Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 7/15/12

Recent sports headlines are an exercise in contradiction.  Next to featured news about letting the “healing process begin” at Penn State– which, by the way, is laughable at this early stage– is coverage of the university’s decision to allow the statue of Joe Paterno to stand, raising a key question:

How care there be any real healing without accountability?  How can the Penn State community even consider moving past this tragedy when a larger-than-life bronze reminder dominates the campus?

A monument that once stood for what was good in college athletics now stands as little more than an inappropriate and painful reminder of the past.

There will be no healing.  The will be no getting over this.  Not for anyone.  Not until the school and its students stop maintaining a shrine to those who were complicit.

Joe Paterno was an excellent football coach.  He was a powerful fundraiser.  He donated millions to the university.  Good for him.  He also enabled a pedophile and actively concealed one of the most heinous crimes in the history of college sports.

Those things don’t balance out.  The good does not outweigh the bad.  His lessons on integrity have been rendered hollow.

Paterno shared facilities with Sandusky for years.   Ask yourself how you would react, seeing a molester on a regular basis, knowing his crimes had never been addressed. 

According to the ESPN article, “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!!!’”

Yes, he was a man.  A man who stood up for his football program rather than stopping child rape. 

What’s especially perplexing is that the trustees weren’t required to make any kind of definitive decision at all.  At least, not yet.  By refraining from making an announcement on the statue’s fate, the board could have given itself additional time to make a proper determination on the best course of action.  And in fact, taking more time to consider the situation was one purported reason for this decision.  Said an unnamed trustee, “we don’t want to jump the gun again.”

Fair enough.  But in that case, why say anything?  Why publicly state that the statue will stay rather than simply staying mute on the subject?  By handling the situation as it did, the board merely comes across as hopelessly arrogant, and perhaps intimidated by its own constituency.  Said another trustee about the statue snafu, “we don’t want to further upset the alumni.”

Not exactly the right way to make a decision.

Which leads to another question:  how much longer will Penn State be permitted to self-govern?  Frankly, it long ago lost the right to do so.   Someone beyond the university’s own power structure needs to step in and make that fact crystal clear to everyone involved.

 ”‘They don’t get to tell us,’ [a] source said about members of the public clamoring for its removal. ‘This is a Penn State community decision.’”

No.  No, it’s not.  Penn State is not a nation unto itself.  It is subject to the laws of both the United States and Pennsylvania, and more importantly, the laws of basic human decency.  It is also a publicly-funded institution.  So yes, “source”, the public does in fact get to tell you.  Maybe not in as immediate a way as would be appropriate, but the trustees should not and (we hope) will not have the final say.

According to legal experts, the man whose monument now serves as a rallying cry to those still struggling to accept the harsh reality of this scandal would most likely have been facing charges had he not died of lung cancer.  In short, this is a statue on a college campus to a man, an “educator”, who would have been facing prison time for his actions against children.  Strip away all other facts and emotions; that’s enough of a bottom line to warrant removal.

In fact, that assessment of Paterno’s would-be legal status raises an interesting parallel.  From the AP :

Duquesne law professor Wes Oliver said the report by former FBI director Louis Freeh reads like a prosecution case for a child endangerment charge against Paterno, then-president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and now-retired vice president Gary Schultz. Oliver noted that a former top official in the Philadelphia Archdiocese was convicted of that very charge in June for allowing a suspected pedophile priest to be around children.

Has there ever been a shred of sympathy for the church officials who aided and abetted pedophile priests?  Were those men lauded for their humanitarian acts and given a pass on their moral failings?  Of course not.  What exactly is different in this case, other than the inclusion of Division 1 college football?

There is no “yeah, but” here.  The good that Paterno did doesn’t need to be erased or forgotten, but it certainly doesn’t trump what’s happened.

A staute, in and of itself, is merely an inanimate object.  If can’t hurt anyone.  But it is a symbol of this scandal, and will forever be intextricably linked with this Sandusky mess.  The decision to let it stand is symbolic of the university’s refusal to fully accept what has happened.  We can hope that the trustees change their minds in due time.  But if not, someone should step in.

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