A statue too tarnished to stand at Penn State?

Merck chief executive Kenneth Frazier answers questions at a public meeting in State College.
Merck chief executive Kenneth Frazier answers questions at a public meeting in State College. (PATRICK SMITH / Getty Images)
Posted: November 12, 2011

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - In a grotto on the east side of Beaver Stadium, trucker Gil Coleman, with his rig parked illegally just yards away, posed alongside the 900-pound bronze likeness of Joe Paterno.

"I'm hearing they might tear Ol' Joe down," said the Indianapolis native who took a detour off nearby I-80 to get the photograph. "If that's the case, I wanted to make sure I got to see it."

Penn State officials haven't yet commented on the fate of the 7-foot-tall Paterno sculpture, but the decision epitomizes the difficulties that lie ahead for the beleaguered university.

While attention in the aftermath of the child abuse case that has rocked Penn State to its blue-and-white core has focused on the firing of Penn State's legendary football coach and president, administrators face countless less-newsworthy but equally delicate judgments.

The likeness of Jerry Sandusky, the ex-defensive coordinator whose sex-abuse arrest triggered a Happy Valley earthquake, was removed earlier from a mural here, and more determinations await on what names and images should be banished, what events canceled, what honors rescinded.

Change comes grudgingly to this Central Pennsylvania campus. And the process grows exponentially more complex when that change involves the now-controversial legacy of Paterno, whose Wednesday night firing incited student rioting here.

"We're obviously going to see less [of Paterno as the face of the university]," said Mike Poorman, director of alumni relations and a senior lecturer at the college of communications. "Things are never going to be back to where they were."

Evidence of that was ubiquitous on Friday, less than 24 hours before Saturday's Nebraska-Penn State football game, the first Penn State game not involving Paterno since 1949.

Outside Beaver Stadium, arrayed around the rim of the enormous facility that Paterno-era success helped build and fill, were several small but telling examples of the post-scandal transformation already under way here.

At Paternoville, the makeshift tent city where hundreds of students gather days in advance of big games to access the best seats, the encamped youngsters, besieged by the media that has swarmed here in recent days, met with their faculty adviser.

The meeting's mission was to draft a coherent news release detailing their stance on the last week's events, but among the other matters they must soon address is whether they ought to strip the coach's name from the locale.

Just around the corner, at the Penn State All-Sports Museum, a "Closed" sign was hung on a door, even though the posted hours indicated it ought to have been open. A source familiar with the facility suggested that Sandusky's image was being excised from exhibits there.

Directly next door was the Penn State Bookstore. Three authors, scheduled to sign their Penn State-related books there before Saturday's game, had backed out.

"Considering the week's events, we really didn't expect these things to happen," said Bill Kiester, bookstore manager.

Ironically, another bookstore signing, this one set for Thursday night, had to be canceled. Sandra Spanier, who edited and wrote the introduction to Process: A Novel, is the wife of Graham Spanier, the Penn State president who was ousted Wednesday night by the school's board of trustees.

Elsewhere, a sign at the Gary Schultz Child Care Center was removed. The building, dedicated just six weeks ago, was named for the university vice president who has since been charged with perjury in what prosecutors allege was an athletic department cover-up of Sandusky's behavior.

Athletic director Tim Curley, like Schultz on administrative leave after a Centre County grand jury charged him with perjury, was to have been named athletic director of the year for a third time by the National Association of Athletic Directors. That organization has since rescinded the honor.

It's trickier with Paterno, who has been charged with no criminal offense. The coach, criticized for not acting more aggressively after being alerted to at least one of Sandusky's alleged offenses, built an unmatched legacy of good works and good teams in his 61 years at the school.

But as noted by Poorman, who teaches a course called Joe Paterno and the Media, there's precedent at Penn State for downplaying the achievements of a longtime coach who departed under a cloud of controversy.

Rene Portland was the extremely successful women's basketball coach here. But she left after a university study concluded that she was antigay.

"In the next year's media guide, there were, I forget the exact amount now, only two or three references to her," Poorman said.

One Paterno connection here that figures to change is the name and focus of Poorman's course. While he acknowledged that its focus likely will be tweaked and Paterno's name probably dropped, he said the class has been extremely popular since news of the scandal broke last Friday.

"On Tuesday we had the Harrisburg Patriot-News reporter who broke the story [lecture], and on Thursday we had Joe Posnanski, who is writing a biography of Paterno. We meet in a large lecture hall that's usually half full. But this week, all 1,100 seats were filled."


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068, ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com, or @philafitz on Twitter. Read his blog, "Giving 'Em Fitz," at www.philly.com/fitz

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