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April 6, 2014

Fate of Paterno statue key issue in Penn State trustees election

HARRISBURG — 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.

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