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.