Paterno image soon to be off Penn State merchandise

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As far as Penn State University is concerned, JoePa has been discontinued.

The university has severed one of its final ties to former head coach Joe Paterno, announcing that it no longer will license the name, image or likeness of the man who represented the face of Nittany Lions football for nearly five decades.

Penn State began sending letters this week to licensed suppliers of products depicting Mr. Paterno's name or likeness. In the letters, university officials state that the use of his name or image is no longer approved through Penn State, effective immediately, and that licensed suppliers have 60 days to deplete any merchandise depicting Mr. Paterno's image or name.

In spite of the past month's furor over sexual abuse allegations against Mr. Paterno's former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, Penn State officials downplayed the university's decision as just another termination of obsolete merchandise.

"This process is no different than whenever we have discontinued a certain redesign," university spokeswoman Lisa Powers said. "Licensees are given a time to sell off stock, and then they must destroy the rest."

Penn State's board of trustees fired Mr. Paterno last month in the wake of allegations Mr. Sandusky abused eight young boys over a 15-year period. The grand jury, in charging Mr. Sandusky with 40 counts of sexual abuse, found that Mr. Paterno was informed of at least one incident and that he informed his superiors about it, as required by state law, but did not report it to police. On Dec. 7, Mr. Sandusky, who has maintained his innocence, was charged with an additional 12 counts for allegedly sexually abusing two other boys.

Mr. Paterno, who will turn 85 on Dec. 21, had worked as Penn State's head coach for 46 years.

Regardless of the scandal, the decision to suspend university licensing of Paterno-related merchandise was a "mutual decision" with Mr. Paterno's representatives, Ms. Powers said. As administrator of the Paterno/JVP Properties Program, Mr. Paterno's daughter, Mary Kay Hort, will handle future negotiations about licensing his name and image, according to the university. Ms. Hort could not be reached for comment.

Ms. Powers said licensed suppliers will not be compensated for any losses but that licensees almost certainly will sell existing stock to retailers before the 60-day period ends. Retailers may continue to sell their previously approved, university-licensed Paterno products until they run out of them, she said.

University officials could not say how many licensed suppliers will be affected by the termination. One of the largest, Nike, manufactures most of the Paterno-related clothing -- including the "Roll Up Your Pant Legs. This is JoePa's House." T-shirt -- sold by many area sportswear stores. Nike officials could not be reached for comment.

Tracy Bell, coordinator for PSU clothier The Family Clothesline in State College, said store officials contacted Nike soon after the accusations against Mr. Sandusky became public and Mr. Paterno was fired. She said they tried to order more Paterno T-shirts, which were among the store's best sellers, but the door already had closed at Nike. No more Paterno shirts would be printed, Nike officials told them.

"They felt like they didn't want to get into this mess just yet," she said of the Nike officials.

Ms. Bell said she expects to continue stocking Paterno merchandise in the future because his daughter seems to care deeply about preserving his name and his public image.

"She's very good about honoring her father, and we try to honor his reputation, too," Ms. Bell said. "People are still interested in Joe Paterno as a legacy, so we will still have items from him."

Other licensed suppliers are trying to spread the word that existing university-licensed Paterno products are the last of their kind.

At George's Floral Boutique in State College, for instance, the owners have posted on the store's website that it must deplete its Paterno-related inventory before February and that this is the "last chance folks." The store still has several hundred Christmas ornaments by Christopher Radko that show Mr. Paterno's face on one side and Beaver Stadium on the other, according to partner Mitch Ballas.

The website message, he said, was an attempt to let the store's customers -- who include many collectors -- know that the remaining ornaments are part of a very limited edition.

"They are something that will be treasured in the future," Mr. Ballas said. "It's extra-special merchandise."

Correction/Clarification: (Published December 12, 2011) Mary Kay Hort, daughter of former Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno, will handle future negotiations about licensing her father's name and image. Her last name was misspelled Saturday.

Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: or 412-263-1719.


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