Penn State officials defended their decision to tear down former head coach Joe Paterno's statue in a statement released Sunday -- one day before NCAA sanctions stripped him of his position as the winningest coach in college football history.
PSU president Rodney Erickson wrote that after careful thought, the university's leadership officially decided to remove the statue of the late football coach outside of Beaver Stadium. Some 40 minutes later, crews began cutting down the memorial.
As they worked, 100 to 150 people gathered outside, some leaving behind flowers and signs on the memorial.
One of them was Gayle Barnes — "Juror 3” in the Sandusky criminal trial. Barnes told the Daily Collegian removing the statue was the "wrong decision."
"[Being on the jury] does make it more painful that this is happening right now," Barnes said. "It's because I’ve went through everything with the Sandusky trial and now, all of a sudden, this. And it’s just been terrible for me."
Erickson's statement suggested Penn State leadership's decision was similarly taxing.
"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," Erickson said. "For that reason, I have decided that it is in the best interest of our university and public safety to remove the statue and store it in a secure location. I believe that, were it to remain, the statue will be a recurring wound to the multitude of individuals across the nation and beyond who have been the victims of child abuse."
Calls for the JoePa statue to be removed began almost immediately after the Freeh report was released on July 12, which showed Paterno was involved in the cover up of Jerry Sandusky's sexual crimes while publicly stating he wasn't aware of them.
Students began camping out by the statue to protect it, while a plane flew overhead towing a banner that read, "Take down the statue, or we will."
Erickson's decision came exactly one month after Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts of child sex abuse. He announced that the Joe Paterno library will keep the coach's name. Erickson said the "Paterno Library symbolizes the substantial and lasting contributions to the academic life and educational excellence that the Paterno family has made to Penn State University." The Paterno family donated $4 million to help fund the construction of the library.
Penn State's Board of Trustees had tried to walk a fine line, carefully avoiding any negative statements towards Paterno since the release of the Freeh report.
"The whole topic of Joe Paterno being honored or not being honored is a very sensitive topic, this is something that will continue to need to be discussed," said Board Chair Karen Peetz when asked in a press conference whether they'd remove the JoePa statue.
"I am deeply saddened by the decision to remove the statue," said Anthony Lubrano, a trustee on Penn State's board who the Wall Street Journal reports wanted the statue to stay. "He led with integrity and the highest character. His leadership is sorely missed."
Paterno's family -- who have argued that the Freeh report is flawed -- said in a statement, "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."
Erickson said he knew it won't be popular in all Penn State circles, but said it was a "right and principled" decision.
Penn State's president received an important endorsement from another president. ESPN reports White House press secretary Jay Carney said President Barack Obama believed "it was the right decision" for the university to remove the monument.
FULL STATEMENT BY PENN STATE PRESIDENT RODNEY ERICKSON REGARDING JOE PATERNO STATUE:
Since we learned of the Grand Jury presentment and the charges against Jerry Sandusky and University officials last November, members of the Penn State community and the public have been made much more acutely aware of the tragedy of child sexual abuse. Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to those victims of Mr. Sandusky and all other victims of child abuse. I assure you that Penn State will take a national leadership role in the detection and prevention of child maltreatment in the months and years ahead.
With the release of Judge Freeh’s Report of the Special Investigative Counsel, we as a community have had to confront a failure of leadership at many levels. The statue of Joe Paterno outside Beaver Stadium has become a lightning rod of controversy and national debate, including the role of big time sports in university life. The Freeh Report has given us a great deal to reflect upon and to consider, including Coach Paterno’s legacy.
Throughout Penn State, the two most visible memorials to Coach Paterno are the statue at Beaver Stadium and the Paterno Library. The future of these two landmarks has been the topic of heated debate and many messages have been received in various University offices, including my own. We have heard from numerous segments of the Penn State community and others, many of whom have differing opinions. These are particularly important decisions when considering things that memorialize such a revered figure.
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 and public safety to remove the statue and store it in a secure location. I believe that, were it to remain, the statue will be a recurring wound to the multitude of individuals across the nation and beyond who have been the victims of child abuse.
On the other hand, the Paterno Library symbolizes the substantial and lasting contributions to the academic life and educational excellence that the Paterno family has made to Penn State University. The library remains a tribute to Joe and Sue Paterno’s commitment to Penn State’s student body and academic success, and it highlights the positive impacts Coach Paterno had on the University. Thus I feel strongly that the library’s name should remain unchanged.
Coach Paterno’s positive impact over the years and everything he did for this University predate his statue. At the same time it is true that our institution’s excellence cannot be attributed to any one person or to athletics. Rather, Penn State is defined by our actions and accomplishments as a learning community. Penn State has long been an outstanding academic institution and we will continue to be.
The world will be watching how Penn State addresses its challenges in the days ahead. While some may take issue with the decisions I have made, I trust that everyone associated with our University will respond in a civil and respectful manner.
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. I believe we have chosen a course that both recognizes the many contributions that Joe Paterno made to the academic life of our University, while taking seriously the conclusions of the Freeh Report and the national issue of child sexual abuse. Today, as every day, our hearts go out to the victims.
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