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. rizzo

    It's a shame that Joe Pa had to go out like this, but at least it got rid of Spanier. Maybe now the university can focus on educating students like they should be, rather than making loads of money for administrators and trustees.

    Also, the last time I was at a riot at PSU, the police are the ones who started it. I wouldn't be surprised if no bottles/rocks were thrown and no news van was tipped until after they started randomly macing/beating students.

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

    The allegations against Sandusky have been known for years...what about all the police, lawyers, state attorneys that knew and did not do the jobs they are paid to do? ANYONE that knew about the children and did nothing should be held responsible too. Many people seemed to have failed in this case to do the right thing, not to be more concerned with political future, personal reputations et.!!

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

      And according to the indictment....the PA Child Welfare caseworker who investigated Sandusky when a Mom and subsequently a high school alerted the authorities....."spoke with Sandusky and Sandusky promised he wouldn't shower with any more boys"!! OMG!!!!! Joe Pa is collateral damage when there are MANY walking in Centre County who dropped this fireball!!

      November 10, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. kcl

    So, you report the incident to higher ups then it's okay? Was it deemed little so that's okay? The higher ups didn't report it, so that's okay?

    Think of the new victims since that incident in 2002....think they believe Joe did the right thing? Anybody do the right thing? Firings were absolutely necessary.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • nospam2

      But Joe didn't know, he only had the one second hand report given to him a day after the incident. And he didn't cover it up, he notified his bosses. I'm sure if he saw it, he would have not only called the police, he'd have stopped the abuse, not waited a day later to report it.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Joe R.

    Let's raise the voting age (and yes, the age to draft someone into the military, to be fair) to 25. It scares me to death that those with the stupidity to destroy property over the firing of a football coach can actually vote.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe in Colorado

      It scares me to think that people like you want everyone to just bend over to authority. How about no.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • KL

      If stupidity is a disqualification to vote, there's no age limit.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Penn State Pederasts

    rioting Penn State students are in essence defenders of abusers and their enablers like Joe Paterno. . . it's time for those "kids" to grow up and accept responsibility for their irresponsible and indefensible actions

    November 10, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe in Colorado

      Good try, but wrong.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • nospam2

      Of course they don't support child abuse. They're trying to stop the injustice of using Joe as a scapegoat.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  6. BuckeyeJim

    Kill all the Nittany Lions before somebody lets them loose, plow up the football field and sow it with salt.
    Don't wait for investigation and facts.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. True Colors

    People are crazy as HELL! TO HELL with Joe Pa and EVERYONE who KNEW and didn't pour GASOLINE over Sandusky! Ooops. Sorry about the football team...sorry about the POOR Penn State students protesting. After all, they are the REAL Victims here right! No wait...there are CHILDREN that were molested and SACRIFICED all in the name of PENN STATE. Joe Pa should have been gone 900 years ago. SO WHAT that he got FIRED...CHILDREN were molested! To hell with him and everyone who feels ONE OUNCE of sorry for him.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. vdanker

    Who cares about a few abused children? This is Paterno, the god, we're talking about. Gods can't do any wrong.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Luke

    Why is the guy who first saw the activity not fired? He is allowed to coach, but Joe is not. Fire him as well because he could have stopped it or called the police just like Joe could have. Bull Crap and Penn State knows it. If you are going to fire one, fire them all, including the guy who witnessed it first hand and was too scared to do nothing and now a he tries to pass the buck. Absolute Terrible

    November 10, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Tea Party Express

    This campus needs to be completely removed and dismantled. The tax payers shouldn't be paying to support this garbage. Fire everybody, send all the kids home, and arrest those involved in the riots.

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

      Agree 100%

      November 10, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  11. OLDSALT51

    As a big football fan this hurts, but they should fire the whole coahing staff it has the appearance to most football fans
    that they knew about this in 1994 and they let sandusky go, and if that is true there is no way they stay and for the
    people that saw this with thier own eyes should also be in jail.I love my football and am a big Alabama fan but if the bear
    had done this I would call for his head.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. PennStateIsAnBlemish

    What's a degree from Penn State worth now? ZERO. It's a tarnish. GET YOUR MONEY BACK.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  13. KimH

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

      I knew that was going to go mainstream soon....
      The irony of that story was they just declared him legally dead this year! And the janitor that witnessed another assult has severe dementia in a nursing home.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Luli

    What was Joe Pa supposed to do? He was supposed to go to the police and say: "Someone told me that he may have seen someone abuse a child." I don't think the police would give much credit. The person that witnessed the abuse is the one who should have gone to the police, he was the who SAW it. But he didn't, did he?

    November 10, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe in Colorado

      Exactly. And he's still coaching w/ Penn State this Saturday. McQueary is the name.

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

      Exactly. And, what decent person would not have picked up a chair and beat Sandusky to a bloody pulp right then and there in the shower room?

      November 10, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • BMcGee

      Luli, you are so wrong. Mandatory reporters, who are teacher, doctors and the like, are required to report SUSPECTED child abuse to the police and child welfare agencies. You do not have to witness the abuse yourself. I promise you, child welfare and the police will get right on it and investigate. In many places, any PERSON is required by law to do the same.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Luli


      That was not Joe Paterno's case.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • PAmtngirl

      The McQuery issue is just bizarre!! Even as a tiny, young female I would have physically stopped that assult instantly! WHY is he still employed??? Unless........he is a victim himself??? (Thinking out loud only on that comment)

      November 10, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. conradshull

    Expel the rioters. No "bys" for anyone on this.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe in Colorado

      Expel "you".

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

      I bet these little F'ers would not be rioting in the streets if they had been BUTT F'd by Sandusky and knew that Peterno covered it up.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Luli


      Paterno did not cover up. He went to his superiors, and told them what he had heard. Learn the facts before you post. Thanks.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
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