STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (CBS) – Joe Paterno still greets visitors to Beaver Stadium. Forever looking spry, and pointing toward the sky with his jacket flown open and tie whipped around as if it was hit by the wind of another brisk Penn State football Saturday, Paterno is still there.
Amid a cascade of controversy, of course.
Paterno’s statue stands outside the stadium even as his reputation has swiftly fallen following a scathing special investigative report that found he helped cover up child sex abuse allegations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
Much like the final months of his life, there are no easy discussions or answers when it comes to JoePa. Not long after a plane flew over campus this week with a banner that read: “Take the statue down or we will,” Penn State students quickly rallied with a vigil to protect it from vandals.
Should it stay or should it go?
Not even the sculptor of the life-sized statue knows, for sure, how to feel about his creation that has turned into a 900-pound Rorschach test for all who step foot on campus.
“I think we should all wait on it. Put a cover on it,” Angelo Di Maria said. “Let’s see how everyone feels in six months … or a year.”
Penn State won’t wait that long. University spokesman David La Torre said a decision on the matter would be made next week as Penn State’s president seeks input from trustees, alumni and other constituencies about the fate of the monument.
The 65-year-old Di Maria, who lives near Reading, Pa., was commissioned more than a decade ago by “Friends of Joe and Sue Paterno,” as well as Penn State to create the nearly 7-foot statue. Di Maria had a long relationship with the university, mostly creating works for the donor program, when he was asked to craft the statue. Di Maria snapped sideline photos and decided on the iconic shot of Paterno running out of the tunnel, his right index finger extended.
He first made a clay model and then received the approval of one of Paterno’s daughters.
But the statue has morphed from a fan-friendly gathering spot to a shameful bronze symbol of all that is wrong with idolizing football coaches.
Critics have called for the sculpture to be taken down after the Freeh report concluded that Paterno was aware of the 1998 allegations against Sandusky — in contrast to his grand jury testimony and an interview given after his firing — and that he was involved in the decision to hide a 2001 incident from authorities.
“All the focus is on the statue right now, but horrible crimes were committed,” Di Maria said. “Let’s move on away from Joe Paterno. He’s gone, he’s passed on.”
Di Maria never imagined his simple statue would leave such a thorny legacy.
Sue Paterno was present when the statue was erected in November 2001 outside Beaver Stadium. There is a three-sided stone wall behind the statue. The left section of the wall reads, “Joseph Vincent Paterno: Educator, Coach, Humanitarian.”
Engraved near a wall of plaques to the left of the statue is a Paterno quote: “They asked me what I’d like written about me when I’m gone. I hope they write I’ve made Penn State a better place, not just that I was a good football coach.”
Those aren’t the stories written these days. Paterno, in fact, is racking up more losses in death than he did in his final season coaching the Nittany Lions:
— Paternoville, a tent city outside Beaver Stadium where students camp out for prime football tickets, was scrapped this week in favor of Nittanyville.
— Nike took Paterno’s name off a child care center on its corporate campus the day the Freeh report was released.
— The halo that had floated above Paterno’s head in a State College mural was also removed by the artist, who added a blue ribbon in support of child abuse awareness.
The Penn State library, though, has kept his name on the building. And Di Maria wonders if critics are acting in haste in stripping Paterno’s name.
“Are they going to be satisfied with just a halo? Are they going to remove the whole painting? The library? Should they tear that down? Isn’t that a tribute, a monument to Joe Paterno, also,” he asked. “A lot of people aren’t putting things into perspective right now.”
Di Maria never met Paterno, and his one chance to greet the former coach — around the time of the statue’s dedication — was scrapped. He said he was told Paterno was “sidetracked,” and a planned luncheon never developed. Di Maria said he never heard from Paterno about the statue.
The artist also has not heard from Penn State about any plans for the statue should it be removed from the stadium in the near future.
Di Maria says his heart goes out to the victims. But he knows what Paterno meant to the community and the program before the scandal erupted, and he’d like those who knew him — at his best — to remember him as he is forever frozen in bronze.
“We must consider, I don’t mean to make a comparison, but the kids that were attached to all the good, the good legacy that Joe Paterno left behind, are they becoming victims in their own respect by stripping them of this joy, of this experience with Joe Paterno,” he asked. “The statue, everything that’s associated with them in a positive way, do we have to pay attention to them also?
“Or should we just throw everything away that Joe Paterno ever did in a positive way?”
Time will tell.
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