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. Victoria Taylor

    The students who oppose the firings are as bad as Sandusky. They also lack moral integrity!

    November 10, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • frankie b

      good point

      November 10, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Fan

    This was reported to the police and not prosecuted years before 2002. The grandjury had it for three years before they indicted. What exaclty do you people think Joe should done? He reported it to the admin and they had the staff and lawyer to know what should be done. JOEPA was supposed to do legal research and figure what he was supoossed to do? If it was dead to rights throw Sandusky in jail, why did it take three years to indict? The guy hasn't been a coach for 12 years and you all act Joe was in the shower.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Think

      Joe Pa should have done a LOT more, just as the graduate student who witnessed it should have. How do you just walk away from that scene? I certainly hope you would have done more.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fan

      Joe saw nothing. he reported a second hand report. You don't just throw accusation like this around without proof. The grandjury apparently needed three years to find and you wanted Joe to do it on his own.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • frankie b

      If you don't know what Joe Paw-the kids should have done then you must be a dumb Penn State student

      November 10, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ginamero

    If older women who chase young men are called Cougars...then do we now call old men who rappe little boys Nittany Lions?

    November 10, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • trex

      ...NO...........they are called............GINAMERO'S.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  4. trex

    ..I can find HEROS in this story........................The HEROS will be THE PLAYERS that suit up Saturday. They are HEROS because they will push the Penn State University past the law breakers and tacit approvers of evil. The players ARE NOT TO BLAME. Through the action of continuing the TRADITION of PSU FOOTBALL, the PLAYERS are the HEROS.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • frankie b

      wrong - they have to to stay in school– r u an idiot

      November 10, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Observantone

    The firing of a coach shouldn't give a green light for the masses to riot and destroy news vans along with other property. If people want to carry out violent behavior so badly I suggest they find a hobby or a first person shooter video game. Seeing the destruction and rioting in the media casts a poor light on the University.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • rizzo

      The last riot I was at in State College was caused strictly by the police starting to indiscriminately beat and mace students. Property was not destroyed and rocks were not thrown until the police started rioting.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. th

    idiot students, go home and play mw3..

    November 10, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Arwen

    Not only should all of the upper-echelon of Penn State who knew of this situation (including McGreary) be fired – but every single student protesting axing Joe Paterno should be permanently expelled from the school. WHEN did our society put football before the welare of even one single child? This is unimaginably, appallingly embarrassing for our country.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ChicagoMom

    Penn State students, you should be ashamed. College is a time to learn. So, hopefully you all learn this lesson quickly and realize that rioting over the firing of a football coach who didn't do enough to help innocent young boys should embarrass you.

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

      Hes just a football coach, he isn;t god, so why are we holding him to such a hig er standard? Why not wait till all the facts are in before we ruin the guy, he deserves the benefit of the doubt until facts say otherwise.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • ChicagoMom

      @Cove I'm not holding him to a higher standard nor did I ever indicate he was anything close to "god". I hold any human being to the same standard on this type of issue. I believe it is YOU who seems to be holding him to a higher standard. He knew about it, reported it, and then washed his hands of it. Those kids needed someone to be their VOICE, to stand up for them, and he became silent. Clearly, he's no god.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. megmck

    I know we are all upset about Paterno not reporting. WHAT ABOUT the coach who witnessed the actual abuse and did NOT STOP IT IMMEDIATELY!!!!! I would have grabbed the child and went straight to the parents and police.!!!!! THIS IS NOT OKAY TO WITNESS SOMETHING AND TURN YOUR BACK AND WALK OUT!!!!

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

      Meg, I agree 100%, the 28 year old man should have dialed 911 the minute he saw what he says was happening. My understanding is this person is now a coach at Penn State. Has he been fired? If not, why not? He is just as guilty as JoePa for not reporting this the minute he saw it happening. How could he see a man raping a 10 year old and not do anything? The indictment is horrid. Many actions still need to be taken.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • danimalone

      thank you some one else who actually caught that part. I can't understand how you could witness something like this then run out, call your parents, go home and wait 12 hours b4 you talk to a COACH, not the police and not child services but a coach. seriously this person is the one who should be vilified in the news.

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

      Thank you for stating the most obvious point about this whole story...I am hoping some more heads are going to roll soon.... (from a mother of boys who love sports and a MANDATORY reporter in the ER for 12 years)

      November 10, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Elaine

    I agree Jonathan to a point although I don't recall any action taken against the Pope for the Catholic mess. Also, once Joe reported it how would he know how or if the situation had been taken care of? Those types of investigations and disciplinary actions are confidential and to report back to Joe would have been wrong legally. However, I am a realist enough to know that Joe was (is) King of Penn State and if he wanted something done badly enough, it would have been done. Did he think it was taken care of when Sandusky was fired? Who knows? All I know is that it seems so wrong to end an otherwise flawless, illustrious career when no criminal complaint has been made against the coach. Again, what about due process?

    November 10, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • roger

      How would Paterno have known if the situation had been taken care of you ask? How about the fact that he is still free as a bird and carrying on as usual?

      November 10, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • crowgan

      i think the due process clause in the 5th amendment only pertains to deprivation of life, liberty, or property. Paterno hasn't been deprived of those things.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  11. P.J.

    “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.

    Yup, it's still all about football. I wonder what they would have done had their home jerseys been orange.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tea Party Express

    Stupid Obama did it

    November 10, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ernie

    Having just read the report of the grand jury, I don't understand why Coach Paterno was fired, unless there's more to the report than the 23 pages I just read. Sandusky sounds like a demented individual for whom accusations were downplayed by Tim Curly and Gary Schulz. From what I read, Joe Paterno took the complaint seriously and reported to the people who should have acted. I'm not a big football fan. I don't watch college football at all, but I had to read the report because some yahoo state trooper reportedly said the coach failed in his moral obligation. I'm wondering where this state trooper gets off accusing a guy like this of failing in his moral obligations, who by every other account has been an upstanding human being, looking after his student athletes and focusing on what he was there for, which was coaching football. The Penn State trustees, in their pursuit of scapegoating, is punishing a guy who does not deserve it. The two who may have covered for Sandusky, yes, the President, yes, that's where the buck stops. The football coach? After he reported it? C"mon...

    November 10, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • JJ

      Get a clue, Ernie. Paterno's not (yet) being charged with a crime. However, doing nothing more than simply reporting heinous crimes to an indifferent chain of command is not much of an excuse for anyone, let alone an influential coach.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Norma

      As coach and part of the univeristy staff, Paterno is a mandated reporter. They all were and are. Whatever the school policy is, he and others should have immedately reported this to the police. Instead they chose to handle it internally and slide it under the rug. As head coach, the athletic director or someone higher up would have told him what,if any, action they took against Sandusky. Apparently it wasn't enough because the abuse kept on happening even after Sandusky "retired" and he was allowed to still use the school's sports facility. Paterno only cared about Penn State, about his sports program and about himself. He cared little to nothing for the young boys who were sodomized. For those of you who support him, you're sick! Do you have a son, a brother, a nephew, a cousin? Think of them and then try to defend Joe Paterno and Co. I dare you!

      November 10, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • vintage274

      All adults have a moral responsibility to not only report such an incident to their own superiors, but also to the police or child welfare services. Let's say the grad student had seen a body being disposed of. Do you think Paterno would have simply told his superiors and forgot about it? Nope. To assume that the welfare of a child is being taken care of by someone else in charge is a dereliction of moral duty. If Paterno had been a football coach at the high school level, the law would have DEMANDED that he report the incident to the authorities, no buts about it.

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

      read it again– try using glasses old man
      JO is a child abuse enabler

      November 10, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Martin

    It just goes to show that with every single issue in America right now, the public is so incredibly polarized towards one position or the other that no one is willing to compromise on anything any more.

    It's a sad state of affairs, one that will probably lead to a 2nd Civil War in the end.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • JJ

      Sure. 'Compromise' with a hierarchy that ignores repeated cases of pedophilia. Sure.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • frankie b

      compromise with your bottom - not my kid's

      November 10, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  15. True Colors

    There's a special place in HELL for you! Enjoy the ride!

    November 10, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
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