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. Jess Sayin

    This is disturbing on so many levels:
    1. that people who knew the child molester did not report it to the police immediately
    2. that everyone who was informed about the child molester passed the information on to people they supposedly assumed would report it to the authorities, who chose to pass it on and do nothing
    3. that no one cared enough to identify the child who was violated to get him help
    4. that some students at Penn State can only focus on football rather than the human toll of this horrific act(s)
    5. that they took to the streets for destruction and violence over their 86 yr old football coach's job (while ignoring the victims)
    6. that this could happen anywhere and is not an isolated incident at Penn State

    November 10, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Worst Game

    New World Order saw this. They could not believe it. Abomination. This is why they want to wipe out Middle Class and Millionaires. They fear God order four horsemen of the apocalypse for 2012 vengeance.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jae

    Here is what is disturbing to me. This sandusky animal was accused in 98. He resigned in 99. My guess is penn st forced him out due to that even though the prosecutor did not press charges. So u think paterno did or did not know about this? Do u think penn st knew about it? Then the 02 situation happened. This is 2011!!!! 9 years later. 9 YEARS LATER!!! So that idiot asst told paterno. Paterno told CAMPUS police. When campus police did nothing for nine years. He didnt go to the POLICE? If what he asst saw was just horsing around in a shower between a monster of an old man and a 10 year old. Why de he tell paterno if it was just horsing around? If paterno cares about kids do they have to wear his jersey to care? Do people just want details bout that sandusky monster so that we leave a COACH ALONE?
    FOR ALL THOSE WHO WANT TO SUPPORT THIS COACH WHO IS HELD SO DEARLY CAUSE HE WON HE MOST GAMES FOR UR COLLEGE. WOULD U SEN UR KIDS TO PLAY FOR HIM AND HIS ASSISTANCE? All those who are bashing cars burning stuff for a coach who kept his mouth shut. How would this world b if we cared half that much 10 YEAR OLD KIDS THAT R NOT UR OWN FAMILY?

    November 10, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • DJ

      Really, do you go to church? Do you send your kids to church? Priests have been arrested for child molestation all over the world. So if you would have one piece of crap ruin a good thing for all, then you need to boycott church as well, oh and let’s not forget school. Actually I think you should just keep your kids at home.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • frankie b

      DJ– are you Doug Josavech the Pittsburg pedophile?
      You are so d- dumb that you must be a Penn State student

      November 10, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. respectful bama fan

    Why is Mcqueary still going to be coaching Saturday? Joe Paterno is getting nailed to a cross and the young former football player who walked in on a feeble 60 year old man fondling a child and did NOTHING is still going to be wearing blue and white for the team's last home game. Where in the H3LL are the questions regarding why this ABLE BODIED MAN WATCHED A YOUNG BOY BEING MOLESTED AND DID NOTHING. NOTHING. NOTHING. NOTHING. He quietly snuck out as not to be noticed then proceeded to call his daddy and eventually report it to his "boss" the next day. He was the lone witness to this atrocity, if anyone was morally obligated to take it beyond his superiors and straight to the police it should be the person at the start of the line, and if not him than the starting guy's dad...not the 3rd guy to hear about it who just so happens to be a household name and the surefire way to prove that your university is "taking action". I want to know why Mike Mcqueary is not on the block for not protecting a young boy from an old man whose hip could've been broken by simply catching him in the act.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. David J

    EWWW! if you support them, then you support child molestation! PIGS!!!

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

      Yeah, that makes sense. David J. "and if I breath air I support destroying the ozone”. Ridiculous.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • frankie b

      DJ - u b wrong- zero tolerance here– r u a pedophile

      November 10, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
  6. SwilliamP

    We don't know all the facts but I don't think it proves anything to tank Paterno at this juncture. It looks like Higher Powers are using him as a scapegoat/CYA. There appears to be plenty of blame to be shared. If a conspiracy existed by definition that involves many parties.
    -PSU grad '74

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

      Actually, we know enough facts to understand that more than a few people in charge didn't call authorities at many time...what else do you want to know? The graduate assistant should be fired too.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kiki

      Theres plenty in the grand jury report.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      He knew about and thought football was more important than doing the right thing

      November 10, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • 16halo

      What facts are you referring too?

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

      From what we know so far, Paterno did not have first hand knowledge of any abuse. He did not witness anything – any knowledge he had was secondary and hearsay. For the sake of argument, let's say Paterno did call the police in 2002. The police would have been unable to do anything without an affidavit from the grad assistant...otherwise it was just an unsubstantiated claim. The grad assistant should be under much stricter scrutiny here.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fred

      So - I'm a upper manager where I work. One day an employee shows up at my house, telling me that the night before he was at the office and walked in on another employee raping a 10 year old in the office. All I do is tell my boss. and then go about business as usual with that alleged rapist in my office. No follow thru.. no questions.. Unbelievable!

      .

      November 10, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • jkshaz

      Must be someone 'higher' than the president of the university then because he got fired too.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Anthony

    It is sad how the media is giving the rioting students a pass. These so-called highly educated future leaders, who are pawned off as the best our nation has to offer, showed their true colors. Their criminal conduct was nothing less than ignorant and they should be subjected to the University's Conduct system.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • 16halo

      I agree to your last sentence, but it's hard to punish an entire mob. The reality is that the firing of Paterno and the school's President was not done in a way that was open, transparent and communicated to the student body. The University mishandled the situation. What you have is a bunch of young people who still have a lot of maturing left.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laura

      Most PSU students were not "rioting." There a select few that chose to act poorly. Most were just marching around town. Take a late night weekend walk around any large university campus and you will find a few bad apples.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mary

    Wake up Penn State rioting students....why don't you fight for the kid he abused....

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

      because the MEDIA has made it all about Paterno...

      November 10, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • JT

      @Cove. Maybe ESPN. Everything I have read has been about the accusations. People should focus their anger at the ones who allowed these atrocities to occur. End of story.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Roy

      right, they riot in the streets because the MEDIA made it about Joe Paterno.

      That's what I do when the media focus on the new thing of the moment this hour. I riot in the streets every hour over this hour's media overexposure.

      Pathetic

      November 10, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ken Long, Lawyer

    Bunch of brats that deify the hippies of the 60s. Why don't they go to class, get their education, so I can hire one of them if they get decent grades and become admitted to the patent bar.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Lt Col McMuffin

    Hahaha Penn state is full of pedophiles. Here's a vote for Pedobear as the new Penn State mascot!

    November 10, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Cove

    until all the facts are out, UNTIL , Paterno should not have fired in this way, period.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  12. an author

    The students at Penn State who gathered to protest the firing of Paterno don't get it....the only gathering they should have been involved with last night would be a candle lit vigil for those innocent and young victims of child molestation and abuse....what a complete waste of time feeling sorry for and supporting the retention of anyone who did not fully report and totally follow through on seeking justice against an accused pedophile.

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

    "Paterno reported an account of the events as told to him by McQueary to both athletic director Tim Curley and the head of campus police."

    You would have done more? i would think calling the police based off day old 2nd hand information would pretty much cover me.... I would never expect I would be later held "personally responsible" for not becoming the lead investigator myself?

    November 10, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kiki

      Really? Even after he's been banned from bringing boys on campus and you continue to see him with children from the charity?

      November 10, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Worst Game

    Yeap. The world is falling apart.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mike in Montana

    Ridiculous.. Coach Joe Paterno, only had three or four more games to go in the NCAA football season and he would have retired. Coach Joe Paterno gave his heart, soul and life to Penn State, including the football program, players, students and loyal fans, all across this great country of ours. Coach Joe Paterno, after all those years, wanted to go out with some dignity and honor. The Penn State board was 'wrong' in what they did to Coach Joe Paterno.., to 'fire' him, after all those years of dedication and loyalty to Penn State. Instead of retiring with 'dignity and honor', they (school board) booted him out with disgrace. Only three or four games to go and Coach Joe Paterno was going to retire. This it totally wrong.., the Penn State Board of Directors is a disgrace among themselves. Now.., it's to late, to ask Coach Joe Paterno to come back and finish the remaining three or four games of the season. The Penn State board is a disgrace and they should 'resign' for being incompetent and mean-spirted. With that said.., maybe the Penn State football player's, students and fan's, should NOT attend or play for the rest of the season in protest. Bad deal all around and a sad story for everyone.. Mike in Montana

    November 10, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • frankie b

      So you are saying Joe's heart and soul is more deserving tha the bottoms of 8 ten year old boys?

      November 10, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • frankie b

      Mike you must be a pedophile– what you wrote here is immoral

      November 10, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
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