School president to make statue call

Updated: July 21, 2012, 10:10 PM ET
By Don Van Natta Jr. | ESPN.com

The decision whether to remove or move the Joe Paterno statue from outside of Beaver Stadium is expected to be made by Penn State president Rodney Erickson within 72 hours, a source familiar with Erickson's plans told "Outside the Lines."

What to do about the statue has been a highly emotional topic among administrators and the board of trustees, sources said Friday. Much of the discussion has centered on how the NCAA will interpret whatever decision is made about the statue, sources said.

Trustees told "Outside the Lines" the board had a spirited discussion about the statue in a conference call Thursday night -- the same call in which the resignation of former board chairman Steve Garban was discussed. But the decision is not theirs, they said.

Various tweets Friday morning said the board had voted and/or made a decision about the statue and that it would be removed this weekend. However, if the board had taken a vote during the call, it would have violated state law, which prohibits votes from being taken outside of declared board meetings.

The trustees who spoke Friday morning said board members did discuss possibilities for the statue, including moving it from the stadium area, perhaps to the library on campus that bears the Paterno name, or the Penn State All Sports Museum near the stadium. Board spokesman David LaTorre declined to comment Friday morning.

Paterno's wife, Sue, visited the statue Friday, along with her son, David, and daughter, Mark Kay Hort. Former Penn State All-American and Paterno supporter Franco Harris also stopped at the statue.

The trustees have been concerned this week that the NCAA will hand down an extreme punishment, possibly the death penalty for the football program, for the school's "loss of institutional control" in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Dealing with the statue issue, and the resignation of Garban, was needed to show the public the board was serious about "moving forward," one trustee said.

"It's a highly sensitive decision," another trustee said Friday. "The decision is a symbolic one. We have to be very careful about what kind of message we send."

[+] EnlargeJoe Paterno Statue
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State president Rodney Erickson will make the decision whether to remove the Joe Paterno statue from outside Beaver Stadium.

According to one trustee, board members also are concerned about how the NCAA might view the board's decision in 2004 not to take a vote on a sweeping set of reforms that would have strengthened the board's oversight power over the university president and other campus leaders, including Paterno.

"Outside the Lines" detailed that decision in a story this week. The trustee said members are concerned that the decision to pass on such reforms might play into a potential NCAA charge of a "loss of institutional control" at Penn State.

Sources told "Outside the Lines" last week the trustees had wanted to keep the statue standing at least for the time being. The trustees' reluctance to remove the statue was motivated in part by a desire not to offend alumni and students who adore the late coach, despite the findings of his role in the Sandusky cover-up detailed in the Freeh report, the sources said.

"You can't let people stampede you into making a rash decision," a trustee said last week. "The statue represents the good that Joe did. It doesn't represent the bad that he did."

One board member told "Outside the Lines" Friday morning: "People want to kick Joe's bones ... it's outrageous."

Since the Freeh report was released last week, former coaches, commentators and members of the public have demanded the Paterno statue be torn down immediately. Some also have called for the removal of Paterno's name from the university library; the Paterno family donated more than $4 million to the university.

Last weekend, a campus security guard stood a few paces from the Paterno statue outside Beaver Stadium, keeping watch for would-be vandals. This week, a few students camped out around the statue to ensure it would not be vandalized after a plane flew over the campus Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with a banner that read: "Take the statue down or we will."

More than a decade ago, the 7-foot statue was commissioned by a group called "Friends of Joe and Sue Paterno," comprised of about 35 trustees, some of whom are still on the board, and deep-pocketed university benefactors. The group hired a Reading, Pa., artist named Angelo Di Maria, 65, to sculpt it. The statue was then bequeathed to the university, a trustee briefed on the arrangements said Friday night.

Two trustees who contributed to the statue's cost are Ed Hintz and Jim Broadhurst, both of whom were notified in May 2011 by then-president Graham Spanier at a private dinner about the Sandusky matter, according to the Freeh report. Both men have denied that Spanier told them about the investigation, but some of their fellow trustees said this week they do not believe them.

Among the other trustees who helped pay for the statue: Al Clemens and Ira Lubert.

Don Van Natta Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He can be reached at don.vannatta@espn.com and on Twitter @DVNJr.

Don Van Natta Jr. | email

Senior writer, ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com

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