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Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Updated: July 18, 12:46 PM ET
Banner calls for removal of statue

ESPN.com news services

The debate over the statue of Joe Paterno on the Penn State campus has taken to the skies.

On Tuesday, a small plane pulled a banner over State College reading, "Take the statue down or we will." The plane is licensed to Air America Aerial Ads of Genoa, Ohio. A person who answered the phone at Air America declined to give his name or identify who paid for the flight.

Federal Aviation Administration records show the agency grounded a plane from the same company after it towed banners taunting Tiger Woods during the 2010 Masters golf tournament.

Joe Paterno Statue
The statue of Joe Paterno, once a rallying point for support of the late coach, has become a lightning rod for critics of the school and its football program.

The Paterno statue outside Beaver Stadium has been a point of much contention since the results from a scathing report by former FBI director Louis Freeh were made public and greatly tarnished the reputation of a man once known as "JoePa."

Critics have called for the statue to be taken down after the Freeh report concluded that Paterno was aware of allegations levied against convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky in 1998 -- in contrast to his grand jury testimony and an interview given after his firing -- and that he was involved in the decision to not report a 2001 incident to the authorities even after his superiors had decided to.

Penn State president Rodney Erickson said Tuesday that no decision has been made on whether to take it down.

"I'm still in the process of talking with members of my leadership team," Erickson said. "I'll want to talk with members of the board and others. And we will make a decision, and we will make the right decision based on what we believe is the best course of action for the university."

University spokesman David La Torre said a decision on the matter would be made in seven to 10 days.

Regardless of Penn State's decision on the statue, it's clear that Paterno's name is losing its luster.

"Paternoville," a tent city outside Beaver Stadium where students camp out for prime football tickets, was scrapped Monday in favor of "Nittanyville." Brown University, the late coach's alma mater, said that not only had it removed Paterno's name from its head football coaching position and a student award, but it's also reviewing whether to remove him from the school's athletic hall of fame, too.

Paterno graduated from Brown in 1950 and was inducted to its hall of fame in 1977.

Nike took Paterno's name off a child care center on its corporate campus on Thursday, the same day the Freeh report was released. Company founder Phil Knight -- whose rousing defense of Paterno at a memorial service after his death drew thunderous applause -- said in statement that "it appears Joe made missteps that led to heartbreaking consequences. I missed that Joe missed it."

The halo that had floated above Paterno's head in a State College mural was removed Saturday. In its place the artist added a blue ribbon in support of child abuse awareness.

And a Connecticut middle school said it would paint over its own mural of Paterno.

The Freeh report raised the culpability of Paterno and former university president Graham Spanier to the same level as two other key figures: former vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley.

Both Schultz and Curley await trial on charges of perjury and failure to report suspected child abuse. A judge on Monday set an Aug. 16 court date for oral arguments on pretrial motions.

Spanier is not charged, and his attorneys have criticized the Freeh report, saying it contains inaccuracies. Paterno's family denies he participated in any attempt at a cover-up.

Erickson, who pledged greater transparency after he was named Spanier's successor, called the past eight months "obviously been the most difficult and saddest chapter in the university's history" but vowed to make it right.

"We can't rewrite that chapter in terms of what happened in the past, but we are taking responsibility for what happened," he continued. "We're determined to emerge from all of this as a stronger, better university."

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.