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. Charles

    And the CNN reporter Jason Carol is a poor reporter. He states that the student body is angry at the media for switching the focus from the actual monster to Paterno (which is a valid criticism of the media here). And then he asks a student body member "if that is the case why then flip over news vans? Why not have a vigil to express yourselves?"... uhhh, really?? Are you that thick? Congrats on combining two issues into one... I'm sure they are remorseful for the true victims of this... but on the other issue of undue media attention on the wrong person (the person that of course gets CNN more ratings) they are angry hence news vans being turtled... you are not supposed to be a politician muddling issues together... keep questions clear and specific. Reporter 101 dude.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Bonymaenbob

    All I know is there is no way I would work next to or tolerate a pedophile nor have anything to do with one. If Penn State thinks that it is ok to condone joe pas silence then all the chants I expect to hear in the future is" you are Penn State".
    So much for pride. Pride of WHAT!

    November 10, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Chuck Creig

    "...hundreds of students take to the streets."

    Uh...to do WHAT? This is exactly what Occupy Wallstreet is doing. Angry kids causing disturbances and none of them can tell you why they're doing it. OK Penn state students, are you FOR Paterno's firing or against it? Not sure? Great, then go back to your dorm room and stop taking up police's time, money, and resources just because you want to stand around in a hoodie and feel like you're "making a difference." News flash kids, you're not making a difference. In order to do that you actually have to KNOW what kind of difference you'd like to make. You have to actually have an opinion of some kind, and be informed. This BS of spoiled, idle kids standing around being angry for no reason is getting REALLY annoying. Get off your butt and DO something, this isn't the Arab Spring. Don't just do it because they are. Remeber Einsteins, YOU"RE not living under dictatorial tyranny, they were. America needs to come TOGETHER in order to improve her current position, not segregate into the annoying lazy and the annoying lazier.

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

      So sad that you are missing the point of both events you reference...this at Penn State U & OWS.
      If you don't understand the deeper issues behind what's going on in either case (let alone both of them), then you aren't paying enough attention, or cannot grasp more complex (although still relatively simple) concepts that don't fit into a sound-bite of a few seconds or news articles of only a few hundred words...or perhaps you just can't see very well through your own tinted lenses.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      The students are protesting the firing of Paterno...

      November 10, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck Creig

      Cogito, actually YOU are missing the point I'm making about OWS. Yes there are reasons to be angry, but protest without direction and clear plans for rectification is simply glorified whining. Actually, it's worse than whining because it costs people money, time, resources, causes health hazards, traffic blocks, inconvenience to society at large, etc etc. The PROTEST ITSELF is the end result for these people, NOT the rectification of extent problems. This is made clear by the fact that no proposals for rectification have been made by the protesters, only an itemization of "what's wrong with the world," and interviews of the individual protesters show a staggering lack of focussed understanding. "I'm just out here making food for the protesters." "What are you doing today? Going to try to move my tent under that tree to mitigate the rain fall." It's become a hippie festival, completely lost any direction or point. It's just about BEING OUT THERE, not about effecting change. Which is sad, because there actually IS a point to be made about corporate inequity and wealth distribution in this country, but I'd be hard pressed to find that needle in the absurd haystack of OWS.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. craig

    While I'll accept that they are young, perhaps emotional, and undoubtedly surprised by the events of the past few days, the students displayed a complete lack of maturity and self-control last night. They may revere JoePa, but his actions in dealing with this situation, in HIS OWN WORDS WHILE UNDER OATH clearly demonstrate that he failed to do what was required, not only in a legal sense but by any measure of morals too. Yes, students, your hero has proven to be flawed. That's called Life. If you're disappointed, look at the man and his actions. He's passed every test on the football field, but flunked miserably when humanity asked him a simple question. It was his choice.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. swschrad

    The Book was followed, but it's not good enough. that's the issue. it is way behind the times, which one could say would be expected in a place where a football coach of 60 years standing in the department effectively ran the whole darn town. the standard for several decades, in schools and in society, has been you call 911 if you see abuse, of any age, at any time. Penn State has a lot of growing up to do.

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

      Look at the Twitter feeds over the past year. Look at them from the past week! They'll tell you that Paterno doesn't even run his own football team anymore and hasn't for 15 years. For an 84-year old man to not be able to look over 85 players and a coaching staff, but yet control 44,000 students on the University Park campus, plus the administrators, plus the faculty, plus the staff and handle day-to-day operations of a university seems unimaginable to me. But you know, whatever argument works at the time.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  6. rrnyc40

    there's a debate over where the focus should rest? on the wellbeing of the children. where the focus should have been years ago. ZERO tolerance.

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

    These Penn State students are acting like a bunch of babies. Whaaa, my coach and his assistant did something wrong and we want turmoil in our school. Fools! Think of the victims and let the investigation and justice continue.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Judy

    The actions of all involved is disgusting. It is typical of our sports programs are more important than the truth. There are others who knewwhat was going on and did nothing. The indictiment is lengthy and names others. It is time to think of the victims, those who have come forward and those who have not, this is bound to be as big as the catholic church abuse. Why did it do on for so long without charges? Joe Paterno was morally wrong not to pursue it, there are others who know and did nothing. The victims have been carrying this for more than 5yrs and they are still to go through a trial, which attorneys are bound to attempt to discredit. Think of them not a sports program at a university.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. BCB

    JoPa needs to hold a press conference to tell the idiot kids to stop all this. There is more to life than football.

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

    I am shocked to see that the pointing of the finger is everywhere but the one eyewitness to it all. If anyone should have reported it to the police, it should have been the one person who actually saw what happened. Not JoePa or the President or anyone else. He should have either grabbed that kid and put a towel around him and led him to safety OR if that wasn't feasible, exited the locker room and called 911. Once again, CNN and the media neglect to point the finger in the right place. Now that said, I agree that anyone who knew about this had the moral (if not legal) obligation to report it to the police. That's obvious. But, let's be real. There was one eyewitness in this whole matter. That's all I have to say.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • True Colors

      So if someone else witnessed this and came and told YOU, you don't feel any obligation to do anything? You would just live with that knowledge and say "well since he saw it, HE should bear the burden of it. And YOU also now KNOW that a child is being molested. Dude KILL YOURSELF!!

      November 10, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  11. RRS

    So many chances for some of these me to stand up and be a hero to the victims. They all failed.

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

    Reading this story, hearing it on the news and thinking about the children who were victimized by this apparent coverup bythe men of whom are all responsible and an accessory to such a dehumanizing crime against innocent children should ALL have been fired and ALL held responsible for this crime against the victims. This story is very sad and heartbreaking to know the children that were victimized suffered from the hands of that monster who abused them and all who covered this crime up. My heart goes to the victims and pray they can recover and some peace.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. El Kababa

    For a lot of men, football is just more important than child molestation. For them, Penn State's football program is the victim and the molested children are the perps. Sick, but true.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  14. PayThePiper

    Give Pedophile State the death penalty. No more football program. You did the crime, now you must pay.
    To the idiot who suggested that JoePa was told that they would investigate and he did his duty, I'm sorry but you are wrong. He failed his moral obligation to the kids who were harmed. Tarnished his reputation and will be forever remembered for what he didn't do on this earth, then he still has hell to look forward to but at least he will have his buddy Jerry there with him. McQuery needs Coward tattooed across his forehead for the rest of his life. This will never go away. This will never wash off. And nobody will ever forget that the worst crimes against children happened under Joe's watch.

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

      You are a fool. Why should they cancel the football program? What about the players or students that had nothing to do with it. If you want to follow your mentality lets shut down the Vatican and fire the Pope, and I guess he can meet Paterno and Sandusky there....

      November 10, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mark

    To see the CNN reporter denying that he and the media wipped up a lynch mob menatlity against Joe Paterno is PATENTLY FALSE. The fact that McQuerry went to the AD and President the day after he told Paterno seems to be lost. So Paterno was to report third party allegations to the police? Try that and see how far you get. McQuerry was OBLIGATED to not only stop the assault but reort it to police. To even claim Joe Paterno was complicite is a joke. This man suspended 5 starters (2 of whom were pre-season all americans) from the team just a few years ago and it is a testament that Joe was NOT just about football. You hyenas don't care who you eat along the way and perhaps it will be you CNN reporter who will be embarassed when you look at YOUR actions down the road.

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

      Ummm....................................nah. Doubt it. ahjahahahahahahaahahahahahhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Too bad.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
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