Penn State President Rod Erickson announced that the statue of disgraced football coach Joe Paterno was removed from its place outside the football stadium because it “has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing.” The statue will be put into “storage” for what probably will be not only the foreseeable future but no doubt for eternity, and well it should be.
As we learned in former FBI director Louis Freeh’s comprehensive report analyzing the Jerry Sandusky child abuse debacle at Penn State, Joe Paterno was no bystander in this matter. He was very much aware of the situation and did everything to keep it quiet for the good of the university, which in reality meant the health of the football program. This revelation has opened the eyes of many, though Paterno supporters remain, and the statue was a flagrant reminder of a man who put the survival of his own program above the well being of children.
I recall a line from the film Die Hard with a Vengeance, in which terrorist Simon (Jeremy Irons) reveals to police officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) that he would never place a bomb in a school. “I am not a monster, though sometimes I work for monsters.” Yes, this is only a movie, but the point is that putting the lives of children in jeopardy is seen as something inherently wrong, even by someone who harms people for a living. It has become increasingly obvious that Paterno was a monster, in some ways worse than Sandusky because he knew what was happening and took a course of action which allowed it to continue.
This situation makes me remember some famous moments in history. One is when Ronald Reagan, speaking in West Berlin, said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” in reference to the Berlin Wall. Another moment is when the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Baghdad. In the end Gorbachev and Hussein were powerless to stop the inevitable. That wall in Germany and that statue in Iraq were powerful symbols of oppression, and their “fall” was just as powerful, sending a message to people everywhere.
How sadly ironic is it that Saddam’s statue and Paterno’s both feature right arms raised in the air. The myth of the all conquering hero comes to mind, with crowds cheering and the arm gesture showing appreciation. In the sad reality of both men, they were so out of touch with the truly heroic; one gassing his own people and oppressing them, the other being unable to appreciate or to care about the young men who were being savagely abused by Sandusky. Both Saddam and Paterno can be seen as monsters, and I do not know which one is worse, and that may be the saddest part of all.
For now, Penn State has done the right thing after years of getting it wrong. Unfortunately, Paterno’s name remains on the school library. Erickson justifies this saying that it is because of “the substantial and lasting contributions to the academic life and educational excellence that the Paterno family has made to Penn State University.” If this leaves a bad taste in your mouth you are not alone.
Reagan said to tear down the wall, and eventually it happened. People called for the statue to come down weeks ago, and it finally has. I am also predicting that the library should soon go by another name. It is just a matter of time. Paterno’s only “substantial and lasting contribution” is a toxic one, tarnishing the name of his university and the reputation of his program. His legacy is one of horrific proportions, and it is fitting that his statue is where it should be, in the darkest of catacombs where it can remain for all time.
Photo Credits: paterno statue-AP; saddam statue-guardian.co.uk.