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. Worst Game


    Bankruptcy.... : (

    November 10, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. E Gabriel

    Mike McQueary has to go. If Paterno is gone, McQueary must go too. Period.

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


    November 10, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  4. David M

    I would like to know why they removed Sandusky from the mural at the bookstore and replaced it with a blue ribbon. What does he get a blue ribbon for? Top honors in child molestation? Blue ribbons are normally given to winners. Sandusky is anything but.

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

      The blue ribbon is a symbol for protection of children from abuse.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jeff

    How is MCreary allowed to coach Saturday? WHAT?!?! He let Sandusky continue to abuse the 10 year old and ran out of the locker room!!! Waited 24 hours, then told a 74 year old coach! Are you kidding me!! How can he be allowed on the sidlelines?!?!

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

      AMEN-he should be outta there!

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

      Good point Jeff. He needs to go as well.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. vincentvega

    It's Obama's fault!

    November 10, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. SmartPotato

    Did any of these morons even READ the grand jury presentment? Ignoring the full discosure of the situation and not calling for a police investigation is akin to accessory after the fact. This was HIS coach, in HIS house, and he did NOTHING. He may not deserve jailtime, but he deserves to lose his job. And these morons should ask Sandusky's victims. Coaches are replaceable. A childhood is not.

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

      Joe Pa did what was mandated by his employers, BoT, to do in this situation and what is mandated by PA law in this situation. The guy got fired for doing what he was legally supposed to do and for what his employers told him to do.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bzarr

      notexactly-spot on. When you consider the level of vitriol in this blog I can understand why someone would want as little to do with this as possibe. Look at Paterno, he did what he was supposed to do and he lost his job and people want him in jail. Thats BS

      November 10, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. E Gabriel

    Sandusky is the Satan about this - the others were the cover-up. Mike McQueary must go too though.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Illeagle-j1

    I am glad to see the students of PSU, have their priorities straight.. Never mind that every one of these students faces a student debt of 60 to 80 thousand dollars, without prospect of finding employment with which to pay off this debt. They feel that a sports figure is so important that they are willing to trash their community and school in the defense of a COACH (?). Some people have too much time on their hands, with all of the injustices that they could be demonstrating against this is the height of STUPIDY! As far as I am concerned schools are for learning, not for sports, if they do not want to learn go out a get a JOB!

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

      Better yet, quit school, join the armed services so you can vent your rage at the terrorists and Talliban. A good drill sergeant will teach you what is important in life.

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

    When was the last time you heard of someone hiking thru Yellowstone Park and seeing a bear attacking a child and not doing anything about it. But waiting till you get home to tell your boss about it, who in turn does noting either.
    That is beyond disgraceful and not a very sound judgment call for people in those positions. Regardless who made that call, they should all be handed the 'pink slip'.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Grace Gonzalez

    What it shows here? leaders like the coaches had been after results (football, basketball, any sports) and not after principles. You can see all the students reacting about a fact, but not againts principles. They don't care about moral principles, so the school and its famous what stand for is just a charade!!

    November 10, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Anne

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

      I can't stop thinking about the victims...and how they must have felt this morning waking up to see STUDENTS violently protesting in support of Paterno and Penn State Football! What a slap in the face to them! I want them to know there are many of us who support them! I hope there will be victims rights groups at the football games protesting in support of the victims! I would love to join them in a show of support! Please just go to this page and click "like" to send a message to the victims and their families to let them know there are more of us who are compassionate for THEM not those who did this or allowed it happen or didn't report it or protect these innocent children!

      November 10, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Kamarasune

    So I guess if this happens to one of their kids in the future it will be ok if there are those that stand by and turn a blind eye let their children be abused...

    November 10, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Tom

    There is plenty of blame to go around but what about those that actually witnessed the abuse? They play the old game of Hot Potato and pass the responsibility to thier superiors instead of directly contacting the police when the see a 10 yr old boy getting rap3d?

    November 10, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Kim

    The children should come first, not hand wringing over the coach and how bad the football season is going to be. Are you kidding me! The students are all upset over Paterno? Heaven help us if this is what we hold dear, sports over the safety of children. I feel that any money that is going to be spent on any "exit" packages that anybody may get, should be put into a trust for the children. The coaches, the president etc. can rot. All I care about is the welfare of the children. I'm sick of hearing them mentioned as an almost after thought and the Mr. Paterno is mentioned first. The opposite should be true.

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