Dozens Flock to Paterno Statue for What Could be a Final Photograph
As a teenager in Japan last fall, Kaai Okaad watched an online video of Penn State students rallying around a frail 84-year-old hanging out of the window of his modest rancher home in State College.
“We Are!” Joe Paterno shouted to his supporters on Nov. 8 – three days after charges were filed against his former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, and one day before the coach was fired from his position.
Okaad, a freshman who arrived on campus this summer, is now defending the man she watched from afar just eight months ago.
“He practically protected our school,” Okaad said, while her and two friends wrapped themselves in blankets and clenched pillows as they set up camp around 3 Saturday morning.
“We’re defending the statue. We’re defending him,” she said.
The freshmen, along with a handful of other die-hard supporters have rallied around the once-loved bronze statue that shares Paterno’s likeness. It's become a lightening rod of criticism following the release of the Freeh Report last week, when former FBI director Louis Freeh pinned blame on Paterno and three high-ranking university officials for concealing allegations of sexual abuse against Sandusky.
The decision of whether or not to remove the statue of the late head coach remains in the hands of Penn State President Rodney Erickson. He’s expected to make a decision by Monday.
It’s why Judy McIntyre and her group of Penn State alumni gathered Saturday afternoon at the statue for their annual reunion photo.
“I feel it should stay,” said McIntyre, a 1982 Penn State graduate. “Another option would be to place it in the football museum. My heart aches for the Paterno family to see the statue go down. They’re dealing with the loss of their dad, their father, husband. I just think it helps everybody heal."
And if it must fall?
"That's part of the Penn State culture,” she said. “We have to accept and understand whatever happens is gonna be good for everybody else regardless of our own personal feelings."
McIntyre was joined by dozens more on Saturday posing for what could be a final photograph with the 7-foot, 900-pound piece of art. It was an unseasonably cool July day. Some wore jackets, long sleeves and sweatshirts. They smiled, raised their right index finger, just like Paterno does in the statue.
Calls for its removal have been rampant while others speculate the university will move the statue to a different location.
Emily Keech, another camping freshman, hopes for neither.
“If you’re always pointing out faults in your heroes, you’ll be left with none,” Keech said. “No one is sinless. You can’t point fingers at Joe. Leave the statue up.”