Donald Trump ventured into controversial territory on Wednesday during a campaign stop in Pittsburgh, revisiting some painful memories of a child sexual abuse scandal that rocked the state of Pennsylvania several years ago. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Trump raised the name of deceased Penn State football coach Joe Paterno during his speech in the Keystone State, suggesting to the audience that the coach was an important factor during better times
“How’s Joe Paterno?” Trump asked the crowd. “We gonna bring that back? How ’bout that whole deal?”
Joe Paterno – affectionately known to fans as JoePa – served as head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions from 1966 to 2011. He was fired by the college in the wake of a child sex abuse scandal involving defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. As noted by the Wall Street Journal, a special investigation revealed that Paterno conspired with others at the school to cover up Sandusky’s conduct. Paterno died in early 2012 at the age of 85. Later the same year, a bronze statue of him that stood outside of Penn State’s Beaver Stadium since 2001 was taken down and placed in storage. Jerry Sandusky, now 72-years-old, remains in prison after his conviction on molestation charges.
News outlets indicated that Trump’s Pittsburgh audience was “puzzled” and “baffled” over the question “How’s Joe Paterno?” as the once popular coach has been deceased for over four years. In comments following the event, campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks said that Donald Trump was calling on Penn State administrators to return the statue to its former place of honor.
“He was referring to the statue,” Hicks said in a statement published by Daily Mail. Hicks did not comment on Paterno’s role in the sex abuse scandal or the circumstances that led to the statue’s removal.
The Hill noted that Donald Trump’s awkwardly worded praise of the disgraced coach garnered rebuke and ridicule via social media, with many people responding to the appearance that the billionaire candidate did not know Paterno is deceased.
It seemed like Trump only remembered that Paterno was fired, not that he died.
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) April 13, 2016
Donald Trump, in Pittsburgh, has already promised to bring back coal, steel, and Joe Paterno.
Next up: Napoleon, triceratops, Pangea
— Derek Thompson (@DKThomp) April 13, 2016
Assuming that Donald Trump was indeed referring to the statue, he is not alone in feeling a bit of nostalgia for Paterno. In 2015, a Quinnipac University Poll indicated that 59 percent of Pennsylvania residents favor the reinstatement of the statue.
“JoePa’s tarnished image may never be totally repaired, but Pennsylvanians seem to be in a forgiving mood,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.
Donald Trump was in Pennsylvania stumping for votes ahead of the state’s April 26 primary. A week before that election, voters in the New York primary will head to the polls to make their selections for Republican and Democratic nominees. According to polling data compiled by Real Clear Politics, Donald Trump has a decisive edge in both contests, leading rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich by comfortable margins.
[Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images]