(Author’s Note: Minutes after this article was published, Penn State University issued a statement denying that the Paterno statue would be removed. While the status of the statue is currently disputed, the sentiment of this article remains the same.)
During the Thanksgiving break many Penn State students will be at home with their families, and many prayers will offered around the dining room table expressing gratitude for what they have been given. Penn State officials, on the other hand, will be celebrating Thanksgiving break by tearing down the Joe Paterno statue in front of Beaver Stadium, showing their gratitude for the football coach who gave over a half of a century of his life to the university.
According to Gregg Doyle of CBS Sports, the university made plans to tear down the seven foot tall statue of Paterno during Thanksgiving break, due to fears of widespread rioting.
The very fact that the university feared the possibility of riots resulting from this decision speaks volumes about the character of university officials. Rather than focusing on the heart of the issue, the victims allegedly assaulted by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, Penn State chose to shift the focus to Joe Paterno once again, just as the Board of Trustees had done previously by firing the beloved icon.
This move by Penn State not only shows a blatant disregard of the man who put PSU on the map, but more importantly shows a disregard for the safety and well-being of students who would not be contemplating rioting in the first place had university officials abandoned their anti-Paterno agenda. It’s a classic case of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Unfortunately, it seems that media coverage of the Sandusky scandal has produced the idea that one cannot be a supporter of Joe Paterno while still being a supporter of the victims. This, of course, is an absurd argument. Anyone who believes such an argument is as thick-headed as the PSU administrators.
You see, while child abuse is an ugly thing, the same can also be said for elderly abuse. Abuse can take many forms: physical, verbal, and emotional. If the vilification and public humiliation of an 84-year old man who played an insignificant role in the Sandusky scandal isn’t elderly abuse, then I don’t know what is. And if you’re one of the folks who feel that Paterno’s involvement in the matter was more than minimal, then perhaps you should spend more time reading the complete Grand Jury report and less time getting your news from people like Nancy Grace or Dr. Drew.
Many of us Paterno supporters held our tongues when the man was fired. We even held our tongues when the Big Ten Conference decided to remove Paterno’s name from the conference trophy. But the decision to tear down the statue in front of Beaver Stadium is more than kicking an old man while he is down; it is making a scapegoat out of a coach who did everything he was legally required to do when informed of Sandusky’s suspicious shower-time activities. It is intentionally stealing the spotlight away from the victims and conveniently side-stepping the matter of the university’s failure to report these allegations to police. As any criminal will tell you, why be the fall guy when you can saddle someone else with the blame? And what can be more criminal than conspiring to incite a riot? That is, after all, what Penn State has done once before and is planning to do again.
I feel that there has been enough victims in this tragic tale, but Penn State apparently doesn’t agree. At least not until they include one elderly man who has done more for the university than the entire Board of Trustees can do in their combined lifetimes. At what point does the crusade end? Will Joe Paterno no longer get his mail if the Postal Service decides to strip his name from his mailbox? When the great coach draws his last breath, will he be buried in an unmarked grave?
To those who support Penn State’s decision to tear down Paterno’s statue, I ask, “Why stop there?” You are the same people who should demand that Philadelphia tears down its statue of William Penn (after all, he knew about assaults on Native Americans but didn’t go to the police). You should be advocating the demolition of Mount Rushmore (after all, some of those guys owned slaves). And what about the Statue of Liberty? Those pesky French who gave us the statue also tried to kill us in 1798 (the Franco-American war, to anyone who cares about history).
I’ve always believed that the punishment should fit the crime, but for a man who did not commit any crimes Joe Paterno has suffered an extraordinary amount of punishment. And in my eyes, that makes him a victim of abuse.