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. BRANDON

    This was a cover up from the get-go. The grad-assistant, know coach, saw what happened and admitted Sandusky and the kid saw him. Any normal person, at age 28, would 1) stop the incident at that moment 2) immediately call the cops. But the culture at Penn State was to not call the cops but talk to Joe Paterno. The grad assistant did the latter the next day. (He should be fired and not coach on Saturday for this action and also not coming out about what he saw over the period between 2002 until the grand jury hearing, 2011 = COVER UP). Joe Paterno did nothing BUT report this to his "on paper" supervisor which in reality THE GREAT JOE PATERNO had no supervisors at Penn State. Again, he never came out with what he knew between 2002 until the grand jury hearing, 2011 = COVER UP. He should be fired. The culture of not shaming Penn State is what kept this incident from being publicized from 2002 to now. The only way for Penn State as a school to show that this culture does not exist anymore is to fire all involved, including the coach that witnessed the molestation.

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

      For a guy with unlimited power it was sure easy for teh pres to squash his press conference. And easy to fire him as well. Actually, all the data says he has MUCH LESS power at the university than everyone claims.

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

      Joe Paterno has lost his job. But for those of you implicating Joe Paterno as though HE were the one to commit the alleged heinous acts, where should it end? Should we also implicate the governor of PA and state legislature for providing funds to a public university which then hired the people who covered up and allowed a child molestor? How about every taxpayer who paid for and elected said governor and state legislature? How about each and every football player who played for Sandusky and played so well that he was able to keep his job? The firing of Joe Pa is correct, but the rest is PURE scapegoating because we want someone to blame.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • BRANDON

      Matt, all of data actually has shown that he had ENORMOUS POWER. Anyone that attended or played for him would tell you of such. McQuery would tell you of such since he found it necessary to tell Paterno instead of immediately calling the cops after talking with his father the night the alleged crime was committed. There is no rational to seeing a grown man naked in a shower with a young boy naked and not immediately stopping it or calling the cops. The only thing that kept McQuery from calling the cops and not saying anything about the incident from 2002 to 2011 was the culture at Penn State. I believe this is criminal. Forget the technical law of notifying a supervisor.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. SR

    Joe did not do what he was supposed to do – at all. He ignored the young victims. He kept a molester as part of the program for years. He sacrificed humanity for the sake of the "empire". An empire made of sand.

    Anyone who is thinking about Joe or football right now is either very uninformed or delusional.

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

      You are ignorant. Period,

      November 10, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Marie

    wow wow wow to ANY of you on here that are ACTUALLY defending these protesters. What in the heck has become of this nation....this generation?? Perhaps this is "alleged" child abuse, but open your pathetic eyes and is it really going to stay "alleged" when we have 8 victims coming forward this far. Not to mention these students protesting are individuals getting educated to eventually run our countries future. We are all doomed at the hands of this disgusting generation.

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

      Yes, but Marie, I think the point is that the way this is being covered, it almost seems as if Joe Paterno was the child molester. It's almost like Sandusky is an afterthought.

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

      It is sad that the way this is covered has you beleiveing there are only 9 victims. More have come forward, but we still don't hear anything about it. Probably be over 20 soon.

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

      Oh, and Marie, the person who actually COMMITTED the acts (Sandusky) is NOT from this generation, AND the kids who were molested WERE from "this generation". So let's be clear on the "disgusting generation".

      November 10, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • ELL

      A – one of the reasons the focus is on Paterno is because he is a nationally known celebrity – any person of his stature who is involved in a situation like this is bound to be the focus of the media. Because he was part of the chain of people who knew and nothing was ever done – he is culpable.

      He is definitely an icon, has been celebrated as one for many years but I bet he wishes he had retired a few years ago.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. The New Law

    GUILTY until proven innocent! Blame everybody! Fire everybody! Typical overreaction caused by sensational media coverage. If this molestation would have been reported 10 years ago it would have most likely been swept under the rug. Powerful people get away with murder in the country everyday. Why should molesting a few unwanted, underprivileged boys be any different? There is only one person responsible for all of this Sandusky! He should be hung by his balls!

    November 10, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  5. christey123

    You have to wonder why Sandusky chose to abuse some of his victims on Penn State grounds (after all he had his basement which he used for that purpose, he could have used motels etc. which were all more private with less chance of his being found out). Was it because he knew that he was so well respected at Penn State that no one would report him to the police (as the janitor and McQueary had not)? Or worse, is it because he knew the Penn State administration had his back and would cover for him??

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

      Ah, so considering the way heads are rolling, maybe we should also fire the groundskeeper and the people who cut the lawn too, because Sandusky used the facilities, right? How about the architects and the construction company that made the bathroom where some of the alleged acts occurred? Hmm...

      November 10, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  6. zeber

    I just wish eveyone of those PSU students that rioted had the opportunity to have Jerry Sandusky's dick shoved up ur a** at 10 years old...now tell me what you think of Paterno

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

      I agree 100%.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  7. bnights

    If you knew nothing about this story and only read the message boards you'd think Paterno is the child molestor, and Sandusky was just a sidebar....let's not lose focus of the guilty party that did the crime people

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

      Just reporting to a higher supervisor is a crime in my book. Seeing or knowing that someone was murdered and not reporting it to the police is immoral and nearly a crime. Murderers see child molestation as being more evil then themselves. Also, this alleged incident happened in 2002...ITS 2011. Can you say cover up on the parts on Joe Paterno and McQuery? Obviously they knew nothing had been done when they weren't interviewed by the police within 6 months of the alleged crime that they reported to their supervisors. The culture of not shaming Penn State won out vs protecting a kid(s).

      November 10, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  8. i_know_everything

    go Huskers

    November 10, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ian

    The intolerance and venom most of you are excreting is disgusting. From the "people before sports" to those making it seem as if Joe was the one to do the deed himself, you all should be ashamed. Don't you thick heads understand why Joe is being attacked? Its because he's bigger than the president, sardusky and anyone else, Joe IS Penn State. It was never going to be the same without Joe there and now for you all to berate and vilify such an immense human being is criminal. Do you or anyone you know have all the facts? NO, what you do know is that Joe was informed of misconduct and reported it just as he was supposed to. Where is the anger and venom for the AD and his cronie that covered this all up? Nowhere? Why is that, I wonder...Must be because they don't have as much to lose as Joe. This man has MADE Penn State what it is, there is no denying that, and yet you all jump ship the second anything goes wrong. I Support Joe. I always will.

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

      Thanks Ian. I was beginning to think no one has a working brain!

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

      People want to believe he is Penn St because of football...that has not been the case for decades.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marc

      Ian... you need to grow up. You produce a list of "good deeds" your hero did that (apparently in your simple mind) absolve him from helping to cover up.... CHILD MOLESTATION! It is a fact that he reported it to his "superior." Therefore it is a fact that he knew about it. It is a fact that he did not follow-up on it. There's the facts for you. When you grow up and become a real man you will understand that protecting children is our #1 priority on the face of this planet. If nothing happened after reporting it, a REAL MAN would have told the police or SOMEONE with real authority.

      One day you will grow up and understand this. In the meantime, go have fun watching a college football game (which means nothing at all in the grand scheme of anything) and pat yourself on the back for defending inaction with horrific consequences.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ian

      So you telling me you saw someone else do something with someone else...I can go to the police with that right?

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

      Marc – Congrats, you to can invent facts. Feel better about yourself now?

      November 10, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marc

      What in the hell are you talking about?
      Listen, its clear you are a rabid fan boy of Joe and its obviously clouded your judgement.
      Have fun watching your "game." In the meantime I will hope that if ANY adult (let alone one with as much clout and authority as Joe did) is presented with information that a 10 year old boy was sodomized (whether it be heresy or not), that they go to the POLICE because this is a crime. Not something for a school to just sort out on its own.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marc

      Matt, you are not very good at this are you?
      If you want to challenge someone why don't you be more specific. What are the facts that I am inventing?
      Internet cowards like you are a dime a dozen. Just throw out a simple quip with no information at all in it. Yeah, that makes your point.

      I assume both you and Ian would have done the same as Joe did? "Well, I told my boss about it, so.... guess I can wash my hands of this"... Listen, as soon as an adult is told about something like this, they are then involved – like it or not. Its this weird thing us adults have called "responsibility." Now you may not like the fact that some day you too will be judged by these simple standards – but you will. For now you can keep acting like a child though, thats fine. Just don't expect others to go along with it.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  10. clearick

    I'm still waiting for someone to say what Joe Paterno did wrong! He did what he was supposed to, and chances are he would have been penalized if he reported Sandusky to the Police. Sandusky hasn't been part of the program for 12 years and Joe didn't know anything about it until recently. I am appalled at the way the University is dealing with Joe and think that the administration acted stupidly and insensitively. I can't blame the students for being angry at the injustice being done to the coach, I can blame the media and all the talking heads for justifying the unjustifiable. JoePA did nothing wrong. That's the bottom line!

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

      There is criminal law and ther eis morality and ethics. If you don't grasp a difference I dont' think anyone can explain it to you.
      For a normal human being the natural impulse is – to right a wrong, if it is within his/her power. And Joe failed to do that.

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

      Oh well....too bad. You should just call up the trustees and get him reinstated. ha ha ahahahahahahaahh!!!!!!!!!!

      November 10, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ian

      ES, do you understand that anything Joe would have said after the fact would have been Hearsay? HE DID NOT WITNESS ANYTHING! Why doesnt anyone get that? Go after the grad student, grab up your pitchforks and boiling oil and GO AFTER HIM. Joe did everything he could do in the situation. The ignorance of "people" astounds...

      November 10, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marc

      Ian, ian, ian... what are we going to do with you.
      Yes, of COURSE it is Hearsay – but Joe is not a lawyer trying to convict someone in a court of law. He is an adult confronted with a statement that may, or may not be true. The allegation is one of such veracity that any reasonable, responsible adult has a moral obligation to follow up on it, because if it IS true (and it sounds awfully like it was), then NOT doing something means a child or children are being abused. Don't you get that? Do you REALLY not understand this?Sorry man, thats the long and the short of it. Im sure he's a great guy but he made a serious lapse of judgment.

      Someone should ask him. "So Joe, after the fact did you ever ask yourself, I wonder whatever happened with that pesky "child molestation thing" I wonder if its still happening?"

      November 10, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Joe was in the chain of command. Being at a higher level brings higher responsibility; this is true everywhere. He should have been more aggressive in following up on the report from his subordinate. So what if "he would have been penalized if he reported Sandusky to the Police". What penalty would he have suffered that was greater than what these children suffered? The bottom line is that Joe failed to meet the moral and ethical challenge of this situation. He is not the only one.

      I don't blame the students for being angry or upset or just confused, but I do blame those who are responsible for the rioting. They helped present the student community as being no better than ghetto rats. Hopefully, through all the posted videos and pictures those responsible can earn some jail time; later they can see how that plays out when they fill out their job applications.

      The media is not to blame, they do what they are expected to – pull back the covers on what some people don't want to be exposed. I'd agree that they often take a sensationalist route, but guess what – it doesn't sell if there is no market (there is some free info that should be put into every economics class). The media is a mirror of our society, that's why it seems so ugly – it is us.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  11. FJ

    What fails me is that McQuery is still employed at PSU, he will be coaching at the game Saturday. Bradley, the now head coach since JoePa's firing, ALSO worked with Sandusky yet he gets to coach. Why make an example of JoePa only? To me, McQuery is at fault too for not reporting anything and therefore the board should have fired him as well and they should not have appointed Bradley as head coach since he also worked with Sandusky.

    The Board has not made good calls in regards to this horrible tragedy.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. one71721

    Mike McQueary Will Coach For Penn State This Weekend Against Nebraska, according to Sports Illustrated.

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

    These kids are still children and don't understand the seriousness of covering up such a horrible offense. Once they become parents they will be ashamed of supporting Patierno at this time. Once they become parents they will understand. Kids, talk to your parents and quit showing your stupidity.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • 1984

      I hear what you are saying which makes me question why the Graduate Student and his FATHER did not go to CPS and the State Police immediately . Here is FATHER a parent, he should have stepped up.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  14. shannon freeman

    anyone who thinks they can do this, and someone else covers it up, both need to be electricuted!!!!! I have no mercy for there soles!

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

    WE ARE...PENN STATE

    November 10, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nitty Lion Fan

      WE ARE... PEDOPHILE SUPPORTERS

      November 10, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • 1984

      hey Nitty Lion ... you are an idiot.... innocent until proven guilty in this Country, the last time I looked.

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

      @Nitty Fan, No, just you are. go hump a dog or something please.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stacey

      I agree, Nitty. Those Penn State Pedophiles are disgusting. Glad Paterno got the boot.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
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