Paterno's Statue Comes Down

Penn State took down Sunday the iconic statue of Joe Paterno, the school's head football coach for 45 years. His legacy was tarnished by the way he handled information about the child abuse committed by his fellow coach Jerry Sandusky. ESPN's John Barr offers his insight.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

This morning before dawn, the residents of State College, Pennsylvania, awoke to the unexpected sounds of a construction crew taking down the statue of legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION)

RAZ: Penn State's president Rodney Erickson made the decision in the wake of the child sex abuse scandal that rocked the university. Erickson called the Paterno statue a source of division. A report earlier this month by former FBI director Louis Freeh found that Paterno and others covered up allegations of abuse carried out by assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

ESPN reporter John Barr was on the scene this morning in State College where that statue was taken down.

JOHN BARR: They immediately erected barricades around the statue with a blue tarp so that nobody standing across the street and certainly no cameras could get a clear view of what was to unfold next. And what happened then was they brought in the jackhammer and the heavy equipment and they worked for more than an hour. So it would appear, Guy, that the Joe Paterno memorial, the statue and all that's around it is on the way to being removed.

RAZ: We are talking about the singular figure in Penn State history - the one person who represents that university more than anyone else in the world. I mean, we are talking about a momentous occasion here.

BARR: We are. And to put it in perspective for those people who don't have an appreciation of Joe Paterno's place in college football, were they to create a Mount Rushmore of college football coaches, his would be the first face that you would chisel into the mountain. He presided over his program in one way or another for more than six decades. But in recent weeks and months and certainly since the release of the scathing report by the former FBI director Louis Freeh, the Paterno legacy has been under fire.

RAZ: John, there's some speculation that the university made this decision ahead of another decision that will come down tomorrow. The NCAA is expected to hand down sanctions on Penn State. There is talk of the so-called death penalty, the suspension of the university's football program. What are you hearing about what might happen?

BARR: Well, ESPN has been reporting that the NCAA will come down with what we understand to be unprecedented penalties. Whether it will be the actual death penalty, which would result in the elimination of the football program here at Penn State, which has been so much a part of the Penn State culture, that remains to be seen.

What we have heard is at a minimum, the school is looking at multiple future bowl games being taken away. We do know that the NCAA is going to be releasing its decision to the public tomorrow morning, and at that time, it will be, you know, one more chapter in this unfolding story.

RAZ: John, this is a program that generates millions and millions of dollars for Penn State. We have to assume that this is going to be devastating, whatever the NCAA hands down.

BARR: If they suspend football for even one football Saturday that there will be a tremendous ripple effect. If you look at the ancillary businesses, you know - the merchants, the shopkeepers, the restaurants, the bars, all of that - people whose lifeblood and their very paycheck flows from this program, it is a long, long list of people.

But there's also - this is State College, Pennsylvania, and we're tucked in central Pennsylvania in the northern part of the state a little more than an hour's drive north of the state capital in Harrisburg. This is their team. Even if you didn't go to the school - though so many people around here did - but even if you didn't, you grew up a Penn State fan. It's just part of who these folks are. And so if they were to suspend Penn State football for a year or more, it would have a devastating impact on this community. No question.

RAZ: That's John Barr. He's an investigative reporter for ESPN. He's on the campus of Penn State today. John, thanks so much.

BARR: You're quite welcome.

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