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. Miclovin

    Paterno is a great coach been on the team as head coach for 46yrs its a shame he had to get fired 😦 he has real passion unlike most NFL coaches who do it only for the money

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

      yeah. he didn't do it for the money.. he did it for pedaphelia

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

      goes to show how clouded peoples judgement becomes when sports are involved. He was a great coach.. oh brother. And we're not talking about young college student here.. we talking about 11 year old kids. for gods sake.

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

    Yeah. No students are rioting to get better engineering classes or more strenuous math standards. Nothing that could help them get jobs in today's economy. Nope. They are rioting because a man older than most of their great-grandfathers will no longer be in charge of the gladiatorial games. No wonder this country is failing.

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

      Penn State was ranked #1 recruiting school last year by the Wall Street Journal. Time and time again employers are impressed with Penn State students' ability to handle themselves in a poised and professional manner. Penn State consistently produces graduates that outshine the majority of college graduates. Do not let the actions of a handful destructive students reflect the intelligence and capabilities of the 44,000+ students that attend the university.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tim McGuire Images

      I'm with you Kevin. It is sad to see these college students get so upset about a football coach when their prospects for a bright future is crumbling all around them. Wake up college kids! there is more to life than college football.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      well said. The rest of the world is kicking our ass because this has higher priority than the three R's.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. 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 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kiki

      And after that he was seen with at least 5 more at risk children from the charity and those men continued to turn a blind eye.

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

      I dunno. If someone tells me they may have seen something innappropriate at work and I tell my boss who then tells me he investigated it and its all good....Don't add facts until we get them please.

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

      Matt – what facts do you think were added?

      November 10, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kiki

      Its in the grand jury report. Those facts are out.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • cathy

      ....and how do interpret banning him from bringing kids on campus as "it is all good"?

      November 10, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kiki

      I guess "its all good" means "the buck has succesfully been passed".

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

      Do you know for a fact that he never made any additional phone calls? Do you know for a fact that he was not told that the DA chose not to prosecute or that the family did not want their child to go through the trauma of a trial which does happen more often than you might think? Do you know that he never called a reporter only to have people higher up the ladder shut the story down? We do not know and we never will. If he never did anything else, I'm sure none of us can be as hard on him as he will be on himself, but just as this was kept quiet we will never know what else was done or said behind closed doors.

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

      In Pennsylvania, we have a strong mandatory report law for offenses against children. It is not new. It was failed. Please note, that the charity was started in the 1970s. I do not believe that Sandusky's offenses against children began in later life. As the investigations expand to find the other victims, I think everyone should be ready for an appalling high number of child victims.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Are you kidding?

      Seriously Matt? Reporting someone for using too much toner or being snarky at work is much different that raping a 10 year old boy. As soon as "Joe Pa" was told that something could have been amiss he should have stopped everything to protect that child. He should have done everything in his (power) to make sure that Sandusky had nothing to do with any other child EVER. If that 28 year old grad student/big bad ex-football player was too scared to do the right thing and run in the locker room shower and lay Sandusky out and rescue that little boy, then "Joe Pa" should have been the one to protect all of those little boys that were victimized after that. "Joe Pa", that grad-student and his dad could have saved the lives of countless other boys, but they didn't. They didn't. So tell us. These are the people you are willing to stand up for. Shame on you.

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

      Somehow I really doubt that someone as famous as Paterno couldn't have gotten attention to this. Somehow I think he could have had Sandusky at least banned as a minimum. Somehow I think that if he HAD taken further actions, he would have said so rather than stating that he "wished he had done more".

      November 10, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • April

      What stuns me the most in this whole hidious nightmare is the behavior of the students. It turns my stomach to think that there are future policy makers in that bunch of rioters who are willing to destroy their city and school and alma maters reputation in the name of a presator and his protector.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. pat

    Joe is a good guy, but he is old school. In his day, you didn't talk about those nasty little things like sodomy and perversion– even tho it happened then as well. He just didn't like the mess of it, and he hoped it would go away. Not defending him– he was not up to the times in this one. The whole penn state machine wasn't.

    Penn State, welcome to 2011 and the harsh realities of the world in Happy Valley. Now it's Reality Valley for sure.

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

      How do you know what he's thinking? It's your thinking, not his. For him to be in charge of so many football players for so many years, I'd say he's pretty up to date!

      November 10, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jason

    I simply can't believe, that these people don't understand, a cover-up is as bad as the crime that started it. All involved deserve to be gone!

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

      What cover up? If you read the grand jury report you will see that even the local police conducted a so-called sting operation and even they didn't press charges....And enough with calling Joe and Sandusky "good" friends....If you did some research you would find that Joe left Sandusky retirement celebration early and refused to make any comments or speeches at the celebration and the following day at his regular news conference Joe critized Sandusky. In my opinion I think Joe was told that an investigation was done and no credible evidence was found. So because of that Joe had no bases to fire him but deep inside he hated Sandusky because he knew something was probablly going on.

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

      And the media machine claims another victim. Any proof yet that JoePa was involved in a cover up? Before you start throwing stones and lynching people, you might remember you live in the US. Here we actually require proof before throwing people to the wolves.

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

    I think Joe Paterno is the finest coaches any college has ever had. Immediately following the incident he was the scape goat for something he would never condone. The person who witnessed the act was the one who should have gone to the police. He was an eye witness, Paterno was not. I'm sure he gets a lot of complaints about his team, some true, some not. He ran a very tight ship and he handled this complaint in the manner he was authorized to do. Paterno should never have been fired. Whoever did nothing, as the complaint was passed should be the one punished. Paterno did nothing wrong!

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

      Paterno wasn't a saint or some superior being, he was just a man who was in charge of a college football team for a long time. Take away his name and the fame of the team...do you think there would be any doubt that he turned a blind eye to a terrible crime? Would you and so many people be getting all worked up about him losing his job? I don't think so. Apparently he just wanted the problem to go away, and for a while it did. Then it came back to bite him in the ***.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Paterno was in charge; he should have shown some leadership. We need better leaders than that for our kids to look up to.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  7. RES

    This article is pathetic journalism. The students are angry that the media made a rush to judgement without due process and forces the firing. Then the media comes back and tries to expalin itself. Our society is leaning toward anarchy because the media does not take the time to report the facts and distorts the truth. Then the responsible parties do not take or get the blame.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe in Colorado

      Yep.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kiki

      Perhaps you should read the grand jury report. There is no rush to judgment, in fact just the opposite.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      Well stated

      November 10, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • JayV

      The indictment stated Sandusky had his weenie in a 10 year old kids butt...what part of that is distorted other than not calling the police...?

      November 10, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      And that gives the student the OK to destroy property (overturn cars, etc)? What kind of thugs go to Penn State?

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

      Right on!

      November 10, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bobby

    Everyone who knew about this situation but did not call law enforcement to report it should be locked up. These are serious crimes, not every day operational problems reported up through the chain. I am glad the Trustees cleaned house. They should have. I hope further investigation results in others "in the know" being locked up!

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

      So what are you going to say if future evidence shoes that Joe did in fact know nothing about this? Of future evidence shows that Joe was told than an investigation was completed and no credible evidence was found against Sandusky? Oh wait a minute there already is evidence showing that....

      November 10, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JayV

    If every body does something wrong, it doesn't make it right. Everyone in the know tried to hush it to not disturb the giant Penn State football machine. And it almost worked. Just think what a super hero Joe Pa would have been if he blew the whistle. Said no way! Not my school, not my locker rooms...friend or not he gets the legal punishment (Sandusky)...

    November 10, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bill

    Joe Paterno was a great coach, but he & PSU took the high rode on this by selfishly putting their egos, reputations & legacies ahead of the well being of the victim. He even admits he could of done more, and he should have. Paterno & PSU should be ashamed of how they handled this situation. That poor kid will have to endure a lifetime of therapy because of this. "With great power, comes great responsibility".....

    November 10, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe in Colorado

      He said that with the benefit of hindsight he wishes he had done more. Big difference there.

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

      So, if he knew ahead of time he would get fired and have his legacy marred he would of went to the police? You got to be kidding me....

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

      Low Road Bill. They took the path of least resistance.
      Read the Poem, "The Road Less Traveled"
      They certainly should have.

      November 11, 2011 at 8:42 am | Report abuse |
  11. Felicia

    In Paterno's statement he acknowledged that he didnt do enough. I can't understand why people are still defending him if even he acknowledges his wrongdoing. Joe was a good buy....this and that. While that may be true and while acknowledging that it wasnt his job to go to the police (as someone stated earlier), Joe was known to be a protector of children. When he saw that Sandusky was still walking around like nothing happened, did he follow up with his superiors to ask them why Sandusky wasnt arrested? Why didn't he? And if he did, then why didnt he take it upon himself to call authorities when his superiors were obviously not going to? We aren't talking about some random teacher on campus. We are talking about the famed Joe Paterno.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  12. farcry228

    GOOD RIDDANCE. Very poor leadership with the way he acted toward this very serious situation.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tabor Tom

      Who gives a rat's patootie about games? I went to college to learn something. They should ban all college athletics, in my opinion. Fire all the coaches and stop this nonsense, and maybe the tuition will be more reasonable.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Douglas

    Perhaps those angry students will feel a bit differently when they look into the eyes of their own son ( or daughter ) and see the look of complete trust and love in those eyes.
    The mere thought of someone hurting my child, especially for their own self gratification, fills me with disgust.
    Those men should not only be fired, they should be put in general population.
    No pity for them – those that prey on children are the lowest of the low.
    The espisode of 'Sons of Anarchy' where the rapist was castrated and allowed to bleed to death comes to mind as an appropriate response.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Rabbit Hole

    WOW!!!
    If this is true Penn State is done and a lot of people are going to jail

    http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/football/news?slug=ycn-10407023

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

      Where have you been?

      November 10, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Leslie

    I was born and raised in Lion Country and have lived here 41 years. Joe Pa is a college football god and has been revered as one here my whole life. This is the saddest ending to a career and football legacy. I agree with his firing and am sickened that Joe let us all down. He ran a top notch program and had a squeaky clean reputation until this. He was our only claim to fame and now we can't even be proud of that. What kills me the most is the horrifying way these innocent children were sacrificed to keep that reputation. I am also angry and ashamed of those students that rioted last night. Where is the utter OUTRAGE for what happened to those kids!? Paterno is a grown man who has to suffer the consequences of his decisions. I don't feel sorry for him. The whole thing is playing out for the nation to see and it's embarassing and shameful for those of us raised on Nittany Lion football.

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