Joe Pa Statue Should Stand As Scarlet Letter
By Stan "The Fan" Charles
Eight months ago, the administration at Pennslyvania State University empowered a panel headed by ex-FBI chief Louis Freeh to investigate how those in charge of Penn State and its athletic program handled the scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
Administrators wanted an honest and unfettered report, in the hopes that it would create transparency for the future of athletics in Happy Valley, Pa. Instead, what they got was yet another punch to the gut, as Freeh wrote in his report, "The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized."
In light of the findings in Freeh's report, how should the university proceed?
The definition for "statue" on dictionary.com makes no judgment about the purpose of such a figure. That definition and a clearer redefinition of the Joe Paterno statue and its future at Penn State are behind this month's column.
These are not easy times in Happy Valley. In the aftermath of Sandusky's conviction of molesting 10 boys during a 15-year period, the residents of the towns that make up the greater Penn State community have to be numb.
Without rehashing the gory details of the testimony of the now-grown young men who publicly faced their molester, let's just say any person looking at the possibility of more than 400 years in prison was not somebody you would like to have as a neighbor.
At the end of the day, the horrors that went on within Happy Valley were the crimes of one man, Sandusky. But the more the evidence comes out about how those that could have cut short his reign of terror not only turned a blind eye, but rather actively participated in covering up his crimes, the more we gain a look into a porous bit of human nature.
The scope of Paterno's fall from grace was at one time unimaginable, but his foibles became too overwhelming to be ignored, because of the evil he chose to enable.
Hard times call for tough decisions to be made. It seems the easiest call would be for the university that employed both Sandusky and his boss to decisively remove the Joe Pa statue that stands outside Beaver Stadium.
On the other hand, further examination of the issues calls into question whether the statue should be left up as a vivid reminder of the multi-leveled crimes perpetuated against so many victims.
In Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1850 novel, The Scarlet Letter, the puritanical New England society calls for punishment to be meted out to the adulterous protagonist, Hester Prynne. Prynne has to wear an "A" -- standing for adultery -- on her dress as a reminder of her crime and the shame she should feel for her sins.
Mores from 1850 may not be at work in Happy Valley circa 1990 and beyond, but the necessity of remembering egregious and criminal behavior is still alive. Ask Jewish people affected by the Nazi horror machine whether they would like all painful reminders to be eliminated from their landscape. Most would say no, because they appreciate the need never to forget pains suffered, even if by generations long since gone.
Angelo Dimaria sculpted the 7-foot, 1,000-pound statue of Paterno, which Friends of Joe and Sue Paterno commissioned along with the university. The bronze statue, situated on the east side of Beaver Stadium, was unveiled in 2001 and became a campus landmark. Flanking the statue are three words -- educator, coach and humanitarian.
Because the statue was to be a surprise to Paterno, Dimaria posed as a reporter to photograph and study him up close.
Now some people, knowing that Paterno gave Sandusky continued access to children rather than putting a stop to his actions, may think it's time to take down the statue.
A quote by the late United States Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo rings true in terms of thinking about the moral quagmire for authorities at Penn State: "Consequences cannot alter statues, but may help to fix their meaning."
There is no clear-cut stated edict that a statue has to be dismantled or destroyed should its meaning change as radically as Paterno's likeness has. During his halcyon days, Paterno was asked what he would like written about himself when he was gone. He said, "I hope they write I made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach."
That Paterno's legacy is now much more complicated for the inhabitants of Happy Valley is unfortunate. Life isn't always fair. Just ask the victims of Sandusky's crimes.
Of course, not everyone in town was guilty of any wrongdoing, and for those people, the presence of the Paterno statue should present few -- if any -- problems. But those that were complicit may have an issue with the specter of a fraudulent Joe Pa looking down upon them.
Issue 175: July 2012