Is it right to pull down Joe Paterno’s statue, as though he were Saddam Hussein?
Since the scorching Freeh report came out, plenty of people have weighed in on the best thing to do with that triumphant 7-foot statue of the late coach, symbolizing nearly half a century of pride in Penn State football.
Should it be torn down? Moved away? Even the sculptor, Angelo Di Maria, got into the fray, counseling patience. “Put a cover on it,” he said, and “let’s see how everyone feels in six months” or a year.
After a plane flew over the campus several days a week ago trailing a banner that said, “Take the statue down or we will,” some students set up camp to guard the monument from vandals.
It was taken down Sunday.
If I were the Decider, I would have left it up. But I’d put up another darkly alluring statue behind Paterno, whispering in his ear: Mephistopheles.
Jerry Sandusky is a sexual sociopath. When you looked into his eyes during his trial, as young men who had been raped by him as trusting boys cried and cringed on the stand, there was no emotion there, no shame.
Paterno is the tragic figure in the case, the man who went to church and taught his players “success with honor,” but succumbed to supporting depravity. His name was derived from the Latin word for father, and JoePa was the beloved paterfamilias of Happy Valley. So how did he crack his moral compass?
It’s the story of “Faust,” a morality play that unspools daily in politics, banking, sports and the Catholic Church. It has taken many artistic forms, from puppet theater to the Marlowe and Goethe plays to opera to a buoyant musical that was also a sports morality tale, “Damn Yankees,” about a middle-age real estate agent who sells his soul to be a slugger named “Shoeless Joe” Hardy for the Washington Senators. Like Dr. Faust, Paterno was a learned man, an opera lover versed in the classics. A graduate of Brown University, JoePa loved the Robert Browning line, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”
Certainly, he was grasping with both hands in January 2011. As reported in The Times, Paterno began negotiating to amend his contract and get a sweeter deal with luxury perks like use of the university’s private jet, even as prosecutors plumbed the depths of Sandusky’s behavior.
In an interview in 1987, Paterno was asked about his holier-than-thou image. A few skeptics said JoePa was an egotistical zealot who would do anything to win, the reporter wrote, but most people idolized him as “the saint in black cleats of the often seamy world of college sports.”
Paterno replied: “It scares the heck out of me. Because I know I’m not that clean.”
And it turned out he wasn’t. Louis Freeh, the former FBI director who conducted the school’s investigation, found that despite denials, the coach knew about a 1998 allegation that Sandusky had abused a child in the Penn State showers.
Since Paterno was the most powerful man on campus, he was being disingenuous when he said he did his duty by reporting Sandusky to top officials after Mike McQueary told him in 2001 that he had seen an assistant coach molesting a slight boy in the shower.
But Freeh learned the truth: that it was Paterno who persuaded Graham Spanier, who was the university president, Gary Schultz, a vice president, and Tim Curley, the athletic director, not to report Sandusky to state authorities. Eager to protect the brand and their cash cow, they decided to rationalize. They warned Sandusky to stop bringing children onto campus.
Paterno, Freeh said, made “the worst mistake of his life,” committing the deadly sin of pride. After all those decades acting the part of a modest, moral man, he put his own reputation above the welfare of children.