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. Kacy.

    We should stop talking about Joe and start talking about Sandusky. Joe did what he was supposed to do- he reported to his superior.

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

      Thank you. And McQueary, who just sneaked off and didn't stop what this guy was doing to the kid -or- call police. Probably went and jacked off somewhere before talking to Paterno. McQueary will be coaching on the Penn State sideline on Saturday, by the way.

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


      November 10, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe in Colorado

      Stewie, if your mom had done what she should've done 30 years ago, we wouldn't have to deal with your inane comments.

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

      What world do you live in where doing what "you are supposed to do" means reporting crimes to your boss and not police? Did you see a murder this morning and go to work and tell your boss? No you moron, you call the police. Someone should tell state school kids how it works. You uneducated loser.

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

      No he didn't do what he was supposed to do. We're humans, not bureaucrats. He stood by silently for ten years while the University covered up a pedophile on their campus. "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing". Paterno did as close to nothing as you can get. He told his boss and then he washed his hands of the whole mess.

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

      Like Paterno, McQueary (and father) are spineless cowards......I guess some Penn State students don't think so.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • bigrob22

      You are supposed to report somebody stealing office supplies to your supervisor. Raping a child is worse than murder to me, if someone tells Joe he saw somebody get murdered, should he stop at telling the AD? This is horrible, stop sticking up for this old moron, he was trying to protect the program. I am sure it will come out.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greedy American Pig Dogs

      Yep. He did what he was supposed to do in that situation, why is he being "punished" for it? I don't understand why they aren't lynch mobbing Jerry Sandusky. He is the one who committed the crimes. Penn State should give Paterno his job back or at least let him coach the last home game of the season....

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

      Please, Joe's ostrich act isn't going over well. I hope that they prosecute the man and send him to jail. He knew what was going on and choose to do nothing. Joe is your typical right wing family values conservative Republican hypocrite.

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

      It goes beyond "reporting it to his superiors". Sandusky was Paterno's friend. Everyone that knew about the abuse but did not report it to the police OR follow up to make sure the victims were protected are wrong. Their moral compass is skewed.

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

      Would Joe have just "reported it" to his boss if that 10 year old was his grandson?

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

    Where is Sandosky.....why is he NOT in JAIL!!!!! 10 years and still NO trial....what is wrong with this picture ?

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

      $100,000 bail paid. This is a shame, he should be in jail. He bought a few days of freedom, Bubba will be waiting for him.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. DanP

    College life has changed! It used to be that protests were to bring attention to social injustice such as civil rights or war. Now, they protest the bringing to justice those who use and victimize the weak. These students who think that breaking the law and damaging others property is ok need thrown out and put in jail themselves. They would look at it differently if it was their family that was victimized. Maybe they should go back to their drunken parties or is that what they are doing?
    I am betting that there are more people involved in “protecting” the university, which is what this was all about, and dozens of laws broken.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Rosebud

    We are all sickened for the children Sandusky has abused – these children will carry this all their lives. The attorney general says Joe Paterno followed all legal laws in reporting this and he is not a target. He did everything right legally -so the blame goes on the administration for not following thru with getting rid of Sandusky. Even the attorney general should be held accountable for this as she has said Sandusky has been on investigation for years-if this is the case, she is responsible that he was still in contact with kids. Joe DOES NOT deserve to go out this way-he is a kind, decent, respectful man who has shaped many lives in the best way possible. there are thousands of men Joe was a part of who they are today, ministers, doctors, lawyers, & every other job or walk of life. Thanks Joe for being a part of Penn State, being loyal to your job & your players & to the University itself – You are a fine man!

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

      We clearly have differing defintions for 'decent'.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickeyspal8

      Let's ask all of the kids who were abused after this incident if they think Jo Pa is decent.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rosebud

      mickey you are blaming the wrong guy! get the facts

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

    Is that right that anything to do with the catholic church policy of "no childs behind left"

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

    Here is the real outrage – how the media has defamed a wonderful individual like Joe Paterno who has done so much more for the University than football. They ceased on his famous name to sell their sensational story of alleged child abuse at the hands of a former associate. Throughout his career Joe Pa has guided many young people to meaningful lives beyond football built on a foundation of high standards. He is a great man and this is a great tragedy.

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

      AMEN OUTRAGE- You are totally right – the outrage is the media – they are disgusting & need to go back to school to learn to be a journalist, reporter, etc. they all make me sick – they can't wait to sensationalize anything, be the first to say it, report it – bunch of losers – Joe isa fine man -the media doesn't know how to tell the truth like that about anyone-all it is is negativity nothing good

      November 10, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  7. nicki

    I'd love to see protests demanding those boys get their innocence back. ANYONE who is protesting in favor of Paterno is EXACTLY what's wrong with the moral compass of humanity. It's a disgrace..... ANYONE who knew ANYTHING should be gone from PSU.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. po

    he looks like a pedophile hahaha

    November 10, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Karla

    Some mistakes shouldn't happened such as not reporting a childs abuse.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  10. puckles


    BS. He DID cover it up and this is why he was fired. YOU need to learn the facts before you post. You can continue to live in your fantasy world, but I live in reality.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe in Colorado

      Puck off !

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

      There was no cover-up – you need to get the facts! only cover-up was the attorney general sitting on sandusky abuse all these years -Joe had nothing to do with it.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fire McQueary

      One hundred thousand sperm, Puckles, and you were the quickest?!

      November 10, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ANGEL

    I read the Grand Jury Transcript, and that was sickening to read, and I personally feel that everyone involved should go down!! This nonsense and coverup was going on since the 90's!! I feel the same way as "farcry228", GOOD RIDDANCE"!!!

    November 10, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  12. zeber

    the media did not do this to Joe Paterno.....he did it to himself...he was a self serving egomaniac who got caught up in his own success....thank God he got no further

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

      It is nice that to hear from someone who is living in reality here.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Daniela

    Sick of hearing about all of these Penn state folks who are so distraught over the coach...get over it already and start having some compassion for the boys who were the victims. If you idolized your school and the football team that much that you can't see clearly that children were hurt, you truly need professional help. All feelings you used to have for PSU and their coaches should be replaced with worry and compassion for the victims.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Greg

    As a huge fan of college football, I completely understand the adoration students and fans would have for such a storied figure as Papa Joe. He has been the face of one of the nation's greatest and longest dynasties in collegiate sports. But if we are to believe the facts of the case as reported, Paterno was made aware of a very explicit incident in 2002. Sandusky is reported to have committed these atrocities as recently as 2009. We can not lose sight of this simple fact: Had Joe Paterno done more than tell his immediate boss then turn away in 2002, every victimization that occurred after that could have been prevented! For that reason alone, Paterno needs to go...not at the end of the season "on his own terms", but RIGHT NOW. Taking a clear and definitive stand on the issue of child predation and the suffering of the victims in this case is far more important to our society than ANY sporting event!

    November 10, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jeff

    The new development on coahc McQueary sickens me. It seems so tasteless and disgusting. They oust Joe Paterno for failing to meet "moral obligations" yet will keep McQueary, the main who not only failed to report the crime to the police as well, but who actually witnessed the criminal act on the field as a coach? To the Penn State board of trustees, where are your "moral obligations" to do the right thing? You can't just pick and choose who involved in the case should be ousted and who shouldn't before a full investigaron, either all or none. Just disgusting.

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