Even before the Freeh report, many people knew Paterno had too much power. Penn State faculty members grumbled about it privately. JoePa did as he pleased when he pleased because he was JoePa, and if JoePa did it, it must be righteous and true. The JoePa mystique spawned a thousand glowing stories, but it wasn't healthy. A seemingly benevolent despot is still a despot, and public universities should not have despots.
It is easy to say we saw a different side of Paterno in the last few months—right up to last Saturday when The New York Times reported that he had begun renegotiating a lucrative end to his tenure in January 2011, around the same time he was called to testify to the grand jury investigating Sandusky. (A lawyer for the Paterno family says it was Penn State, not Paterno, that proposed the valuable buyout last summer.) But what we saw was the same side of the man from a different angle. For years we chose to see only the victories, the graduation rate and the clean NCAA record. But Paterno, as the Freeh report asserts, avoided scrutiny, defied his so-called bosses and manipulated his image for many years. He was an American icon, and he knew it.
This is the man who so many people worshipped. And this is what can happen when you worship a man. And this is what can happen when you worship a sport.
That is why the Paterno statue must go. Karen B. Peetz, the chairman of Penn State's board of trustees, used the words "a teachable moment" when discussing next steps in the wake of the report's release, and Penn State should learn to stop worshipping false idols. Many Nittany Lions fans would be outraged if the statue were moved. But maybe then they would notice something far more significant: the rest of the university.