File this under “it sounded good at the time” or “too-infrequent admissions by commentators that they aren’t always right.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates, the Atlantic magazine blogger, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times last week in which he argued that the statue of Joe Paterno, the disgraced Penn State football coach, should remain.
” . . . in a democracy, memorial statues are not simply comments on their subjects, but comments on their makers,” Coates wrote, citing this example: “In Columbia, S.C., there stands a statue of Ben Tillman, the populist South Carolina senator who helped found Clemson University and, in his spare time, defended lynching from his august national offices.”
And so, Coates argued, referring to Jerry Sandusky, the coach exposed as a child predator, ” . . . Removing the Paterno statue allows Happy Valley to forget its own compliance in a national crime, to expunge its own culpability in its ruthless pursuit of glory. The statue should remain, and beneath it there should be a full explanation of Sandusky’s crimes, Paterno’s role and some warning to all of us who would turn a pastime into a god and elect a mortal man as its avatar.”
Not so fast, argued Jessica Luther Wednesday on shakesville.com: “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.”
In a blog post on Sunday, Coates conceded the point.
“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.