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. Sean Russell

    Yeah, let's worry more about the future of the sports program than the education of the students. Makes so much sense.

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

      *Like*

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

      This rioting is unjustified and wrong. It's nothing more than privileged college kids that have never had to really work in their lives. Wait till you face the real world with your useless liberal arts education, get read to move back in with your parents

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

    Could all of this mean that God isn't a Penn State fan after all? They should probably change the school colors to Black and Blue. That said, the White Noise will probably be pretty quiet this week. But, it's nothing a keg of beer won't resolve, right? Party on. Expect riots until the end of the semester. That is, if the university board doesn't cancel the rest of the season.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  3. W in CA

    Joe is under no criminal charges but bet your a$$ there will be a civil suit coming.....
    Moral obligation.....

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

      He's not under criminal charges YET but stay tuned. Charges could be coming down soon.

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

      Yep, JoePa should file a lawsuit against the university for terminating him without just cause.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gypsys Mom

      Joe Paterno is not responsible for this crime. He did molest anyone

      November 10, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nah

      matt: "Yep, JoePa should file a lawsuit against the university for terminating him without just cause."

      Can you please define "just cause"? Or do you not know what it means?

      Knowing that you and your supervisors are ignoring the commission of a crime on your employer's premises (by not reporting it to the police) is just cause for termination. Why? Because you're aiding criminal wrongdoing and opening your employer to potential liability and public scorn.

      You, my fair re-tard, are a m0ron.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • matt

      Sure I can...Joe committed no crime so there is no reason to fire him. If a lady can get $1 million for pouring a cup of coffee on herself, then JoePa can easily win this argument. Oh, and thanks for the "moron" name calling. I see you're acting just like the PSU students that the likes of you have been criticizing for their behavior. By the way, I have three degrees, so the "moron" tag really doesn't fit. But thanks anyway...I love you too!

      November 10, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nah

      matt: "Sure I can...Joe committed no crime so there is no reason to fire him. If a lady can get $1 million for pouring a cup of coffee on herself, then JoePa can easily win this argument"

      First, your analogy is horrendously flawed. He can be fired for facilitating a crime on his employer's property, or by ignoring a crime that is being committed.

      Second, his "not" committing a crime is therefore irrelevant.

      "Oh, and thanks for the "moron" name calling. ... By the way, I have three degrees, so the "moron" tag really doesn't fit. But thanks anyway...I love you too!"

      You're not a moron because you have "three degrees", you're a moron because your arguments are ludicrous.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Claire

    Put those animals back in their cages. There is more to life than football. They are old enough to grasp the situation. Total insensitivity to the victims and lack of integrity and morals. To hell with Penn State and it's student body. Penn state is the toilet bowl of the world. Hopefully when the lawsuits start rolling in it will close them down.

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

      Amen! To overlook or disregard this activity for so long just added a number of victims to this he heinous activity. It's disgusting.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • matt

      In State College, football is life. It supports the entire local economy. Should all of the local businesses be punished for Sandusky's actions? I think not.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan-Ky

      You're overgeneralizing. This is why most of the people at Penn State were horrified at the riots because they knew it would give this impression. But in fact, there are just as many people there as there are at other campuses that would react this way.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  5. FloRida

    Read the indictment – page by page. This was a cover-up of massive proportions. Everyone from the janitor to the Head Coach to the President of the University knew something was "not right" with Sandusky. Everyone did the minimum that they could to keep it all hush-hush in order to preserve the University's name. AND the DA who started to investigate Sandusky in 1998 went MISSING and was declared dead in 2005... suspiscious? Mysterious? This is not a Joe Paterno issue. Let him go home and enjoy his golden years in peace. He knows he could have and should have done more- he was merely a spoke in the Penn State wheel. He is a "company man" and did was he was told- not to mention he probably struggleed, wondering could these allegations REALLY be true of someone he had been friends with for 23 years...again, not a PATERNO issue...let the University clean house (more heads will roll) in order to move on and start the healing.

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

      No, Paterno had a morale obligation to do more for those kids. Had he thought of this happening to his grandchildren - maybe he would have had a different perspective.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • matt

      He wasn't paid to have morals, he was paid to win football games. Why is that so hard to understand?

      November 10, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  6. 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 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thethrill

      Idiot....If I heard of a 10 yearold kid in a shower in my locker room with a adult I would have confronted the man first, then called the police and most important ....followed through to make sure everything was ok. All Paterno did was go to practice.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      You are wrong, and your analogy is invalid.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • jo

      hope ur kds get sodomized and lets see how u feel about the sitution. what planet are you from? on this planet there is a moral code that should be upheld, especially by people in power. Paterno can burn in hell for his lack of attention to this serious matter.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Answer

      I think you are one of the only ones that makes any sense around the mob. If you go to the police with 2nd hand information, they will ask why it is you and not the people who witnessed the event or your employers. It doesn't really amount to much if you are not at the top of command or a direct link to the crime.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • someguy

      Joe in Colorado:

      It wasn't "second hand information," you cretin. His assistant WITNESSED THE ACT!!!! Do you seriously not understand this? Let's try something simpler; you obviously need it. Your kid comes to you and says his P.E. coach was buggering one of the kids at the school your kid attends. What do you do? Do you go to the principal? Of course, but NOT until you've reported it to the cops. Do you understnad now? it's not your job to determine the veracity of the claim; it's the police's job. They enforce the law; not you - and not Paterno.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stewie

      You are a moron....and probably a PSU valevictorian.

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

      Someguy: Your analogy is flawed. In your situation going to the police makes sense, because you are the top of the chain of command in your own home. Anyone who reads that would consider that the only choice, because your child is also in danger of the assault. It is your duty as a parent to protect your child from a possible danger.

      Now then, the same child who saw it reports to their teacher. That teacher notifies the principal, who in turns notifies the superintendent. It is the Superintendent's duty to get to the bottom of this. The teacher who reported it to her superior is like Joe Paterno, is she or he supposed to go directly to the police?

      November 10, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan-Ky

      @ someguy- his ASSISTANT witnessed the act- that means it is second hand. Why isn't anyone blaming the assistant for going to the police? He went to his boss, which was Joe, and Joe went to HIS boss. Somewhere someone should have gone to the police but don't blame the people that actually passed the information up the line of command. And people, stop overgeneralizing the entire university for this- let ye who is without sin cast the first stone...

      November 10, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Thethrill

    Never knew so many idiots would support Paterno, instead of looking remorseful , he came out of his house like a rock star.

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

      Rocks sink very fast....in hot water....

      November 10, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stewie

      Penn State hubris

      November 10, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Michael

    I want people to shut up about Joepa and him being evil and everything, I live and State College and I call out on everyone that you read the Grand Jury's Indictment!!! Read it!!!! It has only one sentence about Joe Pa and it depicts him abiding by the law, while Spaniard and Sandusky have committed the illegal acts as well as Curly and Shultez!!! All of this bickering and arguement ruins my town and kills my chances of going to college and hurts my ability to get a job. So Shut-up and stop getting fueled by the media!!!! Those rioters are just being agged on and when you put posts up against them you make State College's life worse. There is no point of making them mad or firing JoePa so shut up.

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

      your in college? whats your major? stupid?

      November 10, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jimi

      I REALLY hope you are trolling because your command of English is so poor you have no chance of ANY degree. Also your argument is specious and completely wrong...

      November 10, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • jo

      You are the one who should shut up. Paterno should not only be fired but should be arrested.
      Your town and college is full of losers who instead of looking out for the victims are more concerned with an old man who did nothing to protect the innocent children.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • DocCutty

      Kills your chances of going to college? Of getting a job? Given your apparent reasoning capabilities, you might bear just a little responsibility for all that....

      November 10, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fish

      @jo arrested for what? He hasn't committed a crime. Knowing something (and "something" is the key word here because we still aren't sure what that is exactly) and not doing what he should have with that knowledge isn't a crime.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Fish

    Has anyone received a testimony from the victims? If Paterno was told there would be an investigation, what happened to that investigation? All the victims are legal adults now. Why don't they say something? So far it seems something happened, but no one knows what exactly except that it involved children. Which yes is disgusting and if he was even close to the shower should be hung from his.... nose, but Paterno isn't the pedophile and his boss should have told police. I don't see why everyone is hanging him, the University, the students and blowing up half of Pennsylvania....

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

      Are you SERIOUSLY trying to put the blame on the victim?!? Let's see, why didn't they come forward...maybe becasue the KNEW people like YOU would try to find fault in them! You can't be for real!

      November 10, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fish

      I'm not blaming the victims at all! I just think they would know more of what actually happened if they came forward. It just seems to be a lot of missing pieces here and PSU is using JoePa as the scape goat to save what's left of their reputation.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • GrandJury

      Yes; the direct testimony of multiple victims is in the Grand Jury report.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  10. sosofresh

    Non-Penn State students/alumni:
    Joe Paterno was fired because of media sensationalism and non-PSU public outcry. I understand everyone's thirst for blood when such a terrible crime takes place.... but it was unfortunately directed at the wrong person. Is the world now a better place? Is college football better off? Will anything positive be achieved because of this? You tried to destroy a great man who has done so much good for his community. Here is the thing that you need to know... Joe Paterno hasn't lost one bit of respect in my eyes. Your crusade to destroy him has only made his legacy stronger. We are still Penn State. You never will be.

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

      Yeah did so mcuh good except when ity mattered to young vulnerabel chidlren. He is a disgrace adn so are you for defending him. Who knows how much he REALLY knew about what was going on. It will all come out at the trial

      November 10, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gypsys Mom

      I agree!

      November 10, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • ES

      Yes, the world is a better place when the guilty pay the price. The world without american footbal wouldn't be any worse, though, and perhaps even a better place. Football players are always in the news for this or that crime. Popularity goes ito their heads and makes them think they are better than the retst of us.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  11. jwarino

    this is the same as O.J, he broke the law and now he must suffer. when he turned a blind eye his fate was secured. he made the choice now he has to live with it.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Peter Goesinya

    I feel bad for Pennetration State University's opponent this weekend. They're gonna rip them a new ass.

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

    It's not only just the firings and accusations... Why after all these years were these kids and their parents quiet ? Were they threatened ? were they paid off and the money ran out ? IF not any of those options then the parents should be brought up on charges to because if your a true parent you know when something happens to your child.... And you don't sit there idle quiet if something happens to your child. """""discuss"""""

    November 10, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  14. tony clifton

    First world problems…

    November 10, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  15. big j

    Joe helped to hold the rug while the rest of the school officials swept it under, and he was ok with it being covered up. He went along with it. He just followed orders.

    He may not be technically criminally negligent, it may not be in his job description that he had to go to the police. but as a human being he failed every child that was abused from 1998 on by Sandusky.

    You supporters of Joe should read the entire indictment.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chip

      You are the one that needs to read it – and UNDERSTAND what it's saying.

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