Will Joe Paterno get his statue rebuilt?
A recent poll finds that Pennsylvanians are in favor of reinstalling the statue of the late Penn State coach. Are his on-field accomplishments dwarfed by his reluctance to act when faced with a sexual abuse scandal?
Gene J. Puskar/FILE/AP
He is once again the all-time leader in Division I college football victories with 409. When the NCAA decided to re-award the wins it had stripped from the late Penn State coach, the Nittany Lion hockey team wore a ‘409’ decal on their helmets to celebrate the occasion, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazettte.
Now a bronze statue of Paterno could be reinstalled not too far from Beaver Stadium. A Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday showed that Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly support the school putting the statue out again by a margin of 59 to 25. The 7 ft. tall, 900 pound statue was originally commissioned in 2001 by the university and it was located right outside of the stadium, according to Centre Daily.
For his entire career, “Joe Pa” was Penn State before his death in 2012, right after he was fired over the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse revelations.
He paid for the university’s library expansion, according to the school’s website. Paterno and his wife Suzanne lived in State College, the Pennsylvania town where Penn State is located. When an injury slowed him down late in his career, he coached from the press box, according to Bleacher Report. He led hundreds of young men during his tenure and many considered him a father figure, according to the New York Times obituary.
Sandusky, Paterno's former defensive coordinator, was accused of multiple counts of sexual assault of a child in November of 2011. Paterno and Penn State President Graham Spanier were fired by the Board of Trustees on November, 11. The two were notified of Sandusky’s behavior as early as 2001, when graduate student assistant Mike McQueary witnessed Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy in a locker room shower, according to ESPN.
McQueary reported the incident to Paterno, who relayed the message to Athletic Director Tim Curley, and after that nothing was done at Penn State to stop Sandusky for a decade, according to the independent report conducted by former Federal Bureau of Investigation director Louis Freeh.
Sandusky ran a charity for at-risk youth called the “Second Mile” and gave children from the area a chance to be around the Penn State football program. Sandusky also used the organization as a vehicle to prey on his victims and was eventually found guilty and was sentenced to up to 60 years in prison for sexual assault of a child back in 2012. For Paterno, his admirers concede he could have done more to stop Sandusky, and his detractors claim he was fully negligible and did not want to rock the boat of his football program by reporting Sandusky, according to ReporterOnline.com.
After Pateno's passing in January of 2012, after he was fired as head coach in November, the school elected to remove Paterno's statue outside of Beaver Stadium in July of 2012 after public calls to do so, according to ESPN.
The popular support to reinstall the statue also stems from a lawsuit two Pennsylvania politicians filed against NCAA in January of 2013 to restore Paterno’s wins the school had self-vacated with a signed consent decree in the summer of 2012, according to USA Today. In the minds of most Pennsylvanians, he's still Joe Pa, but enormity of the issue has left an ugly stain on State College.
"Where you stand is simple. The issue itself is complex,” Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour, told USA Today. “But it's tied to how Coach Paterno is viewed here and will be part of ultimately how this university comes to rest on how he'll be honored on this campus."
According to ESPN, in total 111 wins were restored to Paterno’s record in exchange for the university earmarking the $60 million fine the NCAA originally imposed on the school following the Freeh investigation. The $60 million will go towards preventing child abuse in Pennsylvania.
The legacy of Coach Paterno at Penn State will forever be tied to two things – the winning football program he built, and his failure to report his assistant coach to authorities, which led him to be implicated by Mr. Freeh in his report for cultivating an environment that allowed Sandusky to prey on children, according to ReporterOnline.com. Freeh noted in the Penn State trustee-sanctioned report, “[there was a] total disregard for the the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims.”
[Editor's note: A previous version of this story had listed Sandusky being convicted in 2013 not 2012, Paterno passing in December of 2011, not January 2012. The article also was corrected to reflect that Pennsylvania State Sen. Jake Corman filed the lawsuit against the NCAA, not the school.]