By Mark Coomes

Pilgrims to Penn State University’s Beaver Stadium are greeted by a graven image of Joe Paterno, false god.

There is talk now of taking the statue down.

Don’t do it. Let the bespectacled slab of Nike-emblazoned bronze stay put.

Think of it as frontier justice.

In the Old West, criminals were hanged at high noon and left there for a day or two to compound the miscreant’s shame. This is the penalty for selfishness, lawlessness and the flouting of common decency.

So leave that statue alone. Let it twist in the wind for a while.

We need the reminder – all of us, not just the ashen-faced folk of Happy Valley.

Successful college coaches are enabled and empowered to a scary degree in this country. Before we go erecting any more statues, literally or figuratively, we need to remember that these men have feet of clay. And sometimes hearts of stone.

The winningest coach in college football history was posthumously strung up last week by the Freeh report, which meticulously detailed the craven coverup he led for 13 years. The one that allowed a long-time subordinate to sexually abuse boy after boy after boy.

All were lured by the irresistible invitation to enter the sanctum sanctorum of Penn State football. The stadium. The locker rooms.

The shower stalls.

And, of course, the abuser’s memorabilia-filled office, the one next door to that of ol’ JoePa, secular saint. The self-effacing, library-endowing coach who built Penn State into a national power.

And did it, we were told, the right way.

“Success with honor,” Paterno called it.

Right.

The victims, mostly local boys from broken homes, had no idea this holy ground was the site of unholy acts.

The boys didn’t know, but JoePa sure did. So did the school president, the athletic director, the campus police, the janitors and the assistant who gave firsthand testimony of sodomy in the showers.

There is no doubt anymore that Paterno and his puppet government knew that boys were being raped on school property for years. The Freeh report described the abiding and diligent efforts Paterno’s posse made to sweep Jerry Sandusky’s lewd legacy under the rug.

A deeper and, in some ways, more chilling legacy will be swept under the rug if Paterno’s statue is removed.

Leave it up. Let the effigy burn in cold silence and stand as ironic tribute to the way Paterno enabled Sandusky’s crimes. By saying nothing.

Nothing honest or helpful anyway.

The vainglorious doodad was erected, of course, because Paterno won lots of football games – and that’s damned important to some folks. So leave it up.

Those games are still won. Don’t hide their memorial simply because the victories are no longer quite as sweet.

Leave that statue right where it is. Stew for a while on what folly it is to beatify the living. Contemplate the contrast between Paterno’s reputation as a simple, humble man and the hubris required to permit oneself to be immortalized like a pharoah.

The statue is an albatross now. Even in Happy Valley, people want to make Bronze Joe disappear like Jimmy Hoffa.

Their heart is in the right place. Their head is not.

Disappearing Paterno’s statue would merely add another layer to the coverup. It would allow Penn State fans to stroll into Paterno’s real shrine, Beaver Stadium, and avoid any reminder of the self-absorbed, hypocritical man who built it.

Removing the statue would be an empty gesture. The sentiment is sincere, but the result is pure kabuki dance. A play-act of contrition.

St. Joe, old Catholic that he was, knew that the expiation of sins requires an act of penance. And it has to hurt.

Martyring Bronze Joe doesn’t hurt nearly enough to atone for the rape of at least 10 boys – or for the culture of abject hero worship that enabled those crimes. Might as well just hold hands at the home opener and say 20 Our Fathers.

Ego te absolvo.

Go forth and tailgate, my son.

Want to show real contrition? Close the House that Joe Built for one season. Or at least one game.

But that will never happen. The turnstiles will whirl, the money will flow and the Nittany Lions will play on.

Bronze Joe might not be there to see it. The Penn State community is understandably eager to “move on.” The new president, coach and athletic director would be praised for mothballing Bronze Joe. Penn State, we’d be told, is back to doing things the right way.

But it would be the wrong move.

Penn State should be in no hurry to sweep Joe Paterno under the rug. It’s too soon to start forgetting the damage done.

So leave that statue where it is.

Penn State fans should be forced at every home game to confront their misbegotten idolatry – and the dangerous, carte blanche control their worship laid at Paterno’s feet.

About Mark Coomes: Contributing blogger Mark Coomes covered sports from 1988 to 2000 for The Courier-Journal, USA Today, Florida Today and The Monroe News Star.