By David DeKok
HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - The artist who removed a halo from an image of the late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno on a mural after he was caught up in the Jerry Sandusky child-sex scandal has put it back on, saying: "It was the right thing to do."
Michael Pilato said he worked with helpers on New Year’s Eve to restore halos to images of Paterno and other late community and Pennsylvania State University notables depicted in the mural near the campus in the town of State College.
The mural, painted on the side of a building, is 100 feet (30 meters) long by 24 feet high (7 metres) and contains nearly 400 portraits.
Pilato said the halos were meant to convey the short number of years people have to do great things, not that they were saints who walked the Earth.
“I am not doing this because I believe all who had them were saints,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “I am doing this because it is the right thing to do.”
Paterno was the head football coach at Penn State from 1965 until his firing in 2011 after state investigators linked him to the alleged cover-up of the Sandusky child-sex scandal. He died about a month later. Paterno was a revered figure to many alumni and others in Pennsylvania.
In 2011, Pilato painted over an image of Sandusky, the disgraced former assistant to Paterno, and removed the halos from Paterno and others six months later.
Sandusky is serving 30 to 60 years in prison after his conviction in 2013 for sexually abusing boys on and off the university campus.
Pilato said the halo issue and Sandusky provoked emotional reactions among some people. Local radio commentator John Ziegler, a defender of Sandusky, was livid when Sandusky’s image was painted over.
“He believed I was the driving force to getting Joe fired because I painted Sandusky out of the mural,” Pilato said.
Ziegler did not respond to a request for comment sent through his Facebook account.
Pilato said reaction to the restored halos had so far been “99 percent pro.”
One of the new halos went on the image of Kyle Johnson, a 23-year-old Penn State graduate who died of heart problems during the running of the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2013.
(Editing by Frank McGurty and Peter Cooney)