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. Krb

    Joe Paterno should be in jail. He put the football program above the welfare of a child. Enough of this crap, poor Joe my ass, he was looking out for himself and the football program. How many other children were molested while he did nothing? He's as guilty as Sandusky.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  2. STEVE

    Kids – exactly what one would expect from children – a Temper Tantrum cuz they didn't get their way, LOL I'd guessing the 'Firing' came about because they couldn't 'cover-up' this stuff anymore and are trying to 'distance' themselves! Sorry, but the 'damage' has been done and you're all going to pay! Yep, those Tens of Millions of Dollars of Revenue from your Almight Football is going to go away – Too Bad, Sooooo Sad!!!

    November 10, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Gannt

    November 10, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Whome

    The beauty of the whole thing is after all this plays out and the suits are settled we will all be taken it up the _ _ _ through higher taxes to pay for this mess and the big wigs will take their money and run.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ken

    I think the school should have waited until legal proceedings determined which facts are real, as opposed to whatever indictments or grand jury findings say. All a grand jury does is determine if there seems to be enough evidence to proceed to an actual trial. That's it. They don't investigate the allegations all that closely. After the real facts are determined a full jury in a full trial, then maybe fire people. Until then, the alleged perpetrators should be put on administrative leave. Because the PSU Board of trustees didn't wait for the facts to be determined in a court of law, however, the firings of the school president and the head football coach have overtones of a lynch mob mentality.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Tom

    What should Paterno have done when he got the reports? What would he have done if the child was his grandson? The response should be the same, shouldn't it?

    November 10, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yonder20

      McQueary is the real core of the problem with no one doing anything.
      He SAW it happen – did nothing.
      He then went home. Slept. Called Paterno THE NEXT DAY.

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

      SHOULD be. Wasn't. That's why the man is a shameful disgrace and a selfish coward.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  7. hihohiho0

    Zero tolerance for child abuse – ZERO. ZERO tolerance for anyone who suspects/knows but does not follow-up.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • jimbob


      November 10, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • buzz

      I think the lesson to be learned here is this: if you know anything about a potential child abuse situation, you need to contact the authorities asap or you will be considered part of the coverup. Abuse of children and those who cannot protect and defend themselves are among the most hideous crimes. It is cancer, and Paterno should have known better. He's a political player.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Norasusan

      You are absolutely, dead-on right!

      November 10, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Yup

    We should jam a football up his ass 🙂

    November 10, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • greg

      i am going to shove a football up your ass

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

      If you'regoing to do that, then do not spare those wealthy donors, many from foreign want a list of the names?

      November 10, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Will

    Don't forget the children. Period.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  10. one71721

    Go to fox and look at the picture of McQueary...he's a HUGE DUDE...he could have taken Sandusky down and saved that boy...but no, he went home and did nothing. What's worse is he's still on the coaching staff.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Paul

    This proves that organized sports has no place in schools.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  12. toadears

    I am sorry to say this, but Joe Paterno did help cover up the crime. Both the grad student and one of the parents went to him personally. The parent actually met with him at his home and told him what was going on with the 10 year and the an**al act. I hate it, but he covered it up. He was still the greatest coach Penn State ever had and it is a shame that he leaving on this note. As for Sandusky and that college President....boiling oil on vital organs is too good for them.

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

      Everyone of his wins amounts to spit now. They mean absolutely nothing. The "great" man of morals, when it came down to it, had no morals at all and proved only to be selfish and self serving.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • espsu07

      Where did you see that one of the parents went to Joe Paterno? Because I read the grand jury report several times through and never once saw that in there. Check your facts before you speak.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  13. mo

    I really can not feel bad for Parerno. If I saw what that grad assistant saw, i would have ran in pulled Sandusky off the poor kid and punched him in the face and kicked you know where and CALL THE POLICE while i held my foot to that old sickos neck. And as far as those college kids standing up for Paterno, most of them do not have kids so, whatever, please sit down college kids. I am a college grad, i remember thinking I had the world all figured out in college, when i really didn't . Now I have kids the ages of those hurt and i would want Paterno to turn the guy in, but no, we wouldn't want to tarnish Penn State football program. Think about it people. Who cares that poor JoePa is fired. He lived a good life. Those boys will
    have to drag around what this monster did to them the rest of their lives.

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

      Well put. Too bad it had to be put at all.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Freddy

    I wonder how this will affect high school seniors thinking of applying to PSU? I wonder if some or many will back out.

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

      Many. I hope.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Tea Party Express


    This is how the liberals flush tax dollars down the toilet. I hope we get a good, honest and god loving GOP President that abolishes the State University System. JUST SAY NO TO BIG GOVERNMENT TELLING YOU WANT TO DO, SPENDING YOUR MONEY AND TOUCHING YOUR CHILDREN

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