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. isabele

    Well said, PSU Alum!

    November 10, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dave

    Oh and another thing... never see it at a southern school? Keep digging that hole... I like where you are going.

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

      Dude, settle down. Yes, Paterno is the big name and not the monster who perpetrated this. All of those involved in the cover-up should be put away for a very, very long time. However, I understand the outrage. Paterno is a man who would go to his player's teachers and check on their progress...a man who clearly was concerned about their welfare. And apparently a man who could sleep at night knowing that a man he knew was abusing young children and he didn't even PICK UP THE PHONE AND CALL THE POLICE. Not the campus police, not the college president, the police. Shame on him. Shame on all of those involved. In my mind they are as guilty as that monster Sandusky is.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dee

      I couldn't agree more.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • SmartPotato


      November 10, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      The campus police are the police. Its an actual police force with jurisdiction.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yup

      Yeah....he also liked to screw little boys

      November 10, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • KDurf

      I guess reporting the incident to the head of the University Police was him not reporting it? Hmmm...

      November 10, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alum

      We don't know what he "knew". He was given the information second hand. How much traction would a normal person get calling the police and saying "I was told he committed a crime, but I am not the victim and I didn't actually see it". There is never an excuse for an adult to intentionally victimize a child. That it was an adult with a responsibility to that child makes it even worse. We don't know exactly what JoePa did do at the time. We should at least be certain we have the full story before starting to string up anyone other than the actual criminal.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • frankie b

      Duddie baby
      Paterno is an ego freak
      Cares on about football and his records
      Shame on him

      November 10, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • JohnRJ08

      ABSOLUTELY!!!! A lot of people thought Bernie Madoff was a sweet man who cared about people, too. Paterno bears some responsibility for all the children that Sandusky victimized since 1994, when his behavior was first witnessed by a janitor in the Penn State locker room.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • fay ruujin


      November 12, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bob

    Students at Penn State should be ashamed. The rest of the country is certainly ashamed of the way you have behaved in all this. When you finally learn how completely Joe Paterno failed, maybe you won't worship something as silly as winning football games. Shame on you.

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

      You should be ashamed for making such a ridiculous generalization. Most of the people at the "riot" were gathering to celebrate the legacy of Paterno or to decry the board's decision. This was peaceful other than the couple of people that overturned a vehicle, tore down light posts, and the police who were macing nonviolent, innocent bystanders (such as myself). The people of Penn State are mourning what has turned out to be a horrific scandal. Don't equate the couple of idiots that did harm to the majority.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kara

      Not the first time they ignored a sports scandal...Anyone remember Rene Portland? The abuse of her teams of the years was awful. Penn State is disgusting. They should be ashamed but they aren't. They have learned nothing. Glad the President is gone too.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • myviewtoo2


      November 10, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lucy

      Why is everyone placing the blame on Paterno, when there was other witnesses to the crime who did not report it. And what about the fact that Paterno reported the assault to his superiors and yet they did nothing about it. Paterno himself did not witness the assault and had no proof of it to even be able to report to the police. Paterno right now is trying to take the focus off himself yet the media and the students won't let him so don't blame him for the riots. Blame the media for sucking at doing investigative reporting and turning this into a scandal.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Bob; ultimately it's NOT Joe Paterno who has failed it is the others.....ESPECIALLY THE PRESIDENT SPANIER! I am a PENN STATE Alumni and a father and I am just as DISGUSTED as everyone else,...but people are vilifying Joe Paterno TOO MUCH!

      Although i agree Paterno could have done more....SANDUSKY IS THE VILLAIN NOT PATERNO!

      November 10, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Monica

    I was a student at Indiana University and recall the backlash over the firing of Bobby Knight for inappropriate conduct. Although I felt it was unfortunate to lose such a talent, I agreed that there was no place for this sort of behavior by adminstrators, coaches, and role models. The lack of follow-up by Coach Paterno seems even more aggregious to me, in that not ensuring proper attention be brought to this issue, many more innocent children were molested and scarred for life. I would ask the Penn State student body to consider how they might feel if these kids were their family members.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. awake

    we can tell a lot about a nation, an organization, and an individual by how they treat those who are the most vulnerable.
    we all stand to grow from the missteps of each other.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. cyg

    The assistant coach should do the right thing and hang himself.

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

      CYG, I LOVE you like we are kin! Speak the truth!

      November 10, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • WhackyWaco

      You are sick.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • True Colors

      The sick folks are at Penn State. We are just advocating for expeditious and self inflicted exodus to HELL!

      November 10, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • rob

      That's a horrible thing to say... Because that's too good for him. He needs to go to prison, where his new friends will Occupy Sandusky.

      November 10, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  7. T&T

    The only way someone could POSSIBLY support him is if they have not read the intictment! READ IT PEOPLE! Although it is disturbing, it brings to light the coverup that EVERYONE of these monsters did. Each & every one of them should be prosecuted! And who knows what ELSE went on and who else is involved! It is sick....sick.....sick!

    November 10, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Terry B

    Since when did NAMBLA control Penn State?

    November 10, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  9. densal

    really people / he knew / who walks into your home and says i just saw a grown man that you love and trust raping a kid / NOBODY / then you go to the school / this man has a statue on the campus / people think he is 'god' like / so he had no access to records / he never inquired, ever about what happened – he kept his head only on football / and he knew this @$$ was still working with kids even after leaving the school team / AND HE IS INNOCENT OF WRONG DOING / are we really talking about HIGHER EDUCATION HERE OR ARE YOU ALL JUST HIGH

    November 10, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Robyn

    I think what alot of people are overlooking, is that Sandusky was investigated by University Police in 1998 where he was caught showering with 2 boys. Then he was retired in 1999. If the University Police were investigating a coach or a player, you can bet that The Head Coach is aware of the investigation. I guess there is no absolute proof, but for my money I say Coach Paterno knew back then. It was said he was grooming Sandusky to take his place, I think he would know the reason Sandusky retired. The summary of this information is available on the Pennsylvania Attorney General website.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Abby

    I hope he thinks of how all the young boys have suffered & the trama they have endured!!!! What a jerk to not even follow up. All these people knew this guy was a creep!

    November 10, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Donnie

    Athletics at "Penn State", start and stop with "Joe Paterno", period!! Yes, he reported it. Yes, the athletic director told him an investigation would ensure. And the proper authorities notified. But, if he had shown more concern over the allegations. And insisted on something being done immediately. And then made SURE it was done!! He wouldn't be in the huge mess he and the university is now!! And no, it isn't about football. It's all about those poor innocent children, who are scared for life!! Just so a storied football program could keep chugging along. Making millions of dollars for the university, and the conference!!,

    November 10, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Chris from Oklahoma

    Looking for my post..!!

    November 10, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Alfred Einsteen

    What cracks me up is that all Penn State alums will now be associated with this forever. hahhaha! Whenever you send out your resume and someone looks at it and sees Penn State University....they will IMMEDIATELY think of this. It's just how the human mind works. Hahahahahahahh!! Well done. You've all been Sanduskied.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Barry G.

    Why doesn't the Board of Trustees resign–or whomever it is that made the bad decision to fire Joe.

    Talk about a bad decision.

    Why if it wasn't for Joe Pa, Penn State wouldn't be the great school it is today.

    We love you, Joe.

    What a great coach and a good man.

    You're the best.

    I don't know who I'm going to root for on Saturday.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alfred Einsteen

      Yeah....he's the best. That's why he got fired. You know...because the best always get fired. He's a great guy alright. Just don't expect him to lift a finger to help innocent kids being tortured....or anything. hahahah.

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

      Jo Pa needs to feel the burning pain of those children
      Maybe we need NBA players to meet him in a shower

      November 10, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51