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. skip

    all i can say is that i cannot believe this. sports above all. gack.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • jon

      Obviously, this whole disgusting situation went on WAY TOO LONG! This all happened over a period of at least 14 years? You have got to be kidding me!. The whole Penn State University operation is to blame for this debacle. Penn State personnel were playing with balls alright – but they weren't just footballs.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Penn student

    Why is everyone focusing on the kids as the victims? What about the football program at Penn? What is going to happen to it?

    November 10, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • SAM

      You cannot be serious!

      November 10, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • JJ

      I hope this is your idea of a joke.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • navynursemom

      Your parents are wasting their money on your "education"

      November 10, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • sheppard

      huh? Sarcasm at it's best..... hopefully....

      November 10, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      I think he's very serious. That is the state of our young adults... more more like the immaturity that is rampant when adults are really mentally children who care about video games, sports, and football more then justice and sensibility. These are the "leaders" of tomorrow. Be very afraid of this generation.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • some dude

      Drink the kool aid you idiot.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • tom

      I'm sure Sandusky would take care of them too

      November 10, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • ArmyVeteran

      And you are.......the weakest link......goodbye.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • AD


      November 10, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • yaya

      are you out of your mind? I'm serious do you not understand children were hurt and effected for the rest of their lives.. and you are concerned about games????

      November 10, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gears support pedophilia and covering it up...resulting in no concern other than the football program??? Do the rioting students at Penn State have ANY IDEA what the rest of the world thinks of them right now?

      November 10, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Horrified

      Penn Student...when you graduate and have children of your own, I hope you come to understand the narcissism and cruelty of your statement. No college, no football team, no coach (no matter how gifted) is more important than a child's soul. Joe Pa was a wonderful coach in many ways, and he did amazing things for the team and your university. And no one would want to be judged by his/her worst action. But there are consequences for every action and decision. Joe Pa must bear the consequences of his. If convicted, Sandusky will be put in jail where fellow inmates who have a special way of treating pedophiles. And everyone in the chain of command - everyone who shirked their duty - will have to pay the consequences.
      II believe in "innocent until proven guilty". In this case, from the details that have come to light, it seems quite likely that there have been countless incidents and coverups spanning at least 10 years. Tragic.

      Please let's focus a good part of our energy on sending prayers to the victims and their families. Please, people.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Alumguy

    I say sue the school for covering it up, drop tuition for the existing students to save some face. By their inaction, the school is as culpable as the individual doing the assault

    To add to what crabtown mentions in an earlier post, anyone with any semblance of a conscience knows a child cannot speak for themself. Joe should have gone to the authorities not some goofballs running the administrative group at this two-bit college. Those individuals are only concerned about the morals of the school's football program, their pocketbook and prestige which in many eyes has dropped tremendously. As Gomer Pyle says, shame on Joe Pa, shame on PS. Clearly they're all a bunch of hicks running that place. They are too hung up in the PS culture and are completely oblivious to what the rest of the country deems moral and acceptable. Joe, your inactions were your downfall.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Anonymous

    Joe Paterno could have taken away all privileges of Sandusky. That would have been the right thing to do. But even tho one man did report it to the local police, even the police ignored it.

    All who assisted or turned their head to allow this to continue for so long should be castrated immediately. Send a message and it will stop.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  5. KTOWN

    Why didnt the parent(s) report this to the police??

    November 10, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • JJ

      That's it blame the victim to protect the perpetrator. You are a real hero.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • cathy

      You assume the parents knew. Remember, it is said that he got his victims for a non-profit to help children. Likely these are not kids with traditional families.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • tom

      Parents didn't know. Some kids had no parents

      November 10, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • MAD1963


      November 10, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  6. LB

    These students are a disgrace. How in the world can they advocate for a man who has clearly covered up for a child molester. If one of these protesting students was a child of mine, I would be even more horrified. Everyone involved should be fired – so far the university has not done that!

    November 10, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Miclovin

      @ LB i may not go to the school but Joe Pa did not cover it up he followed his "obligation" and reported it to his higher-up now obviously he should have had a moral obligation and went to the police that is one thing he can be at fault for but the students love Joe Pa hell ive watched his team play a few times (and i hate college football) and if i had a kid who went there and participated in the riots i would congradulate them

      November 10, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. human race

    is this how you would let someone treat your grandparents

    November 10, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • sheppard

      Of course not – I wouldn't 'want' it, but if their behavior warranted it, I would expect it to happen. Here the behavior (or lack of appropriate behavior) warrants it..... He deserves to lose the job that was more important to him than what was happening to innocent children. He knew or should have known what his silence meant for the future of more young boys... sad, but the facts.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. human race

    how many old people understand these issues to begin with

    November 10, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • JJ

      Troll Alert!!! This is too dumb to come from a real person expressing his or her opinion.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • sheppard

      Agree JJ! If not a troll, totally pathetic....

      November 10, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Pat F

    Funny how not one of the students in the riot pictures is a women. JoePa was the most powerful person at Penn State – acting like he was just another employee reporting problems to his "boss" would be laughable if this was not such a sick and serious matter.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. cathy

    So someone told him about the incident, he reports it to his boss – – and you think that is fine? That was all that was required? Let's not forget that after he reported it and it was "investigated", Sandusky was banned from bringing kids on campus.

    Don't you think that this should have raised some questions on the coach's part? Here you have reported a man for possibly molested a kid in your athletic center. Then he is banned from bringing kids on campus. Don't you think this leader, this man who proclaimed character, honesty, integrity – would have at least said "Whoa – hold on here. What is going on?!?!?"

    You really believe his responsibility ended by passing the info along to his boss? Now, before you answer, imagine if the child that was molest because of the inaction was your child. Would you still think he did all he should have done? Would you still be ok that he did what was 'required'?

    Sorry – but it just smacks a bit of the infamous excuse "I was just following orders".

    November 10, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Davethecanuck

    Why pay so much attention to the opinions of students?
    In a few years when they graduate...
    they become the new kid we all ignore and marginalize in the workplace, because they don't know anything!

    November 10, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  12. human race

    fire congress....all of them is a pedophiles

    November 10, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alumguy

      Youse gots a good edumacation at Penn State didn't you? By your posts, you must be either in the graduate "football" program or the third string.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  13. respectful bama fan

    Sandusky seems to be guilty enough of the allegations, and what he's done is evil. for all this extra controversy, JoePa is getting hit a bit harder than he deserves. 1st off...I'm a 25 year old former football player in decent shape...if i walked in on a 60 year old man sodomizing a 10 year old boy I'd like to think I would have to guts to intervene. I wouldn't just quietly leave the building and wait until the next day to tell anyone. 2nd....JoePa notified those who, not only he was bound by law to notify, but those who he surely would have expected to to carry on any further investigation. 3rd...Has no one considered that Sandusky was one likely of Paterno's closest friends for over 30 years? If a 20-something grad asst. told you that your best friend and colleague of 30 some-odd years was a child molester, would you believe him? Because I wouldn't. At the very least the accusation warrants an investigation, one which JoePa initially instigated. Sure Paterno could have done more, but maybe he just didn't think his old friend was capable of such a heinous act, and therefore chose to see him as innocent until proven otherwise. None of these atrocities committed are forgiveable, but I think it's possible that Joe Paterno is just a human being who tried to stand by his friend until the truth came out. I don't think he's someone who, with a remarkable record of morality, generosity, and loyalty to his universtiy, would intentionally try to brush something like this under the rug just to avoid his football program being disrupted.
    that is all.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • James Taylor

      NO all students are like you. Is easier to have "GUTS" after the fact. This grad students probably was afraid to go beyond what he did. Afraid that he would be kick out of school, afraid that he could loose his scholarship, afraid that he wouldnt get into any other schools since JoePa arms are long and his connections deep and powerful, afraid that he would end up flipping burgers for the rest of his life instead of getting his PHD and becoming a professional. So yes is easy to be tough after the fact. Paterno was wrong and like you wrote covered for his old friend. HE COULD HAD DONE MORE. Now is payback time.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Josh




    November 10, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  15. k

    I wonder if they are they going to keep the statue and mural up.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • James Taylor

      Dont think they want a reminder of FAILURE!! Specially parent touring the campus with their children. Sad to put it this way. But all the great things that Paterno accomplished went up in smoke. I would say the statue will be place in a warehouse gathering dust. So make sure you get pix of that before is hidden in some place or basement.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
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