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. Adam

    Everyone is right, the focus should be on the victims. But you know what story sells, speculating on what a national figurehead, JoePa, may or may not have done in this case and completely losing sight of the real perpetrator and most importantly, victims.

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

      the focus is on him because he had "the power" to handle it the right way and he chose not to, he's a hypocrite with all of his moral soapboxing.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kiki

      How many victims would there be if he had not been enabled by Joe and his cronies?

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

      Navynursemon – He DID handle it "The right way". He reported it to his superiors. He is not the police. He is not the a detective or a prosecutor. He isn't really even a university administrator that could investigate.

      In the end he reported it. It was up to the administrators at that point to investigate and take action. If they had found something or nothing, it was not Paterno's business to ask. Respecting privacy is not a crime. Assuming administrators would NOT allow molestation charges to go uninvestigated would lead one to believe it didn't happen if you were in Paterno's shoes.

      He did NOTHING wrong, but he has been fired. That is inherently unfair and unAmerican.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • jennifer

      may or may NOT have done ????? are you serious ? it was brought to his house he turned a blind eye to it so it makes him an accessory but he will get off cuz hes old and because they are already copping the plea of dementia

      November 10, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • C Mac

      Jennifer – Read the stinking article! Nothing happened at Paterno's house. Paterno did not molest anyone. My god at least get the facts straight and stop assuming you know the story because you read the headlines. Idiot.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • BMcGee

      CMac, give me a break. Of course Paterno and the others are not investigators. THE POLICE AND CHILD WELFARE AGENCIES ARE. Duh, that's why he and all the others should have called them to report a violent crime against a child.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • C Mac

      BMcGee – Not that he is, but what if Sandusky had been innocent? Paterno reported it. He reported his friend. He didn't have to. He could have just shut up. Instead he reported it in a way that would start in internal investigation and (hopefully) lead to a prosecution or exoneration. Unfortunately the administration hid this and did not do their job to investigate and report to police. People second-guessing what Paterno would have done are kidding themselves. If their good friend was accused and they did not see the crime themselves, they would likely have acted in the same matter. He could have done more, but he did the right thing in reporting it. He did not hide it or ignore it.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  2. PA Gal

    My heart goes out to the victims and their families and I am glad to see that the person responsible, JERRY SANDUSKY, will be held accountable for the evil he has done. My issue is that, Joe Paterno is being persecuted as if he was the one who committed these heinous acts. I agree he should have contacted the police after seeing there was no action by his superiors. But the fact remains that by not following up, it is an act of omission. The majority of the focus of liability needs to be on Sandusky. And I think we all need to pray that he is prosecuted to the full extent of the law to gove the victims some sort of closure in knowing that this monster will not be able to inflict the same kind of pain on others.

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

      Agree completely. People are being led to believe JoePa was involved. He clearly was not. At the worst he is guilty of not following up with his boss and asking what the outcome of their investigation was. He did report it. He did what he was supposed to do.

      The only reason they fired him was to deflect liability and blame away from the administration.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Joel

    They need to bulldoze the Pedo State campus and eliminate it from the face of the Earth.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Anonymous

    Someday when these students have children over their own, they will feel very very differently (and be ashamed for this).

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

      Absolutely! Kids today see things quite differently. But, you can't expect much when their parents obviously didn't teach them how to be moral human beings!

      November 10, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. human race

    this is mr sanduskis crime....no one elses...... punish him with the death penalty..... even though PENN STATE is a cold place you should not try and keep warm with young boys...

    November 10, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  6. snarks

    This is liberalism, verbatim. Right here, what you see, in front of you right now. These liberals defending a sodomite, who sodomized children, not speaking out. Liberalism is a mental disorder.

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

      ...and right-wing, conservative fundamentalists fueled by religious intolerance is anything but a mental disorder.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. navynursemom

    ALL involved in that "chain of command" should be charged with felony conspiracy, obstruction of justice and child endangerment, had it been their kids maybe something would have been done about it.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  8. CRM114

    The Penn State Football program should be shut down and buried. Send the players on scolarships to other colleges.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Joe

    I hope the university will quickly use this as a teaching moment and instill in the students a sense of priorities and what really matters in life. Football isn't one of them.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Miek

    Hi Lord, its me.
    We are getting older and things are getting bad here.
    Gas prices are too high, no jobs, food and heating costs too high.
    I know some have taken you out of our schools,
    government and even Christmas,
    but Lord I'm asking you to come back
    and re-bless America ..
    We really need you!
    There are more of us who want you than those who don't!
    Thank You Lord,
    I Love you.
    "Life without God is like an unsharpened pencil – it has no point."

    November 10, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  11. John

    I think everyone needs to realize that the firings were needed to bring back any semblance that Penn State is about education and not a place where one group (football) rules. Allowing Joe to exit on his terms was to allow him to gracefully exit out of this scandal which he could have avoided in 2002. It would have been a scandal in 2002 but now it has gotten out of hand. All of these men who have been fired sat there and watched multiple events take place in the places where they controlled and did nothing. EVIL WINS WHEN GOOD MEN DO NOTHING! This is the single damning statement you can make to men who have lead their lives trying to make the world a better place. THEY DID NOTHING. Now I fully expect more and more ugly things to come out ... each uglier than the prior. And yet they DID NOTHING. So for every child attacked after 1998 they are an accessory to the crime. Joe is an accessory to every one after 2002. The board is at least DOING SOMETHING to try and make sure that Penn State survives.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. marik7

    Wonder what Paterno would have done if he heard a rumor that some members of his football staff were dealing cocaine?

    November 10, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. C Mac

    JOE PATERNO DID NOT MOLEST ANYONE, ALLOW ANYONE ON HIS STAFF TO MOLEST ANYONE, NOR DID HE WITHOLD ANY INFORMATION ABOUT MOLESTATION.

    Have none of you actually read the article?!? Why exactly is the guy being fired?

    1. Because he KNOWS the guy?
    2. Because he reported the guy when told?
    3. Because a prior member of his staff did something AFTER he left and had retired?
    4. Because he is old?

    They have no cause for dismissal. The university is firing Paterno to misdirect attention away from their own people that DID cover up the crimes and brush it under the rug. This isn't about the victims, this is about someone being unfairly scapegoated and fired for something he had no involvement in. It would be like you being fired from your job because your neighbor was molesting little boys and you reported it to the cops. It makes no sense, and it is unfair.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • anti jo pa

      I'm pretty sure that when you hear of a crime and DO NOT report it to the police that is appropriate grounds for dismissal, not to mention the fact there was more the one incident. Joe Paterno in no way is a scapegoat he was part of the problem. Simply put if he reported these heinous acts to law enforcement he would have never been dismissed. Your analogy makes absolutely no sense, if your neighbor was molesting little boys and you didn't report it to the police then you are part of the problem. What joe paterno did was morally un-acceptable.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • C Mac

      Paterno did not see a crime! Like I said, read the stinking article. A student came to him upset and said he saw something. Paterno reported the student's story. The student that witnessed this never went to police either.

      Also, every campus has it's own police force that is tied to the university and works closely with the administration, so reporting it to the administration was the same as reporting it to police because the first thing a normal administrator does in these instances is to get campus police involved.

      Paterno did EXACTLY what he should do. A possible crime on campus is reported on campus and generally investigated on campus and only turned over to regular police if a crime requires prosecution. People did drop the ball here. A horrible thing happened, but Paterno did nothing wrong.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  14. human race

    fire Joe.... great.... yet what about the POPE..... how many of his priests abuse little boys.... the entire male christian community has been abused by priests..... matter a fact..... I would bet that is why Sandusky is so messed up.... so by default if you are going to fire Joe.... then you must fire the POPE

    November 10, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  15. noway

    If you know that there has been abuse and you report it to your superior you KNOW if something, anything, has been done to investigate the charge. For all his goodness, he should have followed up. He knows it, you can tell, no excuses. It's a sad situation for everyone involved. The predator needs to pay for his crimes accordingly!

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