(CNN) — A small plane flew around the Penn State campus on Tuesday carrying a banner that read, “Take Down the Statue or We Will,” a reference to the statue of former head football coach Joe Paterno that sits outside Beaver Stadium.
The statue is among many vestiges left from Paterno’s 46 years as head coach of the Nittany Lions, a run that ended in disgrace in November when he was fired in the wake of a sex abuse scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
“I’m a Penn State employee that thinks we have failed miserably, and I’m sad for the damage that has been done, but this is just upsetting,” Diane Farley, a PSU alumnus who spotted the plane on Tuesday told the Patriot-News of Harrisburg. “It’s just stirring up everything.”
Many people are calling for the Paterno statue to be torn down.
In an ESPN poll, more than 60% of respondents said the statue should be removed immediately or sometime before the 2012 football season commences.
A Penn State student group eliminated another Paterno vestige on Monday, renaming the encampment where students line up overnight to get the best seats for football games, from Paternoville to Nittanyville.
The action comes after a report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh last week that found that several school officials had “empowered” Sandusky to continue sexually abusing minors. Paterno could have stopped the attacks had he done more, Freeh concluded.
Sandusky was convicted last month of sexually abusing children over 15 years, with much of the abuse occurring on the Penn State campus. He is awaiting sentencing.
Paterno died of lung cancer in January at the age of 85, two months after he was fired because of the Sandusky scandal.
In his 46 years as head coach at Penn State, Paterno achieved mythic status. But with the release of the Freeh report, many no longer want the symbols of that status, including the name of the encampment, to have such prominence in the university community.
“Now, it’s a new era of Nittany Lion football,” Troy Weller, a Penn State senior and president of the newly retitled Nittanyville Coordination Committee, said in a statement Monday. “And by changing the name to Nittanyville we want to return the focus to the overall team and the thousands of students who support it.”
The organization’s vice president, Jeff Lowe, said it couldn’t function properly while still associated with the Paterno name.
“The idea of being in the middle of a political war over the name, due to our association with Joe Paterno, has lead to threats, hate mail and efforts from people outside of Penn State to try and ruin our ability to run an effective organization,” Lowe told StateCollege.com.
Reaction to the announcement on the committee’s Facebook page was swift and combative on both sides the argument.
“Another idiotic move by stupid people. For the student leaders that made this decision, do us all a favor and transfer. Cowards,” wrote Bob Fetrow.
“This is pathetic,” wrote Janessa Bednash. “Read the report. There is no evidence to determine Joe had a hand in covering this up.
“You’re a disgrace to all that truly are Penn State. Joe Paterno included,” Bednash scolded the Nittanyville committee.
“If you believe in the legacy (Paterno) left in the thousands of students he influenced both on and off the field then do not disgrace his name. You are a part of this college you should be defending him,” said David Eberly.
Many predicted that the camp would see fewer students with the name change.
“Paternoville is officially dead. Don’t be upset when 3 people show up at the first game and it goes downhill from there,” wrote Chris Sheedy.
“I don’t think you guys are going to get hardly any campers this year because of this. The organization will cease to exist in a matter of a couple of years,” Bud Parks wrote.
Supporters of the move responded just as quickly, praising the organization and ripping its detractors.
“This organization has proven that it can do the right thing in the face of adversity. Unlike a certain former head coach that so many people are attempting to protect,” wrote Skip Bishop.
“I’m glad the people running this page had the courage to change its name. They may be the only people at your university with any integrity,” Will Teague said.
Others said the name change was not enough.
“Paterno was a villain, not a hero. His name is a blight – remove it from EVERYTHING,” wrote Ben Stuenkel.
Some entities outside the university are doing just that.
Brown University in Rhode Island pulled the name of Paterno, an alumnus, from its outstanding male freshman athlete award, the Providence Journal reported.
Nike announced last week that a child care center at its Beaverton, Oregon, headquarters would no longer bear Paterno’s name.
And a mural of Paterno in the gym of a Connecticut middle school will be painted over, the Connecticut Post reported.
And, of course, there are the calls to tear down the Paterno statue.
And some are questioning whether that season should commence at all, calling on the university to cancel the season or the NCAA to stop the school from playing.
Some experts are saying the school must do something drastic such as canceling the season to restore its good name.
“I can’t see any other action that shows that great intersection of wanting to do better – introspection, remorse, pain, leadership, humanity, empathy – in its real sense,” Dan Lebowitz, executive director of Northeastern University’s Sport and Society program, told InsideHigherEd.com. “If they’re hoping for football to return to prominence, wouldn’t they want it also under a cleansed brand?”