars in revenue from from television and marketing-rights fees from universities.
Writing last week about whether it was right to remove Paterno’s status “as though he were Saddam Hussein”, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd had suggested leaving it up, but also putting up “another darkly alluring statue behind Paterno, whispering in his ear: Mephistopheles,” the devil character in Goethe’s play, “Faust”:
Paterno is the tragic figure in the case, the man who went to church and taught his players “success with honor,” but succumbed to supporting depravity. His name was derived from the Latin word for father, and JoePa was the beloved paterfamilias of Happy Valley. So how did he crack his moral compass?
It’s the story of “Faust,” a morality play that unspools daily in politics, banking, sports and the Catholic Church.
Dowd cites a 1987 interview by Thomas Ferraro of United Press International in which he noted that most people idolized Paterno as “the saint in black cleats of the often seamy world of college sports.” Paterno had replied “It scares the heck out of me. Because I know I’m not that clean. Nobody is that clean.”
As the Freeh report makes too clear, Paterno was something far from a saint in cleats of any sort. Paterno, the report reveals, persuaded Penn State authorities including former president Spanier not to report Sandusky to the police and state authorities; “eager to protect their brand and cash cow,” they simply advised Sandusky not to bring children to the Penn State campus. Says Dowd: “As far as the noble coach was concerned, Sandusky could simply switch the venue of his child rapes.” The university paterfamilias got his way, and at a terrible price to his descendants, his community, his legacy.
The statue is gone. Paterno’s name remains on Penn State’s library, on professors’ endowed chairs and in countless venues. Is the symbolic gesture of removing a statue really enough?
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Photo by Joe Shlabotnik