November 10th, 2011
12:26 PM ET

Penn State grapples with conflict over coach's firing, horrific allegations

With feelings running high on campus after the firing of Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno and the university’s president, a debate is raging about where the focus should rest in the scandal.

The Happy Valley family is dealing with raw, conflicting emotions sparked by child rape allegations that threaten to shatter the reputation of a great football coach as well as the school’s image.

The expulsions of Paterno and Penn State President Graham Spanier capped another chapter in the fallout from charges against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

On Wednesday night, the man who had been at the helm of the iconic football program for 46 seasons was greeted by cheers befitting a father figure viewed as the face of the university.

Except this was no football celebration. It was like a farewell to an era as Paterno spoke to members of the crowd, who clutched phones and waved their arms in the air.

"What can I say, I'm no longer the coach," Paterno told about 15 students gathered outside his house late Wednesday. "It's going to take some time to get used to. It's been 61 years."

The crowd chanted that they loved Paterno. Some of the students, many of whom came to Penn State because of its storied football program, apparently weren’t sure how to cope with news of the famous coach's firing and the allegations of what happened.

iReport: In praise of Joe Paterno | Student, parents shocked by allegations

But Paterno, known for being hard-nosed when it comes to education, seemed to feel he needed to temper the mood of the students, telling them to go home and get some sleep. “Study,” he said, as he peered from the walkway of his home.

Chants of “We are Penn State,” the rallying cry of the school, could be heard in the background.

In the town of State College, that phrase has taken on a new meaning Thursday. And it’s one some of the students are fighting to protect -  especially after the scene on campus quickly changed overnight: Students spilled into the streets. A news van was tipped over.

Then massive crowds swarmed the Old Main, the former administration building. Things by all accounts got out of control.

While those scenes are played over and over again on TV stations across the country, many students say they don't want those images to define them.

Hundreds may have flocked to Paterno’s home or to the grand bronze statue that towers over the campus, but they represent a small percentage of Penn State’s 35,000 undergraduate students. Some, including T.J. Bar, the student body president, said they want to change the focus of this debate from the emotions of football to the seriousness of the alleged events.

In some ways, at University Park, the campus is divided.

Some still mourn the loss of the almost godlike coach they have grown to love. Others are struggling with the heinous allegations.

The question of how the campus should move forward was at the heart of an editorial in the campus newspaper The Daily Collegian:

“Wednesday night was an embarrassment for Penn State. This is about more than Paterno and Spanier. The way students reacted set our university two steps back," the editorial said. "Penn State does not need to be put in a worse light than its leaders already have. The spotlight was on Penn State last night and we only drew more negative national attention to the Penn State name. The national media did not come for the students, but they stayed because we put on a show.

"The emotions brought on by the night varied from somber and respectful to angry and unlawful. This is not what Joe would have wanted.”

But it is what unfolded. And it’s also what students are trying to change in the wake of the scandal that rocked the campus.

“I think the emotions kind of run the gamut in terms of Joe Paterno,” Bard said. “I think a lot of students are obviously in support of Joe Paterno, but I also think a lot of students are realizing there may be more to this story than we realized. At the end of the day fundamentally what matters most is that justice is found for victims and their family and they can truly find some closure after this.”

Dave Cole, a junior studying journalism and political science at Penn State, who grew up in State College and whose parents both teach at the school told CNN’s iReport that he thinks there’s a mix of anger about how the events unfolded as well as who should be blamed.

“People I think initially are very angry at the University for firing Paterno. I think that there are a lot of people that wish that more of the blame was being levied on Sandusky right now,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of animosity toward the media and the role that the media played in framing Paterno in this. A lot of anger, sadness and frustration in students.”

Bard said many students feel the story isn’t just about saving the reputation of a mighty football program. (The financial implications of the scandal may be heavy.) It should be about the alleged victims and the investigation of what took place on the campus.

“I think a lot of students are realizing that due to the national media coverage there’s been a huge oversight of the victims and their families in all of this, and I think students are getting very, very frustrated that this is more than about a football program or a coach - this is about the victims and finding justice for them at the end of the day.”

Daniel Johnson, a 23-year-old business student who was at the rally Wednesday night, told CNN's iReport the scandal has “tarnished everything we students have come to be proud of here at Penn State.”

Johnson said he rallied at the Old Main, not just in frustration about Paterno's firing, but in support of the alleged victims and as a cry against what he fears happened to them.

“We are not responsible for the decisions made by school officials, who at the end of the day are Joe's bosses. We firmly believe that Joe would never turn a blind eye to something as sick and disturbing as this, had he known the full extent of the situation,” Johnson said. “... We pray that the victims can find a way to move on from this and find peace.”

Bard said that a candlelight vigil was planned for the alleged victims as well as a slight change to this weekend’s football game. Instead of the traditional “white-out” in which the entire student body wears white in support of the Nittany Lions, students are encouraged to participate in a “blue-out.”

An unofficial Facebook page encouraged fans to wear blue "to support the victims of child abuse worldwide. The Blue Ribbon Campaign against child abuse began 22 years ago and is recognized across the country.

“In addition to being the color of our team's home game jerseys, blue represents the color of bruises that have too often been neglected,” the post said.

Bard said he hoped this weekend’s game would be a chance to change the tide.

“It’s not about a football program; it’s not about a coach. … (It's) about moving forward,” he said. “This is a crucial point for this student body to really be able to move forward, unite together and remember the pride that really is involved in Penn State.”

That's a sentiment that Cole couldn't agree with more. He also  hopes that this moment can be turned into a major turning point for the school.

“I think that the image of this university is as low as I can ever imagine it being. I think that bouncing back from this will be difficult. I think that my first impression of the decision is that it was for cleaning house and fixing the image as soon as possible. ... I think that how we bounce back is very important,” he said. “What a few thousand students did last night unfortunately speaks out as what the whole 40,000-student body did. I think that there needs to be a way to get out the message that these actions do not speak for the whole body.

"The nation and the media need to see Penn State not as a violent student body, but as a minority of the students who did it out of anger and that was not the way to demonstrate that.”

soundoff (1,613 Responses)
  1. banasy©

    These students are fine people.

    November 10, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • MIndful

      .....who have their priorities screwed up.

      November 10, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • westward

      who are generating a nationally covered rally in support of a child rapist enabler. In no way will what they are doing be anything other than egg on their own faces and their own degrees. And college is supposed to be a place where you learn how to think.....go figure.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Howard

      The only thing more appalling that the criminal indifference of Paterno and company is the moral indifference of every student who is protesting the firing.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Kate

    These students are further embarrassing the school by protesting. Shame on them all!

    November 10, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • seriouslyomg

      They're a bunch of middle-class white boys who have been socialized to care more about football than the welfare of children. They're a waste of space and clearly not getting any smarter in college.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • SeriouslyOMG

      There were more than white boys there. Why the injection of race?

      Your inbred racism is showing.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Henry

    Glad to see these people willing to demonstrate for a worthy cause...I am sure that through their efforts world hunger will be eradicated or something.

    November 10, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • dapper

      And your sitting behind a computer being sassy is going to cure cancer right? What have you done that's so significant?

      November 10, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • omgdaidiots

      they are spoiled brats whose parents are slaving to send them to college, and if not they're parents, then taxpayers footing their student loans. what idiots our country is producing.

      November 10, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • anthony

      at least youre not out defending a man who knowingly associates himself for years with someone who hes been told was raping a 10 yr old boy...., and that same someone apparently paraded these young boys at games, charity events, and dinners.....and noboby said anything, this was going on in their midst and said nothing for years.....this is shameful beyond belief.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • JR

      Pretty much on a par with OWS as far as usefulness.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Actually

      Well Penn State students do fight for a worthy cause. Pediatric cancer. Last year alone, the student body helped to raise nearly 8 million dollars to help fight pediatric cancer. And this year the student body is aiming to outdo their previous record. The weekend after thanksgiving Penn State students will be taking to street corners early Saturday and Sunday mornings around the country to help this cause that they fight so hard for. This money, while partially going to help research for a cure to cancer, also helps the families of these ill children pay for expensive hospital bills that they otherwise wouldn't be able to afford. To cap it all off, the students host a 46 hour dance marathon for the children in an effort to show their support and inspire hope and courage in the lives of the young children and the families. It is really quite an event to witness.

      Additionally, Penn State students have actively been involved in the recent "Occupy" movement by peacefully protesting the Penn State administration in a predominant section of the main student central building on campus. They have made their presence known publically, while also writing letters to the administration describing the student body's unrest with how certain aspects of the school are run. This is not something covered by the national media, as I found out when I told someone not linked to Penn State about the events, and they responded "Oh, wow. The news isn't covering that hear so I had no way of knowing universities were joining the movement".

      Please refrain from making such harsh generalized statements about such a great university based solely on a sensational report regarding a small minority of the student boy.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
  4. herrsonic

    Saying "we are penn state" is such a good thing right now. Cleaning house on a cover up is the first step in the right direction.

    November 10, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  5. John Steel

    You are Pedophile State now. Students should have been in the streets when this story first broke demanding Paterno resign. But I guess what counts at PSU is winning football games, not decency.

    November 10, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Diane

      Exactly right.

      November 10, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • ProperVillain

      I was thinking the same thing. They are by action defending someone who attempted to cover up the abuse of a child by his own inaction. Yeah, what a hero...

      November 10, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      @Propervillian – not sure anyone can really believe that Joe attempted to cover up anything. For whatever reason though, he failed to react appropriately.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  6. MS

    What a bunch of idiots.

    November 10, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Sarah

    Joe, same as Jim Tressel, are both great men who sadly got caught not reacting to something in the appropriate manner. In both cases, they were great coaches.

    November 10, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Diane

      What was the last thing they won with him? I think it was '86? The point is that Penn State football brings in millions of dollars in revenue per year, win or lose....real great coaching....all a myth.

      November 10, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • juljo

      Are you serious? You really think that not reporting the heinous abuse of (a) child(ren), and continuing to keep the perpetrator on staff, without any further investigation of its validity is on par with not reporting a college player from getting paid?

      I think you might need to head into the shop and get that moral barometer checked out.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sarah - wow!

      Sarah,

      You are comparing Paterno's lack of attention to Tressel's?

      Please remove yourself from the gene pool immediately.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ProperVillain

    Welcome to the US. A country where we will riot and loudly protest over the firing of someone (rightly so) who plays a role in an insignificant game with a leather ball for a living yet when it comes to being exploited by a banking establishment that is out of control, we chose to be silent and apathetic. Great job America. Nice to see your priorities are in line!

    November 10, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      What would you expect from capitalism?

      November 10, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Welcome to the US, where we can take an argument on child abuse and turn it into an argument about capitalism.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Diane

    He and everyone else that was there deserve to be fired. How do you choose a football program over the raping of children? And what in the world were children doing on a university campus to begin with? There is so much here that is wrong it's hard to know where to begin.

    November 10, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      No defense of the actions / inactions, but having children on campus isn't a big deal – people who work on campus have children too. I was on campus as a child when my older brothers went off to college.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Eric

    Penn State U "PSU" = Pedophile Sodomy University! SHAME ON THOSE STUDENTS!!!

    November 10, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  11. lucy2

    As an alumni, I'm disappointed (but not terribly surprised) that things got out of hand. People are upset and sad, but for heaven's sake, be adults and remember who the real victims of this situation are – hint, it's not any of the adults.

    November 10, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Malatov08

      It is alumnus not alumni, alumnus is singular. It certainly does appear that you went to a football school. Way to succeed.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Alright Malatov – first rule in being a grammar nazi, you should be right about your correction. For a female former student of a college or university, the term is "alumna".

      Maybe you should have gone to a football school.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Malatov08 Got Owned

      Suits him right.

      Overly pedantic people disgust me. Especially when they are wrong.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • lucy2

      Oops, forgive my typo, Malatov.. Thanks for being such an ass about too.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. K

    Wow, football is more important than holding people accountable for handling a molestation case at a University? Good job Penn leadership for doing the right thing!!! Now go back to your dorms and study you nitwits.

    November 10, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • BK

      Anyone who has been in business and or industry knows that a single person NEVER handles cases like this. You report it to your management team (which Peterno did) and then the investigation process starts. This process consists of security, administrator leaders, legal team, communications, an investigative team, and many other groups who are TRAINED to handle these kinds of situations. Coaches, professors, assistant professors, janitors, etc. are NOT trained to do any portion of this investigation and like the other post indicated IF Paterno had contacted the police on his own he would have been repremanded or fired as without an inestigation and determining if the allegations are indeed true this could get national attention and ruin the credibility of the University. Joe did what he was supposed to do and then the University administration was supposed to take over from there. To fire Paterno after his years of dedicated service and putting Penn State on the map (what else are they known for??) is about the worse thing they could have done to Paterno given what he has done for the school and community. Those on the present board who arrived at these decisions should all be fired as all they are doing is trying to save face for the administration by placing the blame on a coach. Give me a break. How stupid can they be? Bring Joe back to continue his successful career in football.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • BucksFan

      BK, cultists like you are the reason why JoePa's reputation has been shattered. If you people had the sense to oust him/force him to resign 10 years ago like you should have, his precious reputation would have been FAR less damaged. But, because you have treated him like a god (admit it, he has been the de facto king and ruler of PSU) and absolutely refused to see that an 85 year-old that you have to prop in a chair in the press box has no business being the head coach, you're reaping what you have sown.

      As far as what's happened, it's a shame. I used to like and admire JoePa, but considering that he should have retired long before now, you should be wondering if he was more concerned about his ego and preserving his absolute power instead of doing what's best for the program and university.

      As for the horrific allegations and JoePa's accountability/lack of accountability, right or wrong, when you're the top dog, you're responsible for everyone under you. And at PSU, the buck stopped at JoePa's desk.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • K

      @ BK I would recommend additional ethics training. Put yourself in JoeP shoes. Would you have done the same? God I hope not. I have a great amount of respect for the action of the Penn reagents. Its called leadership in the face of failed (or even criminal) policy.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Kiki

    There seems to be a lot of denial around Joe...guess that's what a takes if you're going to make a god out of a man.

    November 10, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. omgdaidiots

    how did these knuckleheads get into college? they're acting more like disgruntle fans at a football game. what idiots.

    November 10, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  15. infonomics

    Say it ain't so Joe, say it ain't so.

    November 10, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51