That, perhaps inevitably, is a photo of a banner that reportedly flew over State College, Pa.,Tuesday morning, carrying a warning to Penn State officials: "TAKE THE STATUE DOWN OR WE WILL." Multiple shots of the banner surfaced on Twitter within a few minutes of its flight.
The threat is a not-so-ambiguous reference to the life-size bronze idol of late Nittany Lion coach Joe Paterno outside of Beaver Stadium, the focal point of much righteous anger in all directions since last Thursday, when a 267-page report overseen by former FBI director Louis Freeh detailed the depressing extent of Paterno's role in ignoring and/or covering up multiple allegations of sexual abuse against longtime defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. (Sandusky was convicted last monthon 45 counts of sexual abuse against ten underage boys over the course of nearly a decade, during which time Paterno and other university officials failed to report him to authorities or restrict his access to campus despite apparent knowledge of a criminal investigation into Sandusky in 1998 and an eyewitness report by a graduate assistant coach in 2001.) For now, the origin of the banner and the identity of the "We" who claim it remain a mystery, as does their specific course of action if their threat goes unheeded.
On Sunday, the Penn State Board of Trustees issued a statement refuting a report that they had decided to keep the Paterno statue up, claiming no decision had been made either way and would not be for some time. Elsewhere, Penn State students have erased Paterno's name from their traditional pre-game encampment outside the stadium; Paterno's alma mater, Brown, has removed his name from a scholarship; and Nike has stripped Paterno's name from the child care building in its Beaverton, Ore., headquarters. In State College, a painter has erased the halo over Paterno's headon a local mural.
My advice, since no one asked: Keep the statue up. It's your history. You own it. Deal with it. Keep it as a reminder of the enormous goodwill Paterno accumulated at a university that he largely defined for five decades, and as a reminder of the depraved insularity that brought his empire crumbling down all around him, and as a general warning against the hubris of erecting graven images to inevitably flawed human beings in the first place. Keep it as a monument to the ultimate intractability of history, or the unknowability of man's true nature, or some other great theme befitting the Greek tragedy that this is. Let it stand to remind people of the facade they glorified for so long, and of the implications had they been allowed to go on glorifying it.
Force us to ask: How many other monuments to great men are built on top of a hidden evil that was never brought to light? Paterno's statue was erected while he was still living. But it is more proof that idols are for the dead, who can no longer remind us just how far short of the eternal image actual flesh and blood tends to fall.
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Photo via @collegiatestdms.