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. Todd


    November 10, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • matt

      I guarantee nearly 110,000 will show up on Sat. Plus without football revenue, no other sport at PSU can exist. I know for a fact that football pays for all other athletics, including useless women's sports, at PSU.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Deryl

      Nobody wants to talk about how it was investaged by several law inforcement groups and turn over to the grand Jury . They just want to burn Joe at the cross for doing the right thing and turning thr man in.

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

    Penn is for perverts, pedophiles and their supporters!

    November 10, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • matt

      Well in that case, I'm sure glad I attend Penn State University.

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

      Penn is in Philadelphia – Penn State is in State College. Get your college names straight before you bash them, please!

      November 10, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alfred Einsteen

      Great point Susie!! One is an ivy league school in a great city with one of the most prestigious business schools in the world and the other is for perverts.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jimbo

    I hope that I wasn't stupid enough to blindly follow a bunch of knumbskulls and riot over the firing of just some simple football coach when I was in college. These kids are a joke, they probably went to PS just becuase of the football program and culture with no consideration to the acedemics. I went to Kansas State in the late 90s early 2000s and I knew plenty of people who could care less about classes but football was everything, they were morons.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • matt

      Should attending K State count for something? Did you major in corn?

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

      I majored in corn holing your sister.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Joan

    apparently everyone on here who thinks that he did his job do not have children. well put yourself in there shoes for one second. hands against the wall and a grown man's penis up your butt. you really think that he did his job by tell his boss. also isn't he listed on the board of directors of second mile. if he had any information about the incident in the shower did he think that it was just going to go away or that he would stop? he did NOTHING and let these innocent children be sodomized and fondled. even if MCquary did not tell him everything, what is normal about fondling and showering with a 10 year old child when you are a 57 yr old man?????????? anyone who thinks that he did all he could are crazy and i hope that this never happens to someone in your family. GOD HELP THE ONES WHO DEFEND THESE PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    November 10, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe in Colorado

      I have children and think Joe Pa did exactly what he should've. All he had was a rumor at that point. Why is your angst on Joe Pa, and not on the witness McQueary who is still coaching with Penn State and never reported it to police.

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

      People like you are part of the problem and why paterno finds himself disgraced and fired. He didn't have a rumor. He had a first hand witness to a serious felony assault against a young child. If you don't know the difference between thsoe two then I feel sorry for your kids.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Good Grief

      Anyone who THINKS that the first time JoePa heard of this was from the grad student are very NAIVE... or just stupid.

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

      Joe in Colorado, I bet you would be singing a different tune if you knew those kids.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Deryl

      Joe did what he was suppose to do he reported to his superiors. It was investagated whent before a grand jury .thats where his job ends. That all he could do the rest is the colleges fault. Give the man a break.ya'll want to run him down without the facts. He did not know it continued to happen.Fire the police that investaged put the grand jury in jail for not doing their job. Fire the board at the college but not joe.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • matt

      I agree with Joe in Colorado,
      First off, it wouldn't have been my kids because I would never have let them hang around a grown man's home, locker room, etc. Second of all, it's not Joe's job to look after others' kids. He has a job, winning football games.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alfred Einsteen

      There's no point in arguing's ridiculous. If he did what he was supposed to to he would still be the coach of PSU. End of story.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alfred Einsteen

      Wrong again. Joe does not have a job. He has no affiliation with the school football team at all. His only function in life now is to prepare for the dozens of lawsuits that he will be plaintiff to.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. John

    Rizzo, you must be a college student; no one else here is that stupid.

    Yes they rioted to support a coach who turned a blind eye to child molestation.

    You don't like that? Too bad.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. kathleen

    What I am having a hard time with is why McQueary will be on the sidelines on Saturday. The cover up all the way up the line is absolutely disgusting but there's a special spot in hell for McQueary because he saw it happening and didn't step in at that minute and report it to the police at that time. He was a graduate assistant but he is still an ADULT man. But he ran to daddy! to see what he should do! Perhaps his role in the cover up is what got him his coaching job!!!

    November 10, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe in Colorado

      He actually should've snapped the guy's neck who was doing it. Can you imagine walking away quietly from that? He probably went and jacked off somewhere first.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Charles Wu

    1. Colleges are placing too much focus on sports to the extent that sometimes it goes way over the board. There are far more important issues we need to emphasize on and deal with at American colleges, such as the affortibility of the tuition, quality of education, etc.. Students are often misled with their focus after joining colleges.

    2. The President and the coach of Penn State should be fired – long time ago. We wish to keep a clean and healthy campus even with the price that the football team will be left behind later. Let us set the priority straight. Why we are spending so much to attend college at the first place? School football team won’t make you a better person with work skills, but only “good education” will. Besides, where do we place the principles and integrity if we continue to keep the coach like Joe Paterno in the school? What if those abused boys your brothers or sons?

    November 10, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. RES

    To Jason: Do you have any facts or truths to a coverup by Paterno? I didn't think so. Now Paterno after a stellar career is out without even being able to defend himself in just a few days beacause of people like you and your knee jerk reactions. If the media would allow due process we would find out how much Paterno was involved. Then it should be determined if he stays or go.

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

      All the facts that are required, are in the Grand Jury report. Just read it.

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

      It is NOT their knees that are being jerked in the Penn State football locker rooms.

      That's the problem.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Texas Tib

    There shouldn't even be a debate about what the most important issue is. Seriously, anybody who places a sport above the welfare of another human being (especially children), needs to have their head examined. I understand that Joe Paterno is a living legend but he is an enabler to a child molester. Crimes don't get much more serious than this folks. To all the students making fools of themselves, if this is any indication of your priorities, then you wil have one long, difficult life ahead of you.

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


    November 10, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jesse

    It's a shame thought all the columns, opinions and editorials focus on university coaches, administrators and employees.

    The real focus should be on the innocent victims and what can be done to heal them.

    The adults had choices and made the wrong ones.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  12. libfreak48

    Penn State has steeped itself in shame – from the President to all those rioting students – throughout this entire week.

    Hang your heads Nittany Lions. You should be ashamed.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Plug1

    Take down the statue, the morals that have been displayed at Happy valley... Scratch that, Sad valley is horrific!!! Joe closed all four of his eyes,and turned his head and did not protect those kids, and he IS, to blame so shame on all of them.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe in Colorado

      I blame you for not protecting those kids.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  14. MikeS

    THE UNIVERSITY BOARD IS WRONG TO FIRE THE COACH. He reported the incident to his he well should have...its not his responsibility past that point...he is a football coach...nothing else. The superiors who didnt do anything are the ones who should be fired...THE COACH SHOULD SERVE OUT HIS CURRENT TERM UNTIL THE END OF THE SEASON.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Brownstain

    Breaking News!!!
    Paterno hired by Poop Bentdick to coach Vatican City Cornholeios.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:52 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