STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (KDKA/AP) – Crews removed the statue of Joe Paterno outside of Beaver Stadium Sunday morning.
The university said it was taking down the larger-than-life monument in the face of an investigative report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh that found the late coach, along with three top Penn State administrators, concealed the abuse claims against Jerry Sandusky more than a decade ago in order to shield the university and its football program from negative publicity.
A spokeswoman for the Paterno family did not immediately return phone and email messages Sunday morning.
Construction vehicles and police arrived shortly after dawn Sunday, barricading the street and sidewalks near the statue, erecting a chain-link fence then concealing the statue with a blue tarp.
Penn State President Rod Erickson said he decided to have the statue removed and put into storage because it “has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing.”
“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,” Erickson said in a statement released at 7 a.m. Sunday.
“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.”
However, Paterno’s name will remain on the library as a tribute to his contributions to the school.
“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.”
The bronze sculpture outside Beaver Stadium has been a rallying point for students and alumni outraged over Paterno’s firing four days after Sandusky’s Nov. 5 arrest – and grief-stricken over the Hall of Fame coach’s Jan. 22 death at age 85.
But it turned into a target for critics after the Freeh report’s stunning allegation of a cover-up by Paterno, ousted President Graham Spanier and two Penn State officials, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz. Their failure to report Sandusky to child-welfare authorities in 2001 allowed him to continue molesting boys, the report found.
The announcement will be made by NCAA President Mark Emmert Monday at 9 a.m.
Paterno’s family, along with attorneys for Spanier, Curley and Schultz, vehemently deny any suggestion they protected a pedophile. Curley and Schultz await trial on charges of failing to report child abuse and lying to a grand jury but maintain their innocence. Spanier hasn’t been charged. Sandusky was convicted last month of 45 counts of sexual abuse of 10 boys.
The Paterno family issued a statement Sunday morning regarding the statue’s removal, which said in part:
“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.”
But Paterno still has plenty of fans, and Penn State’s decision to remove the monument won’t sit well with them. One student even vowed to “chain myself to that statue” if there was an attempt to remove it.
University officials had called the issue a sensitive one in light of Paterno’s enormous contributions to the school over a 61-year coaching career. The Paterno family is well-known in the community for philanthropic efforts, including the millions of dollars they’ve donated to the university to help build a library and fund endowments and scholarships.
All week, a plane has been flying over Beaver Stadium with a banner that reads, ‘Take the statue down or we will.’
In response, some students have started a vigil to keep watch over the statue.
The statue, nearly 7 feet tall and weighing more than 900 pounds, was built in 2001 in honor of Paterno’s record-setting 324th Division 1 coaching victory and his “contributions to the university.”
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