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Monday, July 23, 2012

Gone

Above is a Sunday morning picture from WNEP photographer Tom Durant.  It shows the scene outside Beaver Stadium as crews were removing the Joe Paterno statue.  The removal process is shrouded by the blue tarp covered fence.  The street was closed.  Barricades were up.  Security was tight.

The statue removal happened during Newswatch 16 Sunday Morning, and this is the story of how the whole thing went down.

There were rumors the Paterno statue was coming down early Saturday morning, so we had a crew on stand by, ready to move.  Sue Paterno's visit Friday added fuel to the fire.  It was like Joe's widow was saying "good bye."  Did she know?  No one is talking.  PSU denied the removal rumors as late as Friday.

Saturday was quiet, and that brings us to Sunday.  As always, our broadcast started at 5 AM.  I stopped by the newsroom during the 6:20 AM sports break.  I frequently do that-- check the internet, Twitter, e-mail, etc.  Around 6:25 AM, Twitter started to pop.  Police, construction personnel and heavy equipment began showing up at Beaver Stadium.

Let me talk about Twitter for a second.  It's a guide-- not gospel.  However, I knew the Tweeters to be reliable, and they Tweeted the photos to back it up.  PSU administration wasn't talking, but we can report what we see, and what we saw was a removal in the making.

I got back on the air at 6:30, and mentioned a Paterno statue removal seemed imminent.  Same thing at 7.  Our control room staff and assignment editors were keeping an eye on the satellite feed from ABC News, and we were ready to punch it up immediately.

At 7:28 AM, I was on my way back to the studio when ABC News started its feed to local stations around the country.  I was turning the corner to walk in to the studio when Newswatch 16's Jon Meyer came through the building's employee entrance.  I asked Jon to join me on the set, and we talked about the Penn State situation for about ten minutes.  No one knows more about the events of the last eight months than Jon.  He's a pro.  Jon made great points, and added perspective, with about 30 seconds notice that he was going on the air.  I wanted to keep him on the set with me for a lot longer, but he had to get moving to State College.

Penn State President Rodney Erickson eventually put a news release on-line.

We made a lot of changes to the broadcast on the fly.  Noreen gave back some of her time, and our control room crew "rolled with the punches," as we like to say.  Even though it was hidden by a tarp covered fence, you could see the forklift driving away with the Paterno statue suspended by yellow straps.  We brought it to you live.

Such a sad end, and who could have predicted this when the Sandusky scandal broke back in November?

It sounds goofy, but I'm thinking about Marcus the elf from the movie "Bad Santa."  As he's about to kill Willie, Marcus says "There's no joy in this."  Clearly, there's no joy if you were a Paterno fan.  Even if you didn't like the guy, there's no joy in this.

As for the statue removal in and of itself, I can't see how PSU President Rodney Erickson had any other choice.  The statue was divisive, and it was going to be a constant reminder of the darkest time in PSU history.

The Paterno family released a statement, saying tearing down the statue does not serve Sandusky's victims.  That might very well be true, but saying good bye to the statue is a good start.

>>> UPDATE:   The NCAA announced its sanctions this morning-- big fine, no bowls for four years, loss of some scholarships, 111 wins vacated...  I'm a little surprised it wasn't worse.  The NCAA faulted Penn State for its "football first" culture.  While PSU deserved to be slapped severely, you wonder if this causes other football factory colleges to sit up and take notice.  I'm not sure.  Big football is big money, and you know what happens when those two marry.