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July 12, 2016

Melt the Joe Paterno statue down

It's time to stop calling for the return of a symbol of enabling sexual assaults on children

"I was shocked, disappointed, offended, I was insulted," John Doe 150 testified. "I said, is that all you're going to do? You're not going to do anything else?"

He said Paterno then "just walked away."

That excerpt comes from Tuesday's Associated Press story about unsealed court documents that maintain Joe Paterno, the late football coach at Penn State University, knew about Jerry Sandusky’s penchant for preying upon youths in the most heinous of ways as far back as 1976.

That was 40 years ago, but the disclosure comes just seven days after more than 200 Penn State football lettermen petitioned the university to return a statue of Paterno to its former Happy Valley location.

As it is wont to do, the Paterno contingent has already issued statements questioning the veracity of John Doe 150’s testimony. As if they would do anything else. Why not take another swipe at a kid whose innocence was stolen in the name of defending a fallen hero, right?

I’d like to be able to sit here and type that the news is shocking, but that would be a lie. What is shocking is how the subsequent defense-mechanism response continues to this day, all in the name of worshipping a false idol.

Sandusky is in prison for his crimes. Millions upon millions have been paid out by the university to victims of unspeakable crimes. And Paterno’s reputation remains sullied, for good reason.

It feels as if this is an all-too-familiar cycle. Every time this story resurfaces, the same song and dance ensues.

People who accept reality are aghast by what happened, and steeped in empathy for those whose lives were destroyed by a pedophilic rapist and his enablers.

People who want to believe it never happened pretend it didn’t (or at least downplay the extended accusations), ignoring how that all-too-familiar cycle continues to victimize young people whose victimization was covered up for the benefit of a high-profile football program.

It’s time for this to end.

Just like how George Armstrong Custer didn’t return from the Battle of Little Bighorn, Paterno’s statue shouldn’t return from whatever place of safe keeping it now calls home.

It’s a symbol of a university’s rock bottom.

It’s a symbol of what happens when you ignore the shortcomings of those we admire.

It’s a symbol of indescribable, lifelong pain for more than 150 children.

And it’s a symbol that should disappear forever, even if it only brings a single victim some measure of closure.

Melt it down.

No, Joe Paterno did not physically attack Sandusky's victims, but his blind eye enabled it to go on. Whether that was for 20, 30 or 40 years shouldn't be of concern. It happened on his watch. That must be remembered for 20, 30 or 40 years after his death.

Anybody with a shred of decency should be disappointed, offended and insulted if calls to return the Paterno statue continue to be heard. And that’s a stance from which no one should walk away.