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Statue removal continues healing process at Penn State

July 22, 2012|Bill Kohler

Taking down the statue of Joe Paterno was the right thing to do.

This statement doesn’t really need explanation.

The statue of Paterno outside Beaver Stadium at Penn State University is only a symbol, but a very powerful one.

While it once stood for integrity, success, loyalty and doing things the right way, it now stands for doing things the wrong way.

The child abuse stain of Jerry Sandusky will never be removed. It will be like an oil leak on the concrete that can’t be washed away with a hose no matter how hard you try. However, this is a step in the right direction.

If what was reported in the report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh was correct (and I’m not convinced second-hand emails are the best basis for the truth), then Paterno and the other people who heard the allegations are culpable, and should be held accountable.

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Here’s the silver lining of this entire Sandusky scandal: It’s time to move on for Penn State, and the removal of the statue symbolizes that.

It’s time to put football second and the university first.

It’s time to stop treating football coaches and players as if they were gods, not mere men.

It’s time for Penn State University to donate 20 percent of its gross ticket sales to a foundation that helps victims of child abuse.

It’s time for fans to realize that what apparently happened behind closed doors has superseded what took place on the football field the last four decades.

It’s time for all of us to realize that being an enabler for something we know is horribly wrong makes us pretty guilty, too, and doing the right thing now will make things better in the future.

In that moving-on process, it’s important, too, to remember that Paterno did stand for running a clean program in which many, many games were won and many, many young men earned degrees.

In fact, Paterno was a leader in both categories. And for that, he should be commended. He made people proud to root for Penn State, proud to live in the state.

However, Sandusky’s stain upon the university and Paterno’s apparent negligence in reporting what he knew about the child abuse are too great to be ignored.

(An important side note: I acknowledge that other powerful men are as culpable as Paterno in the issue of non-reporting, and I’m a little disappointed that Freeh chose to lay so much of the blame at the feet of a dead man, who could not respond or defend himself.)

Again, as Penn State fans move on, it’s important to remember that no man should ever be held in such high regard again, and that while yes, the football program was king and paid for scholarships and the other money-losing sports at the university, it must be kept in its place.

And that place is in perspective.

As I write this Sunday morning, I hear reports of “unprecedented penalties” that will befall Penn State today.

As we move on, I hope the NCAA realizes that to penalize the current players and coaches does little for

Sandusky’s victims. Shutting down the program would send a message, but to whom?

The players who worked so hard and were 6 years old in 1998?

The coaches who committed their lives, careers and families to come to Penn State last year?

The State College, Pa., community which thrives on game days?

I’m not big a big believer in after-the-fact punishment. The NCAA should issue a terse, strongly worded statement, warning current university presidents that this type of behavior will not be tolerated, and that punishing the current players would send the wrong message.

But this is the NCAA, so who knows what kind of message it is really planning?

A full-blown “death penalty” would only serve those who seek ill-deserved justice. Sandusky is in prison, and the men who apparently enabled the behavior for the benefit of the football program’s name are awaiting trial or dead.

And the statue is down.

It’s time to move on and continue the healing process.

Bill Kohler is Tri-State editor of The Herald-Mail. You can reach him at 301-791-7281 or billk@herald-mail.com.

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