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Artist removes Joe Paterno's halo from Penn State mural

On Saturday, muralist Michael Pilato altered his famous Penn State artwork – by removing a halo painted over the head of former head football coach Joe Paterno – because of revelations about Paterno’s role in the child sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the university.

The mural, which adorns the university bookstore at the corner of Heister Streets and College Avenue in State College, Pa., depicts a group of local luminaries, including Paterno, who was head coach of the Penn State football team for nearly 46 years. Pilato had added the halo after Paterno’s death on Jan. 22.

Pilato and his family have been friends with the Paternos for many years so this decision was a tough one, he said. But after considering what was revealed in last week's Freeh report, Pilato said, he "had no choice."

Former FBI director Louis Freeh released the 267-page report, commissioned by Penn State, into the role of the institution and its employees in the serial sexual abuse of boys by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

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The report emphasized the roles of the "four most powerful people" at Penn State, including iconic coach Paterno, "who failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade." It said they "concealed Sandusky’s activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community and authorities."

The other three are former Penn State Vice President Gary Schultz and former athletic director Timothy Curley, who both face criminal charges alleging they failed to report the abuse and for perjury in grand jury testimony — and university president Graham Spanier. Spanier was forced out of his position at head of the university, but remains on staff as a tenured professor of sociology.

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"Sue Paterno had been quoted as saying Joe was not a saint. That made this difficult decision easier for me to execute," Pilato told NBC News.

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After removing the halo, Pilato painted a blue ribbon over the chest of the late coach’s image.

"The last time I saw Joe in his home before he died, he said to me, 'I wish there were classes taught on sexual abuse,'" Pilato said. "The blue ribbon signifies awareness of the sexual abuse and knowing where Joe's thoughts were on this, I felt it was appropriate to give him the blue ribbon."

In December, emboldened by the victims in the Penn State scandal, Pilato's 16-year-old daughter, Skye, went public with the story of her own abuse — being raped by two men when she was 12, the local Centre Daily Times reported. The artist has dedicated a recent mural in State College to her and other victims of sexual abuse.

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Pilato removed the image of Jerry Sandusky from the earlier mural after Sandusky's arrest in November, and later replaced him with the image of Dora McQuaid, a Penn State graduate who is an activist on sexual and domestic abuse issues. He plans to have all the handprints of all the victims of Sandusky added to the mural in the near future.

Pilato has not decided what he will do with the image of Spanier, the former Penn State president, on the mural. "In the last two days, people have been throwing eggs on the Spanier section of the mural," adds Pilato. "Maybe they are doing my work for me."'s Kari Huus contributed to this report.

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