By John Finnerty
Joe Paterno’s shoes are behind glass.
His black-and-white, Nike athletic shoes are displayed in a case in the Penn State All Sports Museum in the bowels of Beaver Stadium. His signature, thick-framed glasses and a pair of khaki pants accompany them.
Behind the artifacts — a small sign says Paterno wore them on the sidelines — are images of the coach running onto and being carried off the field.
Reverence for Paterno, who coached the Nittany Lions from 1966 to 2011, was once on full display outside Beaver Stadium, too. Sculptor Angelo DiMaria’s vision of a striding Paterno leading a quartet of players was a fixture on the northwest side of the stadium for more than 11 years.
Then, in July 2012, a construction crew spirited away the 900-pound, 7-foot bronze likeness. There’s still no sign of what had been the largest, most visible tribute to the late coach.
The statue’s location remains a secret closely guarded by Penn State officials. Yet what to make of Paterno’s legacy is a topic of much conversation, especially in State College.
Here, Paterno loyalists insist on a more visible memorial despite the coach’s role in a child sex abuse scandal involving one of his assistants which shattered the image of the football program he spent a career cultivating.
The statue is a key issue in this month’s election for Penn State’s 33-member Board of Trustees. Three of nine seats chosen by alumni are up for election, beginning Thursday.
In a 32-person field, 14 candidates mention Paterno in their position statements. Many explicitly pledge to support a tribute to the coach.
Joel Myers, founder of the meteorology business Accuweather, is running for reelection and advocates a new statue of Paterno — along with one of literature scholar Fred Lewis Pattee — in front of the university library that already bears both their names.
Joe and Sue Paterno gave millions to the library over the years, including a $50,000 donation weeks before the coach’s death on Jan. 22, 2012.
“Now is the time to heal the fractures in the Penn State nation,” Myers said at a trustees meeting in January. Myers, who received three degrees from Penn State, lives in State College.
Rudy Glocker, a former Penn State defensive lineman who is running for a seat, said it’s difficult to know the position of all trustees, who include members picked by the state’s farm bureaus, others appointed by the governor and some named by the board itself.
Realistically, Glocker said, the university may not move to reinstall the statue until all criminal cases arising from the sex abuse scandal are resolved and the NCAA sanctions levied against Penn State have expired.
“At some point, (the statue) will be back,” said Glocker, who graduated in 1991 and runs a children’s footwear company in Nevada.
Building a memorial to Peterno is not universally embraced, even outside the field of trustee candidates. Some, including David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, say the old statue of the old coach should never again see daylight.
Clohessy said honoring Paterno has higher stakes than many realize.
“Honestly, (reinstalling the statue) would endanger the safety of kids. That sounds like hyperbole but I don’t think it is,” he said.
No matter Paterno’s role in the Sandusky affair — as bit player or major figure — the coach was involved. Erecting a statue, said Clohessy, reinforces the belief that reporting sexual abuse does not lead to justice.
Disappearance amid scandal
The statue’s disappearance from the grounds of Beaver Stadium came a week after the university released an audit by former FBI Director Louis Freeh describing how Paterno and other Penn State leaders concealed information about Sandusky’s abuse.
The Penn State board had fired Paterno eight months earlier, when the allegations became public. His former assistant, Sandusky, ultimately would be convicted of 45 counts of abuse of 10 victims over a 15-year period.
Top university officials were also charged — with obstructing justice, conspiracy and endangering the welfare of children. Criminal cases are still pending against former Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz. Former Penn State President Graham Spanier has filed a lawsuit seeking to get the case against him thrown out.
Paterno died before charges were filed against administrators.
Days before Paterno’s statue was concealed, a plane flew over Beaver Stadium hauling a banner that declared: “Take down the statue or we will.”
At the time, Penn State President Rodney Erickson said the memorial had “become a source of division and an obstacle to healing.”
He added, “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.”
The Paterno statue was taken down July 22, 2012. Workers landscaped the site, leaving no trace the tribute ever stood.
Penn State officials have been tight-lipped about what they did with the statue. Contacted last week, university spokesman David La Torre would only say it is safe and secure.
Asked why Paterno memorabilia remains on exhibit inside Beaver Stadium, La Torre said the museum is a “separate entity” that makes its own decisions. Ken Hickman, director of the All Sports Museum, didn’t return calls seeking comment for this story.
DiMaria, the sculptor, acknowledged his piece’s location is “the million-dollar question.” DiMaria said he’s been told, unofficially, that it’s no longer on campus.
DiMaria designed the statue in 2001 at the request of friends of the Paternos, who paid for the work privately.
“This thing is not over yet,” he said. “You can’t take away a legacy.”
It’s a sentiment that reverberates in this college town of about 42,000 people, bounded by mountains in Centre County. Among visible signs are car magnets displayed next to the register at The Clothesline, a Penn State-themed T-shirt shop on College Avenue, one of the main drags.
One magnet says: “JVP.” They are the lionized coach’s initials.
Another: “409.” That’s the number of victories Paterno teams accumulated before the NCAA vacated 111 of them in sanctions leveled at Penn State’s athletic program because of the scandal.
No one at the store would comment about the statue, but Caroline Gummo, an apparel buyer, said the business is steadfastly “Pro-Paterno.”
Marie Librizzi, owner of the Old Main Frame Shop, said many businesses in town quietly put away Paterno-related merchandise when the scandal broke. She refused.
She is adamant that the statue should never have been removed. Hiding it in State College, she said, would be like hiding the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
The statue represents more than just an image of the coach. “It’s about what the university stood for all those years,” Librizzi said.
Paterno’s defenders say the coach didn’t fully appreciate what he was being told when an assistant reported to him that he’d seen Sandusky in a shower with a boy.
Plus, Paterno alerted his supervisors about the allegations, Glocker said.
“I didn’t take Cover-up 101 at Penn State,” he said. “But, if I did, I think they would have taught us that if we are participating in a cover-up, don’t tell anyone.”
Loyalty to Paterno — in State College and beyond — runs deeper than car magnets. More than 6,500 people have signed an online petition urging that Penn State put “the statue back where it belongs.” A Facebook page — “Put the Joepa statue back where it belongs” — has accumulated more than 10,700 likes.
Sentiment is also strong for the alternative — erecting a new statue of Paterno in front of the library.
In an email, Myers said it would be appropriate “not only because he donated and raised money for the library, but because of his commitment to academics and success for his football players that distinguished him, in my mind.”
Christopher Owens, a 2006 graduate who lives in Mechanicsburg, said many people shared that opinion when he ran last year for the Board of Trustees. Owens, who wasn’t elected, wanted to return the old Paterno statue to public view as part of his platform.
“As long as the statue’s meaning was to convey Joe — and Sue’s — positive contributions to education rather than football, I don’t think the statue would be insensitive,” he said.
Others are more equivocal, including three current candidates for board of trustees, running as a slate they call “Upward State.”
Matt Schuyler, one of those candidates, said they propose a presidential commission to decide how best to honor Paterno. That would open the discussion to many voices, he said, and allow Penn State’s new president, Eric Barron, to facilitate the conversation.
“The idea of putting a statue next to a building that already has his name on it, that doesn’t seem to be threading the needle,” said Schuyler, a 1987 graduate who lives in Virginia and is chief human resources officer for Hilton Worldwide.
Alice Pope, another candidate, said there’s no reason to wait to honor Paterno, especially in light of comments by a former deputy attorney general, Frank Fina, that there is no evidence Paterno participated in a cover-up.
“I think the arrival of a new president (Barron) will usher in a new era for Penn State where past wrongs can be righted. And this would include recognition of the contributions of the Paterno family to making Penn State a world class academic institution,” said Pope, a 1979 graduate and a child psychology professor at St. John’s University in New York.
Some say they want Penn State to move onto bigger issues — no matter what the trustees decide, or if the statue ever resurfaces.
“The amount of energy focused on the statue is a little overwhelming,” said Kristen Houser, vice president of public relations for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. Penn State gave the coalition $1.5 million to develop policies and programs to fight sexual assault.
Houser said the coalition has not taken a position on the statue.
John Finnerty reports from the CNHI Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.