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. Brad

    Whats to debate, he was an accomplis, he should go to jail for covering up the crime.

    November 10, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      I agree. He really should go to jail.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wolverinesfan

      HE didn't cover up the crime, he reported it to the people who did cover up the crime, the attorney general of PA, who I would assume knows more than we do about this case, looked at the testimony given and said that he didn't commit a crime and acted as he was legally required.

      JoePa is nothing more than a scape goat because the lamestream media (a term I hated until now, but it fits this case) focused on him over all others involved as his name was the biggest and cried out for his head on a block instead of blaming the person who committed the acts for them, or even instead of asking why the person who actually saw them going on didn't call the cops. BTW, that person, who did exactly what JoePa did in going to his supervisor instead of cops, having actually seen it not just been told and having hearsay to go on, still has his freaking job.

      Way to go gullible public, jealous JoePa haters, and lamestream media. You got your sacrificial cow.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paterno is not an accomplice

      BS the man knew of one incident which he REPORTED. Guess what his boss told him? What you can't guess? Get a clue. His boss told him, we'll do a full investigation, Joe, and authorities will be notified. Why in the world would Paterno go separately to the police when he thought he just did his job. And get a clue these were not his players. He was not covering up some abuse of his players which he'd know about. These were 10 year old foster kids in Sandusky's charity program. How the heck is Paterno supposed to know what is going on in Sandusky's foster home or if Sandusky brings one to the gym off hours.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • med06

      joepa shouldn't got to jail, he should have done more to bring to the police's attention....the next one they need to get out of there is the idiot who actually saw it happen and called his "daddy"

      November 10, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • dnk512

      According to current state of the investigation released to the public, PA did NOT legally cover the crime. However, given that the investigation is ongoing, the possible RICO implication, the moral aspect of his actions and the pending civil litigation of his actions, his own university fired him.
      If PAs actions took place few day ago, I would be on his side. But, years later? No follow through? Sorry, I have higher expectations.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Calandra Cooper

      Agreed!!!!!

      November 10, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Victoria

      So, WHAT IF those abused kids by Sandusky were JoePa's grandsons? Would he go to his Penn State supervisors or the Police?... Yeah right! End of the story... what is good for you, should be good for me too.... isnt it?

      November 10, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • PSU ALUMNI

      Victoria, your comment is dumb! Simple as that. When at work and you dont see a crime but hear about it, you go through the CHAIN OF COMMAND. He did that! When he's at home and his grandchild brings something up, he should call the police. Thats two different situations. Read a book and sit down!

      November 10, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Walter

    It would be terrible if Penn State would lose a football game over this.

    (sarcasm)

    November 10, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Rob

    ALL this STUPID country cares about is friggin' FOOTBALL. Not the sodomized children, not the CORRUPT, PRIVATE FEDERAL RESERVE SODOMIZING our WALLETS DAILY......
    WAKE UP people.

    November 10, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • scot

      You got that right ! Greed and self interest is all they teach anymore. But what do you expect when 50% of the country believes that it is OK to screw the poor and middle class out of any life for the top 1% to get their "fair" share of wealth !

      November 10, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pat M

      There is a simple word for what happened – hubris – the Greeks utilized it – Penn State officials need to learn its meaning.

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

      I'm freakin sick! I can't believe ANYONE would think this is okay for the sake of football. I mean that's the main reason the school allowed this SICK DISGUSTING crime to be covered up-because of the football program. They should all go to JAIL. And ANYONE (including the nutty students) supporting these freaks should have their own children and family members served up to the pedophiles "for the sake of football"!

      November 10, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nuts

      That's the real issue here. Our priorities are so messed up. College is more for entertainment than education. No wonder the rest of the world is passing us by On top of that we have so many talking heads / media who add no value. Sad

      November 10, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ns

    Paterno failed to report the abuse of a child and students are rioting to support him?
    I don't get it. Of course i don't really get why so many college football fans prioritize watching football over their own academic careers either.

    November 10, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kristen

      Wow, you fail at reading comprehension. He didn't fail to report it – HE REPORTED IT! It's not his job to go to the police. It's his job to report it to a superior, which is what he did. The person that "witnessed" it could have had a grudge against the coach, could have been lying, etc. and it's not Paterno's place to investigate and go to the police about it. It's the school's.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Felicia

      WOW Kristin...."its not his JOB to report it to the police"? Really? It is not my job to report that my neighbor's house is being robbed but it is my moral duty. It is not my job to help an injured woman on the street but it is my moral responsibility. It is not anyone's job to protect my children but I would hope that if they saw or knew of someone molesting them that they would not tell their boss.....they should tell the POLICE!!!!

      November 10, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • dnk512

      Kristen, I disagree. He did fail to report it. Perhaps not in the letter of the law (still to be determined). But he did fail in the eyes of his University. This is why he was fired. He turned his eyes the other way. He had the knowledge and the power to help the current victim and future victims and he did not use it. He did the minimum only to legally protect his self. I have higher expectations of all educators/coaches/humans.

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

      @kristen So if you knew about a ten year old that was being molested and you told your boss and he told you he would go to the authorities – but didn't, what would YOU do? What is the moral thing to do?

      Not, did you do your job, but did you do the moral thing, the right thing?

      November 10, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • April

      Kristen. I think the other folks here summed it up all very well. On that same note, I really hope that are no children in your care at any time in your twisted life.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • ShazNY

      Yikes. Where are your morals Kristen? Imagine if that were your child getting molested...would you still be content with Paterno doing the absolute bare minimum, with no apparent follow-up? How bout if you were the parent of a child who got molested years later? Would you still be defending Paterno when it could have been prevented if it was nipped in the bud?

      November 10, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mark

    I don't hear the protestors disputing the allegations against Sandusky. They should be protesting his behaviors, not those of the media.

    November 10, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Maryann

    Now we know the most important thing about higher education: Football.

    November 10, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. David G

    I think that any Penn State student caught vadelizing should be kicked out of school!

    November 10, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • emt girl

      Agree....and they need to pay for damages and police overtime, and im sure there are plenty of cell phone and camera footage images around to identify those involved. Just because students didnt like the trustees decision, is not a reason to destroy property not belonging to them. Sounds like big spoiled jocks throwing tantrums because they didnt get their way! Maybe they will eventually grow up and reasize the world does not revolve around them, or football. and at the heart of this issue is a group of little boys that were abused beyond belief.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • dnk512

      Agree

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

      What's vadelizing?

      November 10, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Patricksday

    Maybe if the abused little boys were not POOR they would of had a Lawyer who would of stood up for them and Justice long ago. Now because of a stupid ball game people act like its Life or Death, it isnt for these ego driven athletes.

    November 10, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. tundra11

    These kids supporting Paterno is the same as them supporting child abuse. Wake up.

    November 10, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  10. dude

    Never thought Penn State was a joke, but watching these students proves they're as dumb as rocks.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Karen

    Maybe these students should be studying or working part time to pay off their student loans.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  12. me

    Jail for all of 'em. If you went to Penn State for Football, go someplace else. Sports are killing our good universities. Time to place some emphasis on getting a reasonable education.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  13. RisingSun

    I read the grand jury report. I am astonished by the number of people that knew Sandusky was a predator. I wonder why the media feels a need to blame just Joe when janitorial staff knew, executives of the school knew, police knew where is the accountability for all these others!

    November 10, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • CaptainRIGHT

      Once staff gets wind of very dirty laundry from above I think they feel vulnerable as a loss of job and pay is a distinct possibility. Fear is what keeps your mouth shut. No ones wants to lose a job in todays market. In a sense it involves you because now you know. I lot of pressure can come to that unless you are of a person who doesn't care at all. I find the situation of when the District Attorney considered the case and thought against it due to so called lack of evidence – then he disappeared and no body was found. Is there a connection? Wait for the movie to come out.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • anthony

      I also read the grand jury report, and it just seems outrageous that nobody ever stepped in all these years!!! I think this is just the tip of the iceburg, but there will be a cover up, again, and the truth will NEVER come to light!!! Sandusky paraded these boys around as if they were his dates it seems, and NONE of the people around him questioned him about why a grown man was spending so much time with kids, esp considering the rumors that must have been going around considering all the times people seemed to walk-up on him being inappropriate with very young boys.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sovay

      JP did what he was supposed to legally. His morals lie with football and not with protecting children. This is why part of the blame is coming down on him. He knew what was happening, he was not in the dark. This man is/was probably one of the most powerful figures at that university. If he went to them and said " I refuse to work with a possible pedophile" they would have listened. He was a person of power, he could have made changes, even to just fire the man doing these things. He chose not to, now he is paying the price.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • JenLaw

      He (Paterno) was in a position of authority. People in a position of authority have an obligation to the people they oversee. That is a huge responsibility, but one Paterno was well aware of. Even if he did everything he was supposed to do legally (which I don't believe for a second), he let a known predator molest little boys for years, people, years.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. asdf

    We are Pedophile State!

    November 10, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  15. CaptainRIGHT

    What a bunch of moronic students. I guess they are all like sheep – follow each other no individual thinking and no LESS understanding what ALL this is about. Penn State to PENILE State. Most of the comments are right on and blistering but I guess those students don't read current events.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
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