The future of Penn State football will always be associated with the program's past, and for that, the death penalty doesn't seem like a bad idea. But if the program does avoid execution, the Joe Paterno statue on the northwest side of Beaver Stadium must not be so lucky.
Admittedly, toppling the JoePa statue on Penn State's campus Saddam Hussein-style will have little impact. Some things in life are simply irreparable — as Jerry Sandusky's victims can attest to at great length — and Paterno's alleged cover-up falls into that category. But as the university tries to move forward, doing so in the shadows of a key enabler — no matter how great the athletic accomplishments — is hardly the way.
Yet somehow, Penn State's Board of Trustees has quietly decided to leave the statue standing (at least for now), according to ESPN.com, and there is hope among some members that it will remain standing forever. The unjustifiable reasoning behind keeping the statue up is reportedly the desire to not make a knee-jerk reaction about an emotionally charged issue, in turn upsetting those who still support and adore the late Nittany Lions coach.
That logic is not only inexplicable, but it's hard to put a finger on exactly the worst part of its absurdity. It could be trustees' actual reluctance to take the statue down, or it could be this ridiculous concept that taking it down would somehow be the product of some media crusade. The media, through all its other faults, can't be at fault for Paterno's alleged involvement in ensuring Sandusky's horrific acts were kept quiet for so many years, so the trustees should stop any such misdirected hostility.
The most unfathomable part of the decision to keep the statue intact for the time being, however, is probably the mere fact that there's still those willing to look past the findings of the Freeh Report, which clearly points out Paterno's wrongdoings.
At which point will everyone realize that no accomplishment is as large as Paterno's transgressions?
"You can't let people stampede you into making a rash decision," a trustee reportedly told ESPN.com. "The statue represents the good that Joe did. It doesn't represent the bad that he did."
That's flawed logic at its finest (or worst, in this case). Sure, Joe Paterno built the Penn State football program. But with all that we now know, where is the praise in that? All of the "good" Paterno did created this larger-than-life figure — a persona that in essence contributed to a child-molesting monster terrorizing the Penn State campus for years. Pride should have been thrown out the window a long time ago, for all of that "good" contributed to a greater evil. The "good" made it hard to imagine the bad, and amazingly it's still clouding the rationale of some.
The most logical argument against giving Penn State football the death penalty is that the players themselves and future students are not to be blamed for what happened in the past. That's true, so why must we then force them to study and compete on a campus where past nightmares are easily evoked by a 7-foot bronze statue? If the football program clings to life, it must begin its rebuilding process with minimal traces of the horrors that once were. Paterno's statue, while a reminder of the on-field success the players could enjoy, inherently links each current batch of players and coaches with the program's dark, dark past, which, as we've already established, shouldn't be the case.
Joe Paterno is not Jerry Sandusky. But in failing to make sure Sandusky began rotting in a jail cell sooner, JoePa himself crossed over to the dark side. That's a side we must not immortalize, or else the whole school will never escape it.
Photo via Twitter/@PeytonsHead