Paterno Statue Still Standing

Penn State's Board of Trustees urges patience when it comes to addressing the coach's legacy. So far, public opinion is split on whether the statue outside of Beaver Stadium should stay or go.

Penn State officials addressing allegations revealed in the Freeh Report tiptoed delicately around questions about former Nittany Lion football coach Joe Paterno Thursday afternoon. They suggested patience was in order, whether in defining the late Hall of Famer's legacy or deciding the fate of the Paterno statue on campus.

“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,” PSU Board of Trustees member Ken Frazier said at a press conference in Scranton, Pa.

The Freeh Report, commissioned by the Board of Trustees to investigate the university's handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, was revealed Thursday morning. The report contends that Paterno -- along with former school officials Graham Spanier, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz -- “repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse.”

Top university officials are in Scranton for a regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Trustees Friday. After repeatedly butting heads with Paterno and his family since firing the coach when the Sandusky scandal broke last November, school officials were careful in their responses about him Thursday.

“What the report finds is inexcusable failures on the part of Joe Paterno and others to protect children,” Frazier said. “… But I think you have to measure each human by the good they've done and the bad they've done.”

Asked specifically if the Paterno statue outside of Beaver Stadium will come down, Board president Karen Peetz said there were no immediate plans to do so.

“It's a very sensitive topic,” she said. “We believe that with the report's findings, that this is something that will need to be discussed with the entire university community. This is not just a board decision.”

In an ongoing online poll on the Fight On State premium forum, roughly 60 percent of the respondents say the Paterno statue should remain at Beaver Stadium. Forty percent say it should be removed.

“While it is up, it is a lightening rod for criticism of Penn State,” wrote the user NorthsideLion. “We need to move forward.”

The user Elmgrovegnome countered, “I am not going to kowtow to the media. Joe has done much more good than he has done bad. Let the statue stand for the good things he has done. Nobody is perfect.”

The debate is not limited to internet forums. While being interviewed on ESPN Radio in State College Thursday, former Florida State coach and longtime Paterno rival Bobby Bowden said he thought the statue should go. Paterno's son, former PSU quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno, earlier told ESPN the statue should stay.

“The emotional response right now is maybe to go take the statue down,” Jay Paterno said. “… That's not going to heal victims. That's not going to make any of this go away. We have to just continue to let this thing unfold.”

A campus security officer was stationed at the statue Thursday evening. But the massive hunk of metal did not appear to be in any imminent danger. Occasionally a small group of students or a family would stop by to take photographs with it. A bouquet of yellow flowers was at the base of the statue.

A security officer keeps watch over the statue.

Many people walked right by the statue on their way to watch a minor league baseball game at nearby Medlar Field.

In the meantime, school officials were not nearly as evenhanded in their comments about Spanier, the former school president who was also fired in the wake of the Sandusky scandal. They accused him of lying about the seriousness of the allegations against Sandusky, the former PSU assistant coach who last month was convicted on 45 counts of child sex abuse.

In January of 2011, Spanier was interviewed by the grand jury investigating Sandusky. When the Harrisburg Patriot-News broke the news of the investigation the following month, board members asked Spanier about it. They now contend he was not truthful in explaining the matter.

“I think we had a huge degree of trust in Graham Spanier,” Frazier said. “When we asked him what was going on, we were assured there were no particular issues the board needed to worry about. … In retrospect, we wished we would have pressed someone who we had complete trust in.”

Curley, the former athletic director, and Schultz, the former school vice president, are both awaiting trial on perjury charges stemming from their grand jury testimony in the Sandusky case. Spanier has not been charged with any crimes.

The Freeh report was critical of the Board of Trustees for its lack of oversight regarding the Sandusky scandal. The members who met the media Thursday took no issue with that assessment.

“We, the Penn State Board of Trustees, failed in our obligation to provide proper oversight,” Frazier said. “We are accountable for what has happened here. Our administration leadership also failed.”

Peetz added “we are horrified, we are saddened -- there are not enough superlative words to use,” -- by the findings in the report. At the same time, she viewed the results as another step in the healing process at Penn State, saying, “we must restore trust in our community. We don't expect it to happen overnight. We will earn it back.”

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