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. In Disbelief

    Really?? Out of all the issues currently affecting this nation, this is what Penn State students have chosen to vehemently protest? The ethics and values of these students are clearly misguided when they believe a winning football team is vastly more important than reprimanded those that looked the other way when YOUNG, INNOCENT CHILDREN were being abused. Believe it or not there's more to college than football, but clearly they aren't teaching it at Penn State. This whole situtaion is embarassing, from the administrators that waited so long to take action to the student body that's supporting a criminal.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  2. buck95

    did you ever notice that grown-ups never use the "grow up" argument?

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

    If Penn State students, alum, staff, etc etc blah blah have any doubt that Paterno should be rotting in jail for sitting back and doing nothing then read the 23 PAGE GRAND JURY REPORT the ny times has posted. It is disgusting and horrendous. Macqueary, Curley, Schulz, the Campus Police, Thomas whoever that cancelled the investigation in 1998, because this wasnt the first time that Sandusky was caught in the shower with a little boy! OH YEA, in 1998 he was caught and never turned in and very conveniently just retired in 1999. with allllll benefits that allowed him to continue using penn state facilities. absurd.

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

      well said

      November 10, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ed

    Yes the coach should have called the police, the person that told the coach should have called the police, the head of the athletic departemnt should have called the police, etc. – they all didn't. Heads have to roll – but they should have been given the option to immediately resign instead of being fired. A person that devouted their life to the college and did many great things for students and the college should at least have been allowed to give his story to the board of directers and given the option to resign immediately. Making them resign would have been easier on the students and avoided a riot. Trying to make a statement by firing them did more harm then good.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • vintage274

      Just like all those Catholics priests were allowed to resign or reassign? Give the benefit of the doubt to those who supported the abuser? Tell that to the kids whose lives have been irrevocably altered - these were "good" people who did a whole lot for the college, so we're giving them the option of bowing out gracefully. Sorry, kid, YOU don't get that option.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jay

    I don't care what your position in life is. You see abuse, report RIGHT AWAY. And how many Protestant clergy have abused kids?!?

    November 10, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Chris from Oklahoma

    Still looking for my previous post..!!

    November 10, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Chris

    Wow just wow, you can tell who have children and who doesn't

    November 10, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. rkt210

    From what I know so far, Paterno is the only one in this mess who took an appropriate sction. Mike McQueary was 28 when he walked in on Sandusky and the victim. Not only did he turn away without helping the child, he failed to call the police, and instead called his father. They both waited to see Paterno until the next day, and I firmly believe that what they told him was a much watered down version as opposed to the explicit details of what really happened. Why? because the McQuearys both realized that Mike's gutless failure to do ANYTHING to help as the crime was happening in front of his eyes was, if not criminal, so morally reprehensible that they couldn't bear to admit it. Since Sandusky didn't work for Paterno, and Paterno had nothing to do with his presence on campus, his call to the AD, given what he was told, was appropriate. If it comes out later that Paterno was told the explicit details, then I will change my current opinion that he is being scapegoated , but that will not change my mind that I want McQueary to do jail time and be banned from campus for life.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • one71721

      No because McQueary's daddy was a friend of Jerry Sandusky...

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

      agree

      November 10, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Name*SF Bay

      Don't e nieve about Joe Paterno knowing more than enough to call police or confront Sandusky. Get real!!

      November 10, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Will

    Why was the guy still on campus up until last week?

    November 10, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • WVU

      Because he did nothing!! coach just did nothing..................why hold that back coach, you are great but you are not GOD and his willingness will land you in a whole lot of trouble and rightfully so!! Don't mess with kids...boys or girls a sad state you went to, as low as low gets here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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

    The masses don't have a lot of options when it comes to being heard. Picketers are easily ignored. Riots are noticed but have the effect of turning people against your cause. What's left? Nothing. I understand how the students feel. Paterno is being thrown under the bus by scared university officials.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JABERSE

    It is a tangled web with many many threads going further than anyone imagined. This was not limited to Penn State but reached into communities and homes. It will be months or even years before the extent of this is realized. It is probably so woven that even the legal system will have difficulty untangling it. Victims and their families need support.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Princess Celestia

    Oh CNN, The Grand Galloping Gala is always terrible, that's why I invited the Penn State student to help liven things up.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Daddy2010

    "A campus divided". Those who care about children/people. And those who care about themselves.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • frankie b

      very good

      November 10, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Tater

    My heart goes out to the victims.
    Shame on you Jo Pa...You should have immediately reported what you knew to police.
    Your inaction has let an evil man perpitrate horific acts on little boys.
    May god have mecy on ur sole

    November 10, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • George Miron

      You misspelled "Macy's"... do you think he buys his shoes there?

      November 10, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • coronaboy

      Nonsense. Joe reported it and the Attorney general publically stated he followed the law's obligations. You want to blame someone? Why not blame the State and Grand Jury for taking over two years to act?

      November 10, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Daddy2010

      @boy. Those who cling to "he followed the law" have no interest in protecting children. Period. Following the law in this situation was/is not enough.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  15. whoopitydo2

    Well, Penn State and the Big 10 has truly shown their lack of class. I'm all for firing Joe Paterno. He needed to be fired for his inaction and quiet attempt to cover up what happened to save face for Penn State football. However, what Penn State has done is fire Joe Paterno b/c they saw an opportunity to finally get rid of him, like they've been trying to since 2004, instead of for the right reasons. If it were for the right reasons, they would've fired a lot of folks, including Mike McQueary. Penn State and the Big 10 have shown their true colors through all this. Once again, I'm all for firing Paterno. He should've been fired, but there are many other heads that needed to fall. Penn State and the Big 10 have failed our kids!

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