Put Paterno statue back on campus, Penn State lettermen say

070516_joepa_1200
The Joe Paterno statue is seen outside Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania, in this July 20, 2012, file photo.

More than 200 former Pennsylvania State University football players sent a letter to the school's board of trustees and president Eric Barron on Tuesday asking that the large bronze statue of their beloved coach, Joe Paterno, be returned to campus.

"We have been told during the last four-plus years that the board and administration are waiting for the appropriate time to repair the damage they created," said Brian Masella, a former tight end and punter for the Nittany Lions and a 1975 alumnus. "Now is the appropriate time. Enough is enough!"

The university removed the statue from outside Beaver Stadium in 2012 after former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of child sexual abuse and a university-commissioned investigative report accused former Penn State leaders, including Paterno, of covering up the abuse. Supporters of the Paterno family, including some trustees, have urged the university to honor Paterno, who died of lung cancer in 2012 and was never charged with a crime.

Penn State fired Paterno as head football coach days after Sandusky was charged, and the NCAA stripped him of 111 of his wins dating to 1998, when, officials asserted, he and others first saw signs of Sandusky's misconduct and ignored them.

The NCAA has since restored the victories, once again making Paterno the winningest coach in Division I college football history. Questions about Paterno's legacy resurfaced in May after a judge's opinion in a dispute between Penn State and its insurer included allegations that a child had told Paterno of Sandusky's abuse in 1976. The Paterno family has strongly disputed the allegation.

The lettermen, who span the decades that Paterno led the team, also are seeking an apology for Paterno's wife, Sue, and restoration of the "players' wall" of plaques that surrounded the statue and honored former players. The statue is being stored at an undisclosed location.

"We feel that the board, or at least the ones that are in control, really haven't made any headway in restoring our legacy, the players' legacy, who absolutely did nothing wrong in the Sandusky scandal," said Masella, of Columbus, N.J.

Masella said players were prompted to issue the letter after a speech by former player Franco Harris when he received an alumni award and told players to continue to fight for Paterno's legacy and their own.

The move also comes as trustees are preparing to meet later this month and following a court decision that threw out some charges against former university president Graham B. Spanier and administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz.

A statement from Penn State spokesman Ben Manning gave no deadline for acknowledging Paterno's legacy but said there would be "a time and a place." Officials also said they "appreciate the passion" of the lettermen and thank them for their contributions.

"We recognize that this is emotional for many in the Penn State community, many of whom differ, yet feel strongly about this issue," the statement said.

Manning said that any plans by Barron to discuss the matter with the Paterno family would be done privately.

University leaders have said they would wait until charges against Spanier, Curley, and Schultz are resolved. The three still face charges of child endangerment and failure to report suspected child abuse.

Meanwhile, a victims' group blasted the lettermen's effort.

"Shame on the Penn State alums who put their idolatry of one coach over the safety of kids and the healing of victims," said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "University officials should never restore the Paterno statue, and these ex-players should move on."

ssnyder@phillynews.com

215-854-4693@ssnyderinq

www.philly.com/campusinq