Paterno Statue Comes Down

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

Penn State attempts to move in the right direction, by ending the idolization of a man. I think it's worth focusing in on this portion of the University's statement:


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.

I focus on this portion because when I argued in the Times for leaving the statue up, with an amendment, I didn't say much about the victims--which prompted some objections at Shakesville:

This argument that the statue should stand does not take into account what it might mean to the victims of Sandusky that the grinning JoePa remains an image on campus in any capacity. One of the great frustrations of media coverage when it comes to the Sandusky trial has been the focus on how everyone else outside of the victims themselves will cope with what has happened. How will Penn State football move on? What will the Penn State community do to heal? Not that those aren't legitimate questions. Yet when they take precedence in any capacity over the most direct victims (some of them still children) of Sandusky's crimes, we are doing it wrong. 

No, I don't know what each victim would say about this statue. Survivors, even victims of the same predator, are not a monolith. Some may be okay with it staying, or want it to stay. Some may agree with Coates that it can stay with modification. Some will certainly not want Paterno's statue to remain, because its looming presence stands to trigger a visceral, incapacitating anxiety. In deference to the safety that was previously denied them, it should go. Full stop.

Given the University's statement, I would not be surprised if they were in some contact with some of the victims. Or given the legal complications, perhaps not. 

At any rate, this is the argument that carried the day. I continue to be concerned about public historiography, but that all feels really abstract when you're talking about a victim of child rape. To carry forth my original analogy, whatever my thoughts on Ben Tillman, it would take a cold heart to make academic points to the families of lynching victims from the confines of the writer's comfy offices.

As for my part, I try to see as much as I can. But I miss things. More perspectives would have made for a better column.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/07/paterno-statue-comes-down/260154/