I coverered three states and about 250 miles Sunday morning to the soundtrack of the Penn State Blues on sports talk radio. As news broke that the statue of Joe Paterno was being removed from outside Beaver Stadium, the handful of sports talk radio hosts and dozens of callers within earshot filled the dawn airwaves. The anecdotal reactions revealed a sports nation divided about Penn State, Joe Paterno and what, if any, role the NCAA should play in punishing the university.
Make no mistake, when the sanctions are announced this morning they will be like no other levied against a college athletic program. That’s because the voilations are like no other in college athletics.
NCAA president Mark Emmert promised once the legal system completed its due process the college athletics governing body would act. The NCAA ruling will come in the wake of the conviction of Jerry Sandusky on 45 counts of sexual child abuse and the gruesome 267-page Freeh Report that claims Paterno, former Penn State president Graham Spanier and university officials Tim Curley and Gary Schulz buried the child sex abuse allegations.
Sensing both the pressure from the community and the pending NCAA announcement, Penn State president Rodney Erickson made the bold decision to remove Paterno’s statue over the weekend. In a statement released to the media Sunday morning, Erickson stated:
The statue of Joe Paterno has become a lightning rod of controversy and national debate, including the role of big time sports in university life … 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 to remove the statue … Penn State is defined by our actions [and] the world will be watching how [the university] addresses its challenges in the days ahead. I fully realize that my decision will not be popular in some Penn State circles, but I am certain it is the right and principled decision.
“A lightning rod of controversy,” “a source of division” and “an obstacle of healing.” When a university’s athletic program is making national headlines over an inanimate bronze statue, the best thing to do is eliminate the problem. Penn State should be recognize for making the right decision — in this instance. With Sandusky behind bars, Paterno dead and Spanier, Curley and Schulz out, Erickson eliminated the 900-pound “obstacle to healing.” The Paterno statue had become a distraction for the university now, and in the future. Erickson must do everything he can to preserve the future of the university, which will become increasingly difficult when the NCAA announces their penalty within the hour of this report.
Meanwhile, the Paterno family issued a statement of their own, defending the Paterno legacy using langauge that oozed of selfishness and denial saying:
Tearing down the statue of Joe Paterno does not serve the victims of Jerry Sandusky’s horrible crimes or help heal the Penn State community … It is not the University’s responsibility to defend or protect Joe Paterno. But they at least should have acknowledged that important legal cases are still pending and that the record on Joe Paterno, the Board and other key players is far from complete.
If the Paterno family were truly concerned for the well-being, and future, of Penn State (the university Joe Paterno so proudly adored for more than 60 years), they would embrace the university’s decision to remove the statue. Paterno’s legacy is important to Penn State. His financial contributions and community works are still being honored. Paterno’s name and influence are being carried in spirit by the student-athletes lives he’s impacted. Just ask one of Paterno’s former student-athletes. The stories are glorious, and endless.
Now imagine you’re a Penn State upperclassman; a potential starter on the football team. It’s every high school football player’s dream, right? To play — and start — for a major Division I football program like Penn State. Last November the dream started to unravel. Nine months later it’s a nightmare. Your college dreams are about to go up in flames tomorrow morning when the NCAA drops the other shoe on the Penn State football program. Sandusky, Paterno and Penn State’s leaders are gone but their decisions will have a lingering effect on innocent players, coaches and students left behind.
While some may point the finger at the sick-and-twisted actions of Sandusky, the choices made by Paterno (and the university officials at large) were complicit. These were not the actions of an inanimate bronze statue, but a man. His name: Joe Paterno. Like you, like me, he is flawed. Unfortunately, for Paterno and Penn State the decision not to act on the disturbing acts of a university employee has led to life-long damage to the lives of victims and their families.