On a KJR radio segment the other day, Dave Mahler asked me if I thought the statue of Joe Paterno should come down now as a result of the longtime coach’s place in the Jerry Sandusky child-abuse scandal at Penn State.
The question (a good one) stopped me. I really hadn’t had a chance to think through the issue thoroughly.
No doubt, it’s a thorny dilemma, with impassioned people on both sides. There’s lots of wrathful indignation out there right now.
(Some of that is coming from those advocating the NCAA death penalty for Penn State. As I read the NCAA manual, that’s not even possible, aside from the issue of whether it’s proper to penalize a bunch of 21-year-old guys now at PSU who were, what, six or seven, when the first known Sandusky abuse incident occurred. The death penalty is applicable when a school is found guilty of a major NCAA violation within five years of having another major one already on the books.)
The Paterno statue issue would be a lot easier if we were wrestling with a proposed monument to him. The revelations Thursday in Louis Freeh’s internal report would just strike that from consideration. But the statue is already up.
My proposal: Since Joe Paterno is the most prominent figure in the history of Penn State University — now, for both good and bad reasons — why not rewrite the inscription on the statue, recognizing both his considerable good there but also marking the fact he had a part in the darkest hour in school history?
Why not an artfully worded statement that takes into account his long service there (he began in 1950 as an assistant coach), his contribution to his players’ lives and his donation of millions to academic concerns at Penn State — but with an amendment something like this: “In his twilight years, Paterno also had a part in the most troubled times in Penn State history. He was proven to be a flawed individual, as are all men. Even as we celebrate the considerable good he brought to us, we mourn the pain and suffering of innocents in the bleakest era in our university’s history.”
Yes, it’s a little unusual. But Paterno’s stamp on the school, even in its blemished state now, is undeniable — both ways. He’s an icon, and perhaps this is a way not only to fete his achievements but to address his failings. It also seems worthwhile for the school to have a reminder of the scandal, helping keep the matter of child abuse out there.
Regarding the statue, it’s possible you can’t have it both ways. But this might be a means of doing it.