Sources: Joe Paterno's statue stays

Updated: July 15, 2012, 7:25 PM ET
By Don Van Natta Jr. | ESPN.com

The embattled members of Penn State's Board of Trustees quietly have decided to leave Joe Paterno's statue standing -- at least for now and, some hope, forever, according to sources with firsthand knowledge of the trustees' private discussions this week.

The trustees' reluctance to remove the statue is motivated, in part, by a desire not to offend alumni and students who adore the late coach despite the damning findings of his role in the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse cover-up detailed in the Freeh report, the sources said. Some trustees also said in interviews they want to resist being pressured by the media into a sudden decision about such an emotionally charged issue.

[+] EnlargeJoe Paterno Statue
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarJoe Paterno's legacy may have taken a hit but his iconic statue on Penn State's campus will remain for now, according to sources.

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

Although some trustees said in discussions Thursday and Friday in board meetings in Scranton, Pa., they believed the statue eventually would have to be torn down, most quickly reached a consensus it should remain standing in the coming weeks and months, trustees and a person briefed on their discussions said. Some trustees went even further, insisting Paterno's statue outside Beaver Stadium in State College, Pa., never should be removed.

"It has to stay up," said another trustee. "We have to let a number of months pass, and we'll address it again. But there is no way, no way. It's just not coming down."

A Penn State spokesman, after reading at least one media report that referenced a board vote on the matter and hearing from the public the board had taken a vote, issued a statement Sunday saying: "Contrary to various reports, neither the Board of Trustees nor University Administration has taken a vote or made a decision regarding the Joe Paterno statue at Beaver Stadium."

Since the Freeh report revealed Paterno's role in covering up child sexual abuse allegations against Sandusky, former coaches, commentators and members of the public have demanded the Paterno statue be torn down immediately. Some have also called for the removal of Paterno's name from the university library; the Paterno family donated more than $4 million to the university.

On Saturday, a campus security guard stood a few paces from the Paterno statue outside Beaver Stadium, keeping watch for would-be vandals. On campus, rumors have circulated that campus police officers might try to dismantle the statue in the early morning hours when no one is watching.

A sign on a wall behind the statue reads: EDUCATOR COACH HUMANITARIAN. At the statue's feet, someone placed a homemade sign that says, "Remember: He was a man. Not a god!!!"

Few have been more adamant that the statue should go than Bobby Bowden, the former Florida State coach. "You go to a Penn State football game and there's 100,000 people down there and they see that statue and you know doggone well they'll start talking about Sandusky," Bowden told The Associated Press. "If it was me, I wouldn't want to have it brought up every time I walked out on the field."

Dan McGinn, a Paterno family spokesman, declined to comment Saturday on how the Paternos feel about the statue's possible removal. Jay Paterno, Joe Paterno's son, has said he believes his father's statue should remain standing.

Publicly, the trustees and Penn State president Rodney Erickson insisted the public have patience as they try to deliberate the appropriate way to mark Paterno's legacy on campus. They repeatedly insisted they would take a careful, wait-and-see approach. Karen Peetz, the board's chairwoman, told reporters on Thursday the statue is "a very sensitive topic. This is something that will need to be discussed with the entire university community. This is not just a board decision."

But privately, Peetz, board member Ken Frazier and most of the other trustees, whose leadership on the Sandusky matter as a whole was harshly criticized by the Freeh report, spoke adamantly about the need to keep the statue standing, the sources told "Outside the Lines." They said they hoped the passage of time would prove to be an ally, sources said.

The trustees "are hoping they can have more time pass and people will forget about it and then it won't come down," one trustee said.

"They don't get to tell us," the source said about members of the public clamoring for its removal. "This is a Penn State community decision."

The meaning of such a decision is not lost on the trustees, sources said. Since firing Paterno without hearing from him last November, the trustees have repeatedly clashed with Paterno and his family. They have traded barbed press releases. Their negotiation over a paid settlement on Paterno's last contract was a bitter dispute resolved weeks ago.

Some alumni groups have continued to call for resignations of trustees, and one trustee said this about the statue: "We don't want to further upset the alumni."

One trustee said the board is learning from its past mistakes.

"We don't want to jump the gun again," the trustee said. "When we did that in November, look where we ended up. If it does have to come down, it will be after much deliberation and discussion. If I had my way, (the statue) will always be there. People can take from it what they want."

Also publicly, the trustees were judicious in their comments about the late coach, despite the damning findings in the Freeh report about the late coach's handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse allegations. The report concluded that Paterno -- along with former Penn State president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz -- "repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse."

Urging patience, Frazier said, "I think we have to take some time, some reflection and distance before making a decision on how we will think about Joe Paterno's entire life and body of work."

Some have chosen not to take time to reflect. On Thursday, hours after the Freeh report was made public, Nike announced it was removing Joe Paterno's name from its child development center. On Saturday morning, the halo atop Paterno's head on the Heister Street mural was painted over by the artist. And even Penn State intends to alter its campus buildings in an attempt to erase the legacy of Sandusky's crimes against children. After the civil lawsuits are filed, the university will renovate the locker rooms and shower areas where Sandusky assaulted children inside the Lasch Football Building on campus.

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

Don Van Natta Jr. | email

Senior writer, ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com

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