- (Photo: REUTERS / Scott Audette)
Responding to an investigative report on the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, Penn State University took down a statue of famed state football coach Joe Paterno, accused of concealing abuse claims, from outside the football stadium Sunday.
The bronze statue, nearly 7-foot-tall and weighing over 900 pounds, was built outside the Beaver Stadium on the campus of Penn State in 2001 in honor of Paterno's record-setting 324th Division 1 coaching victory and his "contributions to the university."
The university decided to remove the monument in the face of an investigative report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh that found the late coach, along with three top Penn State administrators, concealed the abuse claims against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky more than a decade ago to shield the university and its football program from negative publicity, according to NBC News.
The statue had "become a lightning rod of controversy and national debate, including the role of big time sports in university life," Penn State University President Rodney Erickson said in a statement. "The Freeh Report has given us a great deal to reflect upon and to consider, including Coach Paterno's legacy."
Erickson said the statue was obstructing "healing in our University and beyond." Therefore, he added, "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."
President Barack Obama's spokesman Jay Carney said the removal of the statue was "the right decision."
Paterno's family issued a statement Sunday, saying the move "does not serve the victims," and the only way to help the victims was to "uncover the full truth." The family, well-known in the community for philanthropic efforts, vehemently denies any suggestion Paterno protected a pedophile.
Freeh wrote in the investigation report that Paterno was among a group of senior university officials who "in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity … repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse from the authorities, the Board of Trustees, Penn State community, and the public at large."
"The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized," Freeh said.
Sandusky, 68, was recently convicted for sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year period. He now awaits sentencing.
"The world will be watching how Penn State addresses its challenges in the days ahead," Erickson said. "While some may take issue with the decisions I have made, I trust that everyone associated with our University will respond in a civil and respectful manner."