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. Katie K

    Seriously? Everyone's so concerned about FOOTBALL?

    November 10, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  2. one71721

    They fire Joe for not calling the cops but that dirt bag McQueary will be coaching this weekend...UN-FRICKING-BELIEVABLE!

    November 10, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bruning von Stauffen

    Shouldn't these kids be actually in class studying? There are few things in the world as ephemeral as a sports team and many more important things to be upset over.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Joe in Colorado

    If I'm at somebody's house and hear second-hand that something illegal occurred, I'm talking to the owner... not the police. It's up to that owner what he wants to do with that information.

    If the owner is the one doing the crime, then I'd encourage the witness to contact the police.

    Seriously, what planet are you people from where you think Joe Pa should have called police with 2nd-hand information?

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

      agreed.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lshen

      It is people like you who'd allow something as ugly as child abuse to happen on technicality. Regardless you have a point or not (I personally think you don't), these are children's welfare we are talking about. When is THAT serious, you do something! I hope no child is under your care...

      November 10, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. puckles

    All of the rioters are pedophiles.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Lynn Shen

    As a mother of a young boy, I am horrified by the news that's uncovering for the past few days. Even more outraged by the hot headed students who rioted at the Penn State campus last night. They protested for someone who had such low moral value that not even his legendary career can outshine what he failed to do as a decent human being. These rioted students should stop embarrassing themselves and the school and get some perspective. This IS much bigger than a coach, a school and football!!!

    November 10, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tammarella01

      Just chalk it up to a bunch of dim-witted college students who just haven't figured it out yet. When they grow up, they will see what it means to protect our most vulnerable, the elderly, and our children.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  7. james

    All persons culpable should be charged and jailed – taking advantage of at risk children is incomprehesible – not reporting this abuse when you have known of it since 2002 is unbelievable – all these men need to be charged and jailed no matter who they are.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Laura LaVertu

    Every single person who even suspected a child was being abused and did not do everything in their power to stop it should be in jail. There is no excuse, no possible justification, for not acting out and calling the police. The idea that Paterno should not be fired and not held culpable is ridiculous. It is against the law! The law states they assume the responsibility and have a legal obligation.

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

      How should Joe P. be held responsible when he did not witness the event and we don't know what Mike McQueary told him about what Mike had witnessed?

      November 10, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      That is the question: what did Joe know? We know that his account of what he knew is not in line with McQuerry's, but it is easy to see McQuery shading things to try and make himself look better in hindsight. It is possible he had so few details that when he went to his bosses and later they came back and said it was resolved he assumed it was.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe in Colorado

      You make me sick.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  9. AJ883

    Maybe they should just change the name on the school uniform from PENN STATE to STATE PENN.

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

      LIKE!

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

    I think nothing is more important than Penn State football. We should all leave our religious faiths, quit our jobs and forsake our friends so that we can spend more time worshiping a collegiate sports program.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. meccano

    Everyone should go back to class and concentrate on the education that they are supposed to be getting there. The focus on college sports has made them a money generating, image making brand no different than professional sports teams. The only difference is the players payday is deferred if they go pro. Regarding the coaches and players as the patron saints of the school, and fear of the revenue generated by them drying up, is in no small part why reporting and taking care of this problem years ago didn't happen.

    Is really is no different than the Catholic Church completely forgetting the message of their own religion in order to protect their brand image, their flow of revenue and their own dang jobs. Same thing happened at Penn State. They forgot their own reason for existing, their own mission statement and their own ultimate goal; none of which has anything to do with football.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Joe

    Firing Paterno was the right thing to do, but can somebody explain why McQuaery still has a job? Paterno is culpable, but as a firsthand eyewitness McQuarey is MORE culpable. If they canned Paterno, they damned well ought to cann Mcquaery too.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Tre

    Penn State – unequal justice: How is it that Joe Paterno gets fired and the actual witness to the event, Mike McQueary, does not get fired? Mike, the only one to actually witness the event, reports it (in what detail we don't know) to Joe P., who immediately reports it to his boss. When everything hits the fan, Joe P. who reported the incident he did not witness is let go and the only person to actually witness the event (and reported it only to Joe P. and not the police) is kept on staff. Go figure.

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

      Also a huge embarrassment that they haven't out-and-out fired Curley yet, he's on 'administrative leave'.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lshen

      This thing is not over yet. Just wait, he'll be fired, very soon, as he should.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Brownstain

    Built a sandusky statue next to joe's with a noose around his weenus.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Pmall

    Read the grand jury and try to defend him. Getting fired should be the least of his worries right now

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