A statue of famed Penn State football coach Joe Paterno has been removed following the report that he knew Jerry Sandusky was being investigated for child sex abuse. NBC's Michael Isikoff reports.
Updated at 6:44 p.m. ET: STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - The famed statue of Joe Paterno was taken down from outside the Penn State football stadium Sunday, eliminating a key piece of the iconography surrounding the once-sainted football coach accused of burying child sex abuse allegations against a retired assistant.
Workers lifted the statue off its base and used a forklift to move it into Beaver Stadium as the 100 to 150 students watching chanted, "We are Penn State."
Construction vehicles and police arrived shortly after dawn Sunday, barricading the street and sidewalks near the statue, erecting a chain-link fence then concealing the statue with a blue tarp.
The statue, nearly 7 feet tall and weighing more than 900 pounds, was built in 2001 in honor of Paterno's record-setting 324th Division 1 coaching victory and his "contributions to the university."
The university said it would take down the larger-than-life monument in the face of an investigative report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh that found the late coach, along with three top Penn State administrators, concealed the abuse claims against Jerry Sandusky more than a decade ago in order to shield the university and its football program from negative publicity.
Pat Little / Reuters; Patrick Smith / Getty Images
The site outside Beaver Stadium before and after the statue's removal.
Penn State President Rodney Erickson explained the decision to remove the statue in a statement that read in part:
With the release of Judge Freeh's Report of the Special Investigative Counsel, we as a community have had to confront a failure of leadership at many levels. The statue of Joe Paterno outside Beaver Stadium has become a lightning rod of controversy and national debate, including the role of big time sports in university life. The Freeh Report has given us a great deal to reflect upon and to consider, including Coach Paterno's legacy.
Throughout Penn State, the two most visible memorials to Coach Paterno are the statue at Beaver Stadium and the Paterno Library. The future of these two landmarks has been the topic of heated debate and many messages have been received in various University offices, including my own. We have heard from numerous segments of the Penn State community and others, many of whom have differing opinions. These are particularly important decisions when considering things that memorialize such a revered figure.
I now believe that, contrary to its original intention, Coach Paterno's statue has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing in our University and beyond. For that reason, I have decided that it is in the best interest of our university and public safety to remove the statue and store it in a secure location. I believe that, were it to remain, the statue will be a recurring wound to the multitude of individuals across the nation and beyond who have been the victims of child abuse.
The family of Paterno said the statue's removal "does not serve the victims" of the abuse scandal. A family statement issued Sunday said the only way to help the victims was to "uncover the full truth." The family has previously said they do not agree with the conclusions of the Freeh report and planed to commission their own investigation.
Presideent Barack Obama feels the removal of the statue is "the right decision," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Meanwhile, the National Collegiate Athletic Association said it would announce "corrective and punitive measures" for Penn State on Monday in the aftermath of the child sex abuse scandal. NCAA President Mark Emmert hasn't ruled out the possibility of shutting down the Penn State football program for a year or more in the wake of the scandal, adding that he had "never seen anything as egregious."
Target for critics
The bronze sculpture outside Beaver Stadium has been a rallying point for students and alumni outraged over Paterno's firing four days after Sandusky's Nov. 5 arrest -- and grief-stricken over the Hall of Fame coach's Jan. 22 death at age 85.
MSNBC's Thomas Roberts talks to Michael McCann, Legal Analyst and Columnist at Sports Illustrated, about the deal Joe Paterno worked about with Penn State prior to his departure from the University.
But it turned into a target for critics after the Freeh report's stunning allegation of a cover-up by Paterno, ousted President Graham Spanier and two Penn State officials, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz. Their failure to report Sandusky to child-welfare authorities in 2001 allowed him to continue molesting boys, the report found.
Erickson admitted that the school had made mistakes in its handling of the affair, and said the university had become more aware of the issues of child abuse as a result of the scandal that engulfed the school.
Paterno's family, along with attorneys for Spanier, Curley and Schultz, vehemently deny any suggestion they protected a pedophile. Curley and Schultz await trial on charges of failing to report child abuse and lying to a grand jury but maintain their innocence. Spanier hasn't been charged. Sandusky was convicted last month of 45 counts of sexual abuse of 10 boys.
NBC's Bob Costas says Joe Paterno's reputation can never fully recover from the Penn State sexual abuse scandal, and now the NCAA plans to step up their investigation.
Some newspaper columnists and former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden have said the statue should be taken down, while a small plane pulled a banner over State College reading, "Take the statue down or we will."
But Paterno still has plenty of fans, and Penn State's decision to remove the monument won't sit well with them. One student even vowed to "chain myself to that statue" if there was an attempt to remove it.
University officials had called the issue a sensitive one in light of Paterno's enormous contributions to the school over a 61-year coaching career. The Paterno family is well-known in the community for philanthropic efforts, including the millions of dollars they've donated to the university to help build a library and fund endowments and scholarships.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
More content from NBCNews.com:
- Victims who died include girl, sailor, aspiring sportscaster
- Police: Trip wire, bomb disarmed at suspect's apartment
- Photos of James Holmes, camp counselor for underprivileged kids
- Shooting survivor: Boyfriend 'took a bullet for me'
- FBI: Missing Iowa girls believed to be alive