Workers remove the statue of former football coach Joe Paterno outside Beaver Stadium on Penn State’s campus in State College, Pa.
You cannot erase history.
Tennis legend Billie Jean King told me recently, “The more you know about history, the more you know about yourself.”
Which is true.
The seven-foot bronze statue of former Penn State football head coach Joe Paterno that was erected outside of Beaver Stadium in November 2001, boasting the legacy of a man who was once thought of as a saint, was taken down early Sunday morning.
But it should have stayed standing.
Penn State President Rodney Erickson made the erroneous decision to remove the 900-pound sculpture, in an attempt to protect Penn State University’s image and shielding it from any damage.
“Coach Paterno’s positive impact over the years and everything he did for this University predate his statue,” Erickson wrote in a statement. “At the same time it is true that our institution’s excellence cannot be attributed to any one person or to athletics. Rather, Penn State is defined by our actions and accomplishments as a learning community. Penn State has long been an outstanding academic institution and we will continue to be.”
One of the most important aspects the Jerry Sandusky trial taught us was to educate children to come forward if they are ever sexually assaulted as soon as it happens, no matter how embarrassing the acts may have been. By taking the sculpture down, this deed only satisfies a certain percentage of the population.
Having a statue of a man who sexually assaulted children would be one thing.
This situation was different.
This situation involved a statue of the man who never did enough — an elaborate coverup even after he told former vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley.
Letting the statue stay would have been the ultimate memento for those associated with State College — students, alumni, professors and the entire community — to educate future generations.
Again, it would have served as a reminder, not a punishment.
For now, the statue, sculpted by Angelo Di Maria, has been stored in an unnamed “secure location.”
If Penn State wants to have an impact and change its overall image as a university, a color scheme makeover would be better suited. That would swing our mood more effectively. Instead of removing a piece of material, the real fabric — the threads of the jerseys Penn State football players wear on game days — should be a different color moving forward.
The white football helmets with a navy blue stripe painted down the middle is much more symbolic than a large piece of bronze that was put up just 10 years ago. College football fans immediately know who they are watching when they turn on the television by the unique apparel: no names stamped on the back of the jersey; only a simple white number. That is the image we are use to seeing on a frequent basis.
Think about how often the Paterno sculpture would have been shown on television. Maybe once before the broadcast or perhaps twice if television producers decide to come back from a commercial break. How many times have you actually seen it anyway? As time goes on, television producers would have likely not shown it at all. And if they did, how much of a lasting impact does this have on the viewer?
On the other hand, every time Penn State takes the field, you are still going to see those distinct jerseys piercing through your screen for three to four straight hours, instantly reminding you of the victims who were harmed.
With 125 years of rich football history under its belt, those jerseys have hardly altered at State College, with the exception of equipment.
Those uniforms are known. And they are known well.
Once we learned “JoePa” knew about the sickening acts of Jerry Sandusky sodomizing children, it was time for change.
Once the Freeh Report acknowledged JoePa prevented officials from acting upon the disgraceful acts that he knew about, it was time for a makeover.
No one has been in the position to make this type of decision before. JoePa looks as if he had the university on lockdown, manipulating every move since he became the Nittany Lion head coach in 1966.
Now — repeat, NOW! — it is time for a change at Penn State University.
Now is the time for someone to step up and take charge.
Now is the time for a conversion.
Regardless of Erickson’s decision, at least there will (hopefully) be a voice at Penn State not named Joseph Vincent Paterno.
History reminds us of the past, teaches us self-awareness and connects us to important logical thinking as we progress in our lives.
Despite taking the Paterno statue down, Penn State still needs more transformation as a university of higher learning.
But it has to be a more dramatic and dynamic approach — a 180-degree turn — altering an image we see more often, such as the uniforms, than some object that stands in a location few people outside State College see repeatedly.
As sickening as it may be, Joe Paterno is still a legendary icon in American history and sports.
His identity should now be a teaching tool.
In society, people do not like to be uncomfortable. The Paterno statue made some uncomfortable.
But there are too many things brushed off by the media and by America when it comes to something as squeamish as child sex abuse. If anything, the statue would have been a brutally honest figure staring right back at us, providing that self-awareness we need in this country. Instead of hiding the structure, why not make it a permanent memorial? Why not use it as a teaching tool? But no, we now have to settle for tucking it away in attempt to cover up a coverup that will never be completely covered up.
Penn State football does not deserve the death penalty, but it should use the Paterno statue to alert everyone to preach self-confidence to young victims who have suffered from sexual molestation.
“We are Penn State,” the cheer JoePa often led, should be embraced more than ever before.
Reading literature about this horrific child sex scandal can only do so much. Seeing a physical statue of the man who lied and did not do enough will prompt students, professors, officials and fans to teach the next generation — and future generations — how to handle these types of circumstances properly.
The more you know about the history of this liar — and the more you are reminded of him — the more comfortable children will feel to go to authorities directly and never trust a stranger.
Although vehement arguments will take place in the next few days, let us not forget the victims. Whether this monument was taken down or not, we cannot erase history. We cannot erase what happened to those children.
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