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. Bzarr

    Paterno did exactly what he should have done. He reported it to his superior. Paterno is not a cop, he is a coach. He should never have been fired.

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

    It IS about more than just the university and the football team. It's about the victims AND it's about cleaning house of all the administrators that ENABLED such behavior to exist and acted to cover it up in the past. How can you truly honor the victims by allowing those responsible at any level to continue in their roles?

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

    This university President, Graham Spanier, has a very weak face and looks like another pedophile to me. Will be interesting to see how this really plays out. I blame Spanier and McCleary for everything. And the perverted perpetrator, Sandusky, of course. And how about the fact that this investigation involved local law authorities who have sat on these charges since 2007?

    November 10, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ranch111

    Penn State students that rioted are all pedophiles.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Notexactly

      They rioted because a man who did what he was supposed to do, reported it to all the right people that he is supposed to do, and as his employee hand book and state law says, he let them take care of the situation. The people who had a duty to take care of the situation are the ones that got arrested for not doing the right thing. And to save face, the BoT made Joe Pa out to be the escape goat. Lynch Joe Pa. "See we are doing what is right by firing Joe Pa. Keep your intention on Joe Pa for blame instead of the University and BoT."

      November 10, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Whome

    Where are all these people who are crying now for the children when we have been killing them through abortion all these decades, sounds like a double standard to me?

    November 10, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • ann

      This is really not the time or place for that type of comment. They have nothing to do with one or the other.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  6. BrianP

    Bunch of privileged idiots upset over the wrong thing. Morons.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • romney for president

      Herman Cain is an idiot.

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

      The guy basically protected a pedophile because he didn't want to make waves by calling the police.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • ann

      Exactly

      November 10, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Notexactly

      Um no. He followed his employee hand book as well as state of PA law in notifying superiors and letting them hand over case to proper authorities. Hence why he was not arrested like the superiors were for failing.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Typical Penn State Moron

    Joe Pa is innocent. If OJ, Casey Anthony and Hitler were all innocent, so is Joe Pa!

    November 10, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Lonewolf

    Coach did the right thing by reporting to his boss. Most of the people that is shooting off at the mouth is like the news people. They all want to blame Joe for it cause he sells more papers then the rest would. That's how the world is so messed up. Gotta think of the green it sells. Coach come to UofK they need a coach.

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

      Hey, he didn't do the right thing. The right thing us reporting it, investigating it and going to police so no other kids get hurt. It is like your clueless

      November 10, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • badfish007

      I agree with your concept that green (money) rules. That is exactly why JoPa and Penn State officials chose to sweep this under the rug in 1998 & 2002, because if would have cost the Penn State football program and the university millions of dollars. Now, because they allowed Sandusky to continue molesting children for another decade, it will costs 10 times as much money and the reputation of the school and coach have been ruined. I guess the original decision to sweep it under the rug didn't turn out so well!

      November 10, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • brian murphy

      if you believe that you are clueless. let me simplify this. a person is told "hey, i just saw a guy who works for you naked with a 10yr old boy in the shower" (forget any other detail about what was or was not going on) that ALONE should make ANY NORMAL human being go "WHAT?" storm into the shower and grab that guy and either drag him by the ear to the cops or sit him down while you wait for the cops to come and get him. the fact that you think ANYONES response to hearing someone is naked in the shower with a boy is to "call your boss" and you think thats the right response. shows how absolutely clueless you truly are.

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

      Even UK wouldn't touch Paterno. Best Wishes, U of L.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Tiger2

    Their parents should be ashamed of them. Whoever is paying their tuition is wasting money that could be better spent getting those victims the mental and physical care they're going to need, probably for the rest of their lives.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  10. 16halo

    Laura, the fact that he had second hand knowledge does not excuse his inaction or reaction to the situation. He was in a position to take action to protect these young men, but instead he took the path report and denial and this person continued to work under him. This is a prime example when we misplace our values. Perceived reputation was more important than the harm that was inflicted.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mr.Man

    And what about a detective and PSU officer who got the former assistant to simply say he wouldn't shower with young kids anymore? What happened to them? Paterno did his job by reporting it to his superior just as the assistant coach did.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Mitch

    It's a disgrace that Penn State fans would support Joe Paterno. Since when is a win-loss column more important than a child's innocence? It was a disgusting tradgey that happened, a heinous oversight by Paterno, and a STUPID reaction by Penn State fans who support him. We are... Penn State? You ARE terrible people.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim Dandey

      Since when is a win-loss column more important? Since always. Hello- you live in America...

      November 10, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Palmer735

      What if it was Joe PA's grandson? Would he have just told his Sup. or kicked the guys A– and then told the cops........

      I would not been able to just walk away like it wasn't a child being molested.............Sick REAl Sick...........and the fans STILL support this guy...................Penn St. fans that still support this guy should not be trusted around ANY CHILDREN

      November 10, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jim Dandey

    It's a shame that JoePa was the face of PSU; if he weren't there to create that football program, would the college even be known for anything else? Doubtful...

    November 10, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. a voice

    Just like everything else it is all abouot the money.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Dave

    Excuse me...... Has anyone been been proven guilty, has anyone gone to court, faced a jury of his peers and been found guilty? That is the first problem ,,,the news media and the puiblic have everyone involved in this tragedy, either directly or by assosciation, as guilty, crucifide, soon dead and to be buried, huh? If that was not the picture currently painted do you think the over reaction by the students would have occurred? The students were wrong for what they did, but the reason for doing so was not. Joe Paterno deserved nothing less than to be able to coach his remaining games and leave the school with dignity, he did nothing wrong............... Clean House, it should be the so-called representatvies (Trustees) of Penn State who so calously expelled a man who dedicated his entire life to the school they call theirs, they should go, how dare they do what they did and say they had no choice, what?

    This is America is it not?

    Second problem..... Joe Paterno did what any athletic coach would do when a potentially serious situation (unproven accusation) with 40 years of coaching experience and active interaction with young people; he took the matter to the people he should have taken it to, the school administration, it is their job to handle these types of allegations, not for the football coach to directly invove himself in the matter. They should have immediately started an internal investigation, if anything provided any indication of impropriety by the accused then they notify the police for a possible criminal investigation. Coach Paterno was not responsible for notfying the police about an accusation against one of his coaches. Just ask the school trustees and the school administration what the rules and regulations require of their staff concerning unproven, unsubstantiated claims of inappropriate conduct by an associate staff member. I know it is not go directly to the police, do not pass go and don't tell us before you do so....................Don't be absurd!

    Third problem.... It is just now being pointed out that the media either by design or by influence failed to report on the developing case from the initial story involving the accused and the victims: instead the focus immediately became a Penn State football problem and a Joe Paterno problem..huh? The media ran with a comment from a staffer stating that Joe knew and did not report the incident to the police, now the story explodes into Joe Paterno as the problem. Sad...

    This is another prime example of what has happened to America's ability to report and tell an accurate story.

    Of course we do not know all the facts and this is obvioulsy going to get ugly, but I will be willing to bet that in the end Joe Paterno is not the bad guy. I'll bet he is proven to be what he has portrayed for his entire life, the best he could be for his family and his school. Joe Paterno should be allowed to finish this year of coaching.

    I am not a Penn State alumni nor do I have any affilaition with the school or the state other than I used to visit Lancaster, Pennsylvania from Fort Bragg, N.C. with my best friend Ernie who was from Lancaster. Ernie, as myself, were Green Berets stationed initially at Fort Bragg with the 7th US Army Special Forces Group. Ernie was killed in Viet Nam in 1967. He gave his life for his country. I only mention that because tomorrow is Veteran's Day.

    The media needs to stay clear of the victims and leave them alone. If the accusations are indeed proven then our legal system should decide guilt, innocence, release or penalty.

    Do not hound them for their stories, if they want to discuss the matter they will, leave that to them. I am sorry for what they have endured and pray that they are healing. And now, in my opinion, we have additional victims who should have never been made so.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rosebud

      Dave – thank you, thank you for your comments!! So well put and so right!

      November 10, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gabs

      This would have been in front of a jury a long time ago if Paterno and the rest who knew about it had called the cops when they became aware of it. No excuses.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • woodofpine

      So you're saying a criminal conviction of a pedophile is required for an employer to terminate Joe. And if the pedo gets off because of statutes of limitations (due to U Coverup) its back to 'business as usual', "Welcome back to the weight room Jerry!" ('Keep the buggerees off campus.') Get real and stop blaming the media! A bit more concise wouldn't hurt either.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Palmer735

      DAVE:::: you must have not read that this SAME Perv was caught and admitted to doing this to a child in 1994?????

      November 10, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Klaw

      It's really very simple; you hear a serious accusation about someone, you report it – which Joe did. You don't see anything happening with that serious accusation, you report it again. You continue to see this person working with and hanging around young boys, you report it again......again and again and again until someone HEARS YOU. Saying the Joe did what he was supposed to and nothing more is ignorant. There is a moral obligation for every single human being to protect others, especially children. YOU DO NOT TURN A BLIND EYE. Joe may not be guilty of any crimes. He's guilty of allowing it to continue on his watch.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      Yeah – I don't have time to read all this – do you have the Cliffs Notes version??!!

      November 10, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Norasusan

      Thank you for your rambling rant. Read the Grand Jury's findings. Enough said.

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