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Monday, July 16, 2012

Public memorials and Penn State

Legal historian Al Brophy of UNC and the Faculty Lounge writes some interesting stuff on public memorials and monuments, particularly in the South. This has become the new locus of discussion at Penn State, as the trustees and others try to figure out what to do with the Paterno iconography that dots Penn State and State College. These include a statue, the family name on the university library, and a famous mural in town (the mural artist recently removed the halo from over Paterno's head).

The current sentiment on the Board of Trustees is to leave the statue, at least for now and pending a broader public discussion. I was struck by the comment of one trustee, who insisted "The statue represents the good that Joe did. It doesn't represent the bad that he did." Can they have it both ways like that? Can a monument to someone with a divided legacy (as Paterno now has) simply remain in place, pretending there was no bad? Do the trustees at least have to acknowledge in the public conversation that they are determining that the good Paterno did outweighs the bad and thus warrants keeping the statute (a reasonable position)? I actually don't particularly care what they do with the statue; I'm more interested in how the conversation about the statue honestly addresses that Paterno genuinely did something wrong and the statute represents that part of him as much as it represents everything else.

I am far more disturbed by the announcement that they are going to renovate the locker rooms and shower areas where some of Sandusky's assaults took place. While this has been described as an attempt to "erase the legacy of Sandusky's crimes," it also strikes me as an actual and symbolic attempt to erase the past in a way that covers the university's role in those crimes. I am not suggesting they have to turn the shower into a shrine or a museum. But their first response is to whitewash the crime scene and, in some sense, the evidence of their collective misdeeds. And to also get a shiny new athletics facility out of it, when the special treatment of athletics is a major element of this entire mess, is especially offensive.

[Update, July 18: Brophy, who happens to be in Pennsylvania, comments]

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 16, 2012 at 10:08 AM in Current Affairs, Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink


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Redoing the shower area seems bizarre. As though it makes a difference. I favor the death penalty for the football program because the rot seemed to permeate the entire institution and football is the institution's golden egg. As for the statue, I say force them to display it place most central to the University. It is their scarlet letter and I like to see them required to wear it.

Posted by: Jeff | Jul 16, 2012 1:32:14 PM

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