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. christey123

    It's not on CNN yet, but have y'all read about what Mark Madden is saying (he's a Pittsburgh radio host who knew about all of this and publicized it back in April). He says there's a rumor that Sandusky pimped out the boys to wealthy donors, and that Sandusky was given a generous retirement package in 1999 and never worked elsewhere as a coach cause Penn State knew about him way back then.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • dnk512

      No, I did not hear, and though just a rumor, it would not surprise me. I can not see how couple people managed to keep something so big so quite for so long without additional support.

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

      yup...read that...the "image of PSU" is about to get even worse... why would a 57 year old man resign in 1998, simply because he wasnt' going to be the head coach? didn't make sense then, doesn't now...unless you realize they knew back then, agreed to cover it up if he quit quietly. as al pacino said in scent of a woman, "[it's] just gettin started."

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

    Elsewhere in the civilized world colleges focus on providing the best possible education to the most capable students. In the US, they mostly are the bottom layer of entertainment empires to attract non-academic capable students hoping for big bucks later. Bread and Circuses. And still we wonder why those with the big tax breaks are investing that money in China.

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

      You are exactly correct.

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

      Yep. And you also have to take 50K in debt to attend the college after which you can't even find a job because eveyone knows you dont' know anything.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jimi

    So bet not too many new sponsors of Pedo State Football in future

    November 10, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. dnk512

    The comparisons to the church's similar cover-ups is most telling. Sad, but so true. I do not think our society knows how to prevent such situations. I am most sadden by these events. For the victims and for everyone following these events. Nothing Happy in this Valley. Some prime culprits will pay. Some will escape with minimum suffering. Others will suffer more than they deserve. There will be no winners from this. All they had to do is escalate the situation back when it happen. Then the damage would have been contained. One person. One act. One punishment.

    As a faculty I reported students bad actions years back. There was always follow through. I believe this was an 'agreed' cover-up. Agreed by many. No way just couple people manage to keep it quite without anyone else knowing.

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

      I agree that there should have been a follow through. They were friends! Joe should have known that no action was taking place and therefore should have reported it to the police or told the witness to!

      November 10, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  5. tw

    haha you idiots,,, err students are so laughable. how old are you guys? get real people. no one died. there is no point in getting so worked up. pathetic kids.

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

      There's a special place in hell for you! Enjoy the ride down there!

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

      Not sure anyone here is getting worked up... was that your point? lame.

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

    College is so lame dude. Its only a short time in your life and when you get into the real world you will slowly forget about your college days. Who cares some random football coach was fired.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. JohnP

    If it wasn't for the anonymity of the internet most of these comments wouldn't be here.

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

    The issue of child molestation is bigger than Joe Paterno legend. Penn State did the right thing to show the country that no one is above the safety of our children, and that includes him.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jennifer Van Alstine

    Mr. Paterno had a moral obligation to follow-up on what was going on with this accusation. A mere comment in passing is not sufficient in reporting something this serious. You wouldn't just walk past a wounded animal in the road. You would help it. But in this case we are not talking about an animal. We are talking about a helpless young boy. Shame on you, Mr. Paterno. You shouldn't have turned a blind eye!

    November 10, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Robinson B.

    Did the victims ever tell a parent or guardian? If so, did they keep silent too?

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

      Many times victims keep quiet. But if they did tell a parent or guardian, and that person didn't POUR GASOLINE on Sandusky, I have no use for them either! Me and mine would have been knocking each other over to stab him in his GROIN!

      November 10, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • jrh512

      Read the grand jury report. This guy should have been stopped years ago.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Denise

    There is nothing, nothing more important than protecting innocent children. The Penn State Board of Trustees did the right thing in firing the president and coach. I wish the Catholic Church had that kind of courage and moral resolve; we would then see bishops fired, as they should be.

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

      Are you kidding? They just fired him after everything blew up. They should fire Joe's superiors whom he told too. Nothing more than a boys club protecting one another and at the mercy of almost a dozen victimized boys.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. momofmany

    what is wrong with these students. f*%$ football. this man knew of a crime and did nothing. he is not a hero. he was part of the crime. how can this old man sleep at night. when the offender was not behind bars within 24 hours paterno should have gone to the police himself. (same goes for the asst. coach) he needs to be charged with something. i hope the parents sue the school. shame on everyone that was aware and did nothing. god have mercy on your souls... maybe not!

    November 10, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  13. JG

    I guess no one on the Penn State Football coaching team has any balls at all to stop this pedophile from raping a child. I guess you need ovaries cause I would have charged in there with a bat and made sure the SOB never walked again.

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

      That is what I think too. )) I am a mother of 2 kids. I wouldn't just stand by while any kid is being harmed. It is just incomprehensible to me.

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

    Ahhh...to be young and dumb. How depressing that our youth have no moral center anymore (or maybe never had). It obviously takes an adult society to see the sickening consequences of Joe Paterno's abhorrent inaction. I don't expect the campus babies to understand the role that Joe's cronyism, disbelief, amorality, and stupidity had in raping these kids. The 20-something barbarians on Penn State's campus only care about the next Saturday, and the next party. Pathetic. I'm sure you parents are NOT proud.

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

      You are right on...so true.

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

    Mike McQueary is the man who actually witnessed this. He is still coaching at PSU. Can anyone explain this??

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

      Unfortunately, it's too icky for anyone to deal with so they sweep it under the rug and forget about it. Everyones trying to make their next buck or win their next game. The university should fire him too.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • ES

      I expect it is not for long. The outrage is building against that coward as well.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
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