A year ago, Audrey Snyder went looking for a statue of Joe Paterno.
What ensued was a long, fruitless search in which no one, not even Paterno’s family, seemed to know where the statue resided, eight years after it was taken down in July 2012 following the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
“It is still a lightning rod topic around here,” said Snyder, who covers Penn State for the Athletic. “Some people say they never should have taken it down. Others say they did the right thing by taking it down. Some people say they should put it back up. The university still will not acknowledge where the statue is.”
Could the same scenario soon play out in Ann Arbor?
In the spring of 2014, Michigan unveiled a large, bronze statue of former coach Bo Schembechler and placed it outside of Schembechler Hall, the football facility also named after the program’s winningest coach.
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The statue is a reminder of Schembechler’s outsized influence on the football program. He was the head coach between 1969-1989 before serving as athletic director from 1988-1990.
But now his legacy is being called into question. Numerous men who say they were sexually abused by Robert Anderson, a former team doctor on the football team, have said that they told Schembechler of Anderson’s misconduct — and that Schembechler either did nothing or reacted angrily. A report from the WilmerHale law firm, commissioned by the university, found that several football players told Schembechler about Anderson’s behavior, with Schembechler allegedly telling a player in one instance to “toughen up.”
There has been no official comment from the university on the statue or the facility that bears Schembechler’s name. Yet if what happened at Penn State is any indication, Schembechler’s statue could face an uncertain future.
“I think this is maybe where there will be a parallel for Michigan,” Snyder said. “Whatever you do with that statue, it’s going to irritate your fanbase. Whether you take it down (or not). You’re going to please some people. You’re also going to get the other side of that.”
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At Penn State, the statue of Paterno, the head coach there from 1966-2011 who won two national title and 409 games before his death in January 2012, was positioned on the east side of Beaver Stadium in 2001. It soon became a rite of passage for those who attended the university to take their graduation photos with the statue — or a meeting place for those who were tailgating before football games.
“It was a landmark,” Snyder said. “People have this strange connection to a statue.”
And its removal was a sign of the university’s efforts to distance itself from the Paterno era. Yet Paterno’s visage, name and legacy remain deeply popular in State College, according to Snyder.
In April 2014, a group of Paterno supporters announced a campaign to construct another statue of Paterno that would be built in downtown State College on private property. However, it appears that the plan never quite went through.
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There are other markers of Paterno’s lasting influence: One of his famous catchphrases, “success with honor,” is still said by those within the athletic department, including athletic director Sandy Barbour, according to Snyder.
Before home games at Beaver Stadium, the Nittany Lions play a pump-up video that includes Paterno. And when his image appears on the video board, Snyder says, there is an audible reaction from the crowd. Meanwhile, the number 409, which represented Paterno’s number of career wins (of which 111 were vacated and eventually restored), can be found on T-shirts, license plates and bumper decals. There is a flavor of ice cream named “Peachy Paterno” at a popular campus creamery. And the Paterno Library, for which Paterno and his wife, Sue, led fundraising efforts and donated at least $4 million, still bears his name.
As for the original statue, well, its current location remains undisclosed. Yet the fervor of the original debate over the statue’s fate has yet to die down.
In 2019, the morning before a game between Penn State and Ohio State, a plane flew over Ohio Stadium with a banner that read: “Penn State: Why are you waiting? … Honor Joe Paterno!”
“The backlash, all of it, seemingly never ends,” Snyder said.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: What should Michigan do with Bo Schembechler statue? Penn State may know