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. wandrel

    I'm also amazed that more of the children molested didn't tell their parents. I've heard of one instance where a parent contacted police, and then they dropped the ball. If it were my child and nothing was happening from the police I think I would have figured out a way to get the story out on my own!

    November 10, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Concerned99

    What I don't understand is why nobody is concerned and irate at the Police and/or the State District Attorney's Office. They did a investigation back in 1998 (before the 2002 incident) where Sandusty showered with an 11 year old boy. The Police were on the phone when the mother talked to Sandusky about it, he admitted showering with the boy and when the mother tried to get him to promise never to shower with any boy again, he would not ! The District Attorney Ray Gricar decides NOT TO FILE CRIMINAL CHARGES ! How bad is that ! The abuse could have stopped in 1998 !

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

      Lots of questions there:

      http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45241438

      November 10, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Outraged

      I agree, all those who knew and paid lipservice to following the process, be they law enforcement officials, lawyers etc., should all be held accountable and prosecuted.

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

      Gricar was murdered-- hmmmmm
      Paterno? or Sandusky?

      November 10, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Outraged

    I cannot believe anyone supporting a man who stood by and did the bare minimum, even if he is credited to the best coach...who cares if he does not know how to protect children. He was motivated by his own greed for power and fame rather than doing the right thing. In my opinion he is no better than the perpetrator. And people who support Joe, get a reality check, put yourself in the shoes of the victim or the family member of the victim...and then decide whether you should support such a person.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  4. yannaes

    Guess at Penn State they love the pig skin and foreskin.

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

    Again, as part of the university staff, all involved, whether directly or indirectly, are/were mandated reporters and this should have been reported back in 1998. The whitewash, the total disregard for "public safety" and those of the first victim and those that followed is disgusting. No university, sports program or even a so-called legend is worth more than an innocent child. Those who covered it up should be held criminally and civally responsible. Penn State should be held financially liable and pay through the nose. The students and alumni who support Paterno, Penn State in lieu of this scandel should also be held liable. For those who rioted and damaged personal/public property - expel them and send their parents the bill. Oh and I hope Nebraska kicks Penn State's a–!!!!

    November 10, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. The Ugly Truth

    There is a sick, twisted 'sports culture' that exists in this country and it is getting more and more out-of-control every year. Is it really any wonder that in a system in which coaches make SIX.....SEVEN.....EIGHT TIMES what the UNIVERSITY PRESIDENTS make, that something like this could happen? Wasn't there a time in our nation's history when Universities had EDUCATION, ENLIGHTENMENT, and the IMPROVEMENT OF HUMANKIND as their main focus? Today it's almost as is sports are the main focus and education is simply a 'minor peripheral legal requirement' that universities have to meet in order to justify their athletic programs and their state funding. ALL COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC PROGRAMS in STATE-FUNDED colleges and universities should be abolished and EDUCATION should be returned as the primary focus. Is this going to happen? Of course not. There's too much money involved and all of the mindless 'sheople' in this country need a team to identify with and root for in order to compensate for their dismall, lackluster lives. But it would be the right thing to do.

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

      good point

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

      Well stated.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • jkshaz

      I have often myself stewed over the sham that has become of higher education

      November 10, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  7. lou50

    They need to lie detector every facility member and fire the ones that do not pass. This has been going on for years and a University campus is a small place so everyone knew. The people protesting the firings indicate the erosion of morality in this country. Just ask these clowns if they would contribute their little brothers to the great sport of football and see how many would be interested! The firings have not gone deep enough and need to continue this was blatant!

    November 10, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mike

    Joe intentions were good, but when the slim bag was still there weeks after Joe first reported, he should have gone to the proper authorities. That was Joe's mis-step.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Worst Game

    So this TEN COMMANDMENT is BROKEN?!!?

    November 10, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Liberal Jesus

    He didn't report this horrible crime to the police. Shame on him...I would be embarrassed to be part of the Penn State nation.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JohnH

    Instead of saying prayers for victims, those of you who are outraged need to vote with your dollars quit watching penn st, big ten, college football, write the advertisers you see during saturdays game. That is how you can do something for the victims. Trust me if college football sees a dip in precious revenue following this scandal it will make sure the horror doesn't happen on some other campus.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Katherine

    I guess Penn State owns the media too because all we see are photos of Joe and hardly any photos of the actual perp.
    how nice. money buys a lot of things including silence. You should be ashamed!

    November 10, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Matt

    From what I have read in the Grand Jury Findings Jo PA might not be guilty of any criminal activity, but we have a long way to go and I will await the full disclosure of all evidence in order to form my opinion on any criminal activity he might have been involved in. However, Jo Pa and everything you he stands for ( courage, honor, developing men not just football players) crumbles when he does not follow up and make certain that the matter is reported to the police. He failed those victims by not standing up for those who were incabaple of doing it for themselves. They were children for god sakes. For that sole reason he should not be in a position of developing our next leaders and contributing citizens.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Karnesha

    THE FACTS:

    Mike McQueary (assistant) witnessed it.
    Mike reported it to his father and later Joe Paterno.
    Joe Paterno relayed the report to his immediate superiors: Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz.
    Tim and Gary relayed the report to their superior: President Graham Spanier

    Tim, Gary, and Graham are all legally responsible for dealing with off-campus authorities as part of their job.

    Joe Paterno was morally obligated to see that something had been done.
    Mike was the witness, so he is the MOST morally obligated to see that something was done.

    As of now, Joe, Tim, and Gary are fired but Mike is NOT and Graham (NOT YET).

    Out of the 5 men, Joe Paterno had THE LEAST responsibility.
    Out of the 5 men, Joe Paterno (so far) has gotten THE MOST criticism.

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

      RIGHT ON!

      November 10, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • TabbyKat

      I am in total agreement! The person who had the the MOST responsibility absolutely moral and legal obligation to report the incident was the person who witnessed it first-hand, McQuery. And not to the school authorities. First of all, why on earth did he not step in at that very moment and second, that's an immediate 911 call. I can't imagine what person just convinces themselves to say, "well I guess I will just tell the school authorities in the morning" and walk away.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Daddy2010

      As the father figure, Paterno had the MOST responsibility. There is no excuse for any of them. All are guilty of failing the children. There is no point defending any of them. It only diminishes the real issue – that children were hurt and any/all could have prevented it.

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

      They all should be fired. If you have to compare who is more morally obligated and have to draw that distinction then you my friend are morrally backrupt.

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

      THE FACTS:

      The president, Graham Spanier was fired along with Joe Paterno. Learn to read and be more thorough.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • jkshaz

      I am generally in agreement with you here.......obviously the president has now also been relieved of duty. Paterno has gotten way too much of the media attention although some of it was surely deserved. Although this is what happens when you are the most recognizable face of the university.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jack

    None of these rioting Penn State students should EVER be allowed to have children and be parents.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
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