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. Mike

    What I can't understand is the people on here calling JoePa a scapegoat because he reported this incident in 2002 to his superiors. Am I mistaking or wasn't there at least two other incidents that happend before McQueary witnessed the raping of a child in 2002? Joe had to hear about those incidents. How many times would it take for you to hear these reports and not go to police? The 2002 incident was at least the third time something like this had happened. Not to mention Sandusky was banned from going into some area high schools. How could Joe not have known that???? That is why Joe was fired and I'm sorry to say guilty of letting many children down.

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

      Mike, I think instead of asking about Joe's knowledge in 1998, how about we ask why the police did nothing? They investigated and determined there wasnt enough to prosecute. I cant imagine that being the case. Maybe if the police did their jobs in 1998, we wouldnt be having this play out today.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. SD

    Absolutely shameful to see the reaction of Penn Students!

    November 10, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • superpaul3000

      Those are the useless freshmen that just come here to party and won't make it to graduation. Most students I talked to don't support the protests.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Sparty323

    The Penn State students are a reflection of the coaches and administration...they act and talk like a bunch of non-educated idiots. Unreal.

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

      Yup, kinda sad that the average IQ of those students is massively higher than the rest of the world.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. clarke

    Look they all pushed it under the rug. Shame on all of them. What about the children that were abused. Doesn't Penn State care. Never mind I have my answer.

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

    JoePa has not been charged with any criminal action. From what we know now, he reported what he was told by a third party to his Athletic Director and then went about his job, which he did so well. Firing Joe for the actions of a subordinate, after he reported it to the people who are supposed to take care of such things is like firing the Pope for the actions of the priests guilty in that ongoing scandal. What happened to due process?

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

      A viable analogy until you get to the point that a lot of people will state (Myself included) that the Pope was complicit in regards to that scandal and so too is Paterno. Going to his superiors clearly did not get the job done and it was at that point that he should've gone to the police. Additionally, as anyone who has had subordinates should know, you are responsible for the behavior of said subordinates. This is a fact of life.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Capt. Bury

    The media has conducted itself shamefully with this whole affair. It is hell-bent on crucifying Joe Paterno. Don't believe that? Go read 20 media stories on this subject from the last 3 days. Count how many times you read the words "Sandusky" or "victims," and compare to how many times you see the word "Paterno." And why is that? Very simple – money. The whole country knows Joe Paterno – good, honest, and way-above-decent human being. So plastering his name in headlines gets attention, which means air-time, which sells commercials, which gets people to visit websites, and which sells newspapers and magazines. Yes, Joe could have done better with this. But the media has completely unfair with this. Let me see equal column-inches devoted to writing about the PERPETRATOR, Mr. Sandusky. Until then, shame on you CNN and all other media outlets, and shame on those readers who are duped by this yellow journalism approach to a truly sad story about children and an [apparently] sick individual.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jay

    If any one chooses to read the 23 page grand jury account, Joe did exactly what he was supposed to do. He reported it to his superiors who in turn should have reported it to the police (which they didnt). If you are looking for the true problem, it would be: Tim Curley (Penn State's Athletic Director) and Gary Schultz (Senior Vice President of Finance and Busines -that alone should be a clue as to why it got buried) and University President Spainer. Then again the university police were aware of prior incidents concerning Sandusky's after hour "shower parties" and they also buried it. Joe is definitely tainted by the situation... but the rest of those directly involved need to be brought to center and held responsible.

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

      Your last remark is the valid point. There are many who need to be held accountable in this situation, but that does not mean Paterno is not to blame for his inaction. If you report something to your superiors and nothing gets done, your next action should be to go to their superiors and their superiors until something gets done. When the school did nothing, Paterno should have bee-lined it to the police.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  8. 4TheLoveOfFootball

    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.”
    Unfortunately for some of the students it is all about the 'next to God' football program and that is exactly why Penn State is in this mess today. Too bad the protest and riots weren't about the victims and what this scandel did to Penn State – a 'how dare these people in authority not do anything' approach. If it were then they would have toppled Joe's statue and not the news van.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  9. DMR1964

    Why was assistant coach Mike McQueary not fired? He didn’t call the police…he told his father, who also didn’t call the police. McQueary was a witness to the molestation and failed to report it to police, yet is still employed in the Penn State football department for doing what Paterno did, reporting an “indiscretion” to his superior (Paterno). Why was Athletic Director Tim Curley not fired? Unlike Paterno, Curley has committed a crime, perjury and obstruction of justice. He’s still on “administrative leave” despite failing to act on any information provided by McQueary and Paterno, choosing instead to intentionally cover it up, putting many more young men at risk and I repeat, he’s still employed by Penn State. What am I missing here?

    November 10, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  10. brian

    It's not his job to report it to the police?..ok how about some common sense and morals. Now he is going to pray for these kids....yes that wil make them feel better.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe in Colorado

      How about not putting your morals onto others? He did what he was supposed to do. He was *not* a witness. Wasn't that McQuery's job ***AS THE WITNESS***?? And McQueary is still coaching at Penn State.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Joe in Colorado

    Fully in support of Joe Pa here. Lots of judgemental people here.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Michael Gibson

    Why does McQuery still have a job at Penn State. He saw a crime being committed and he did not call the police or at least dial 911. Seems to me he should be fired too.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. J

    As a proud alumni of Penn State I agree with everyone that emotions are running high. I think the most astonishing thing is that all of these have been mad so abruptly without all of the evidence. This is a tragedy that so many children's lives had to be exposed to such conditions, unfortunately this happens everyday every where probably even in your own backyard. It is a shame the blame had to be turned away from those who committed the crime and away from the victims, they should be the focus and the headlines. There have been more situations like this, too many to count across our nation yet those people who had authority but unable to get the problem resolved were not publicly humiliated. People marry serial killers, should they be to blame for the acts of their spouses? Where does this end? It is truly a shame that now not only the lives of a few children involved but these decisions affect for than 100,000 people. Now who is making the appropriate moral decision?

    November 10, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jamie

    Joe in Colorado:

    What does being a good person have to do with Religion?

    November 10, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe in Colorado

      Because you religious zealots think everybody should think and act as you would. Joe Pa was **NOT THE WITNESS**. The witness, McQueary, who should have been the one to report to police, **IS STILL COACHING WITH PEEN STATE**.

      And yet you want to blame Joe Pa.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jamie

      Everyone involved should be punished. Since Joe was such an icon that's why he should have gone to the police. They are going to believe him over anyone else.

      I still don't know how having morals have anything to do solely with religion...

      November 10, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Allitrop

    I feel like they should have performed a thorough investigation and if the coach was found to have been aware of what was going on and just turned the other check – then by all means – fire him. But I think they came to conclusions way too quickly.
    I think it’s a sad shame of what college football has become. It seems like when ever athletes or coaches get into any kind of trouble it seems to always have a cover up. We teach these kids these kinds of values in college – and then we end up with a world full of corrupt leaders.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:39 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