Joe Paterno Statue Removed
At 5:30 a.m. or so, I took my first real, close-up look at the Joe Paterno statue. I’d passed it too many times to count; I’d stopped by when Paterno was dying and it was surrounded by mourners. I’d written about it, and its sculptor. But I’d never really seen it.
There was no crowd. Mostly media, including me, hanging around on a pleasant Sunday morning to see if anything would happen. Six “regular” people—students, and a guy from Bellefonte with his son and his son’s friend. After after days of speculation and news coverage, a pile of tributes left by other Penn Staters at the statue’s feet, including white roses, a football, and a sign that said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. We are and always will be Penn State.”
Less than three hours later, the statue was gone.
President Rodney Erickson explained why in a statement released around 7 a.m., while Office of Physical Plant workers were hanging blue tarp on fences they’d just erected around the statue. Erickson’s statement read in part:
“I now believe that, contrary to its original intention, Coach Paterno’s statue has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing in our university and beyond. For that reason, I have decided that it is in the best interest of our university and public safety to remove the statue and store it in a secure location. I believe that, if it were to remain, the statue will be a recurring wound to the multitude of individuals across the nation and beyond have been the victims of child abuse.”
The scene was surreal.
My watch read 6:08 a.m. when more than two dozen police officers walked out of Beaver Stadium and university trucks from the Office of Physical Plant pulled up in front of the statue. “Get back,” someone called. “This is a construction zone.”
As the wire fence and blue tarps went up around the statue, and then jackhammers pounded, the crowd grew. Most people were townies, and they seemed to come in groups of two or three. Many clutched coffee cups. There were three young women in Penn State cheerleader regalia. A few families. Morning exercisers. I don’t think it ever grew to more than 150 people or so, but it was tough to tell because everyone was so spread out.
Some people had tears in their eyes. One woman sobbed. Mostly, it was quiet except for the jackhammers. “It’s just upsetting,” one onlooker said softly. “This is a sad situation,” said another. As an ESPN announcer standing in front of a camera reported Erickson’s statement, one woman standing on the sidewalk quietly booed.
One man, standing in the Porter Road parking lot, a little apart from the rest of the crowd, yelled, “Bulldoze the whole place—don’t stop!” The woman who had been sobbing got angry. “I’d better not see you at a game,” she yelled back. A friend wrapped her arm around the woman’s waist, and she didn’t say anything else. The man soon went away.
About four people observed the process from the top level of skyboxes; two of them appeared to be Bill Mahon, the university’s director of public relations, and acting athletic director Dave Joyner.
At 8:21, the 7-foot, 900-pound statue, covered by plastic tarp and some kind of blue padding, was lowered to a horizontal position, then moved by a forklift and a phalanx of OPP guys through Loading Dock A and into Beaver Stadium. It was six months to the day since Paterno died; exactly a month since Jerry Sandusky was found guilty. I don’t think I’m the only person who thought the maneuver looked a little like a funeral procession.
It seemed that no one knew quite what to do. And then someone yelled “We Are,” and of course the response came back, “Penn State.” After a couple of back-and-forths, someone else yelled, “Joe Paterno forever!” And then everyone began to disperse. The OPP guys spent the rest of the morning removing the rest of the statue’s infrastructure—the plaques with Paterno’s season-by-season records, the quotation (“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”) and the four football players on the wall. They had some trouble with those.
Leaving the stadium, word came through my Twitter feed that the NCAA has scheduled a news conference for 9 a.m. Monday to announce “corrective and punitive measures” against Penn State. Seems like tomorrow is going to be another tough day to be a Penn Stater.
Lori Shontz, senior editor