July 15, 2012 / 1:15 AM / 5 years ago

Artist erases halo over Joe Paterno on Pennsylvania mural

(Reuters) - The artist who painted a post-mortem halo over Joe Paterno’s head on a mural featuring the late Penn State football coach erased it on Saturday following a report that found Paterno helped cover up child sex abuse by a former assistant coach.

Michael Pilato said he removed the halo on the outdoor mural in State College, Pennsylvania, home of the main Pennsylvania State University campus, and also painted a blue ribbon for child abuse awareness on Paterno’s suit.

“I think Joe Paterno is an amazing human being. I think he made a major bad decision in his life,” Pilato, 43, told Reuters in a phone interview to explain why he altered his mural titled “Inspiration” that was unveiled 12 years ago.

The move came two days after former FBI Director Louis Freeh released a scathing report that said Penn State leaders including Paterno covered up former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of children for years.

Sandusky, 68, was convicted last month of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years and faces a sentence of up to 373 years in prison.

Pilato had previously removed Sandusky from the mural and replaced him with a blue ribbon for child abuse awareness, similar to the one now painted on Paterno’s suit.

Pilato said his decision to remove the halo stemmed from a statement by Paterno’s family this week that said Paterno “wasn’t perfect” and that he made mistakes and regretted them.

The artist painted in the halo soon after the coach’s death of lung cancer at age 85 in January, less than three months after Sandusky was indicted on charges of child sex abuse in a case that rocked the school and drew widespread outrage.

The mural is not dedicated solely to Paterno. It features many public figures from Penn State and the surrounding community of State College. Some who have died since the mural’s unveiling had halos placed above their heads to indicate the fragility of life, Pilato said.

Pilato said he had the same goal in placing the halo above Paterno, and was dismayed to hear extreme reactions from people, with some praising him and some lambasting him for adding the halo.

“Really, it’s been something I’ve been thinking about since I did it,” Pilato said. “As a public artist, you’ve got to listen to the public and I started to hear the public, and I wish I hadn’t put (the halo) up there to tell you the truth.”

The Freeh report said emails exchanged in 1998 and 2001 showed school officials discussed reporting allegations about Sandusky to authorities. After speaking to Paterno, “they changed the plan and decided not to make a report,” Freeh said.

The “Inspiration” mural is on the side of a bookstore and is 100 feet wide and 24 feet tall.

Additional reporting by Dave Warner; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney

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