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. PennStateIsAnBlemish

    Paterno witnessed a crime and failed to report the crime to police. He aided and abetted the criminal. PUT HIM IN PRISON AS A PEDO. s3x offender. NO PENSION. BANKRUPT HIM IN CIVIL COURT. LET HIM LIVE ION THE STREETS like the rest of us in this sick society.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe in Colorado

      Paterno did *not* witness a crime. What universe are you in?

      November 10, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      Actually the media coverage of this is soo bad that I have heard people actually taking about JoePa as having DONE the crime. They have managed to get people who know nothing about sports talking about college football though. Sad!

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

      Joe-the-pedo in Colorado State Penn is defending child abuse.

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

      Joe Paterno DID NOT witness a crime, get four facts straight!

      Mr. McQuery did, he saw the actual act happen and did not do anything to stop it from continuing. A 28 year old man witnessing this in real-time and he did nothing to stop it!

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

      BOYCOTT THE SHOWERS.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mare0568

      I'm at a loss as to how this has gotten to be Joe Paterno did these crimes and he's the pervert. Do people not read? It certainly would explain the high rate of illiteracy in this country. Read the indictment. Joe did NOT witness or SEE anything. He heard about it ONCE, while SANDUSKY WASN'T EVEN ANY LONGER A COACH OR AN EMPLOYEE OF PENN STATE. Joe got second-hand information and went to his superior IMMEDIATELY. So many fricking opinions and so many people without a clue as to what they are talking about. Furthermore, this twit in charge of the Student Body - you honestly sound like you are a member of the Board of Directors. YOU'RE the problem also. If people - and not just Penn State students and fans - don't start standing the hell up for your rights and for justice in this country - then we're going to end up as a country of puppets. I just don't understand it. It's the same way with our government. So many people are complacent and quiet and don't want uprisings or people speaking out, etc., etc. It disgusts me. You should have been around in the late 60's and early 70's. I really believe it's the last time the public stood up for themselves and for what's right. Yes, everyone is concerned about the boys and what happened to them but the media won't even focus on them for a minute. Blame the media for that and for their witch hunt for the one person who did the most for your university and who has the least amount of guilt, if any. YOU probably went to Penn State because of what Penn State stands for (or did) too - and a lot of that whether you like it or not or like football - had to do with Joe Paterno and his contributions to that school. As for the parents of these boys, no, I don't wish them healing. The boys yes, but honestly I feel that out of 9 victims and only ONE parent spoke out - that they were just as complicit also. The boys came home with a showering of gifts, an older man who wasn't even a family member was taking their sons off at all hours and all places - what the hell kind of parents are these people??? They are just like that boy a few years ago whose family was paid off by Michael Jackson. Even if they weren't paid off by Sandusky I find it hard to believe that NONE of them thought the whole situation wasn't WEIRD. So, no, I don't feel for the families. People really should get their facts straight before they mouth off their opinions.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Carlton Bankz

      Yea seriously, all Paterno did was hear about a crime second hand and immediately report it to his superior. How is this not even mentioned in this news article? This type of exacerbation of the situation by the media is the exact reason why students were out there flipping news vans.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. puckles

    Sounds like you are describing Michael Jackson.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bellabiv Devot

    The school exists for education, not football, and certainly not to allow the molestation of kids.

    Paterno could have been a hero if he acted appropriately, instead he winds up linked to Sandusky's acts forever.

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

    Shame on Penn State. Shame on these students. JP humiliated himself by his own deeds, he deserved this! And that Sandusky, should be sentenced to the hell!

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

    Seriously? Riot for this but not unemployment? Priorities much?

    November 10, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  6. ES

    Americans are so strange. Apparently students care more about footbal than the education. Who cares about coach of the Penn state? Aren't you there to get the best education so then you can get a job?

    And the whole story is disgusting. Why the guy who saw it in the first place didnt' call the police?

    November 10, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Brownstain

    Shut down the PSU Football season NOW.
    Make these morons reflect on their values and priorities.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe in Colorado

      Why do you care? Seriously.

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

      Not only that, but bulldoze the campus and salt the earth. This university should be wiped from History and the face of the earth.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  8. uncommon sense

    If you going to fight fire with fire, then McQueary should be GONE!!!, Penn State when you make a decision make it across the board, dont just target one person.... Why dont you just fire the whole coaching staff, I'm pretty sure the Guilty Paterno brought them all in to coach... and we dont want people associated with the scandal to be employed at the school RIGHT???

    November 10, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  9. El Pope

    I hereby declare that I am hiring Sandusky and Paterno to coach the Vatican Cornholers youth football team this Sunday in our game against the Mecca Fire-Bombers.

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

    The problem is at the VERY least he knew his retired over 50 yr old asst coach was taking showers with a 10 yr old boy and said coach was in HIS locker room last week....that is enough to warrant being fired and I think everybody is know well aware alot more than that happened.

    McQueary is the one I can't understand how is he still coaching, I understand he basically turned into the star witness and blew the lid of this whole thing but he should have done that 10 yrs ago, FIRE HIM NOW

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

      It would have been hard to fire his assistant coach for it since he was already gone. The guy had a key.

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

      Amen to this comment. How did an "adult" graduate student witness an act of sodenmy and because a hero when he failed to report it to the police himself. WHY did this graduate student not physically intervene and stop the act and protect the child. I am not defending Paterno or Penn State but this individual is as qulity, maybe more so, than the rest. Why should he be on the football field Saturday and not Paterno. This individual needs to be expelled from the program for accepting an assistant coaching position and letting the victims blow the whistle on him.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Todd

    BOYCOTT THE GAMES

    November 10, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  12. PennStateIsAnBlemish

    My degree from Penn State is a blemish now. I'm getting a DeVry University Online degree instead. Much more valuable... and no child molestation...

    November 10, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • jrh512

      a, not an

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

    Victim's sister: Penn State (Young Republicans) students joke about being "Sanduskied"
    On CBSnews website now.

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

      Those students are a disgrace to society.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. steve

    Disgusting rioters! Those penn state students who are rioting should be ashamed of themselves. Whether or not he did the right thing legally is not the question the Board chose to ignore it and noone went to the police, they chose football over morals. i will never employ anyone from Penn state. Sorry.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  15. John

    Funny, if some Catholic bishop is accused of coverups, everyone cannot wait to burn him at the stake. But if a friggin' COACH of some friggin' sports team is accused, fans riot and want him to keep coaching. Double standard???

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