Penn State takes down Paterno statue as school braces for ‘staggering’ NCAA sanctions

Dylan Stableford
The Lookout

The statue of Joe Paterno, Penn State's late, disgraced former football coach, has been taken down, after university officials announced early Sunday their decision to remove it.

"I now believe that, contrary to its original intention, coach Paterno's statue has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing in our university and beyond," Penn State President Rodney Erickson said in a statement. "I believe that, were it to remain, the statue will be a recurring wound to the multitude of individuals across the nation and beyond who have been the victims of child abuse."

The decision comes on the heels of a damning 267-page report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh--which concluded Paterno concealed information about former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky's sexual abuse of underage boys--and a day before the NCAA announces sanctions against the school and its football program.

[SLIDESHOW: Paterno statue comes down]

Early Sunday, construction workers placed a blue moving blanket over the statue's head outside Beaver Stadium on the State College, Pa., campus.

"As the sun came up," the Centre Daily Times wrote on its website, "the Joe Paterno statue began coming down":

Jackhammers rattled behind a metal fence covered by a blue tarp. The statue was tied to a forklift. The fence shielded the statue, covered in clear plastic and protective packaging materials. The statue was removed at 8:24 a.m. The forklift carried it into the stadium as about a dozen workers followed. A moment later, a man in the crowd started a "We are Penn State" chant. After it finished, another man yelled, "We love you, Joe."

The 900-pound statue will be placed in storage in a "secure location," the university said.

"Tearing down the statue of Joe Paterno does not serve the victims of Jerry Sandusky's horrible crimes or help heal the Penn State community," the Paterno family said in a statement. "We believe the only way to help the victims is to uncover the full truth."

"It's like a whole part of me is coming down," Angelo Di Maria, the sculptor of the Paterno statue, told the Associated Press. "It's just an incredibly emotional process."

"I hope they don't remove it permanently or destroy it," Di Maria said. "His legacy should not be completely obliterated and thrown out. He was a good man. It wasn't that he was an evil person. He made a mistake."

[Also read: Middle school to paint over Paterno mural]

Paterno's name will remain on the campus library, Erickson said, because it "symbolizes the substantial and lasting contributions to the academic life and educational excellence that the Paterno family has made to Penn State University."

The Paterno Library "highlights the positive impacts Coach Paterno had on the University. Thus I feel strongly that the library's name should remain unchanged," he said.

The NCAA said in a statement on Sunday that it will announce "corrective and punitive measures" for Penn State at 9 a.m. on Monday. While multiple reports indicate that the school will not receive the so-called "death penalty" that would have would suspended the football program, the sanctions are expected to be harsh.

According to Yahoo Sports, the school will continue to field a team. However, it will deal with heavy scholarship losses over the next three-to-five years as well as a multiyear ban in postseason competition and multimillion-dollar financial penalties. One source said the penalties would be "significant" and "staggering."

"The standard line rippling through college sports Sunday is that while Penn State will be spared the death penalty," Yahoo's Mark Emmert wrote, "the penalties will make them wish they weren't."

[Related: Key figures in the Penn State scandal]

The Freeh report reignited a debate over Paterno's legacy, the football program and the once-revered coach's statue, which had become a contentious symbol of the coverup.

On Tuesday, a plane circled over the Penn State campus, dragging a banner that read: "Take the statue down or we will." Others suggested the school let it stand as a reminder of the abuse in honor of Sandusky's victims. Comedian Albert Brooks said the school should leave the Paterno statue up but "have him look the other way."

Earlier this month, an artist removed a halo that had been painted above a mural of Paterno in State College, Pa., after his death in January. The artist, Michael Pilato, replaced it with a blue ribbon on Paterno's lapel in honor of Sandusky's victims. Sandusky was removed from the downtown mural last year after the abuse allegations surfaced.

Paterno was fired four days after Sandusky's Nov. 5 arrest. The legendary coach, who had been battling lung cancer, died on Jan. 22 at 85.