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. LadiesAndGentlemen!

    I give you the pinnacle of western civilization.

    Remember, these guys are our future. And that future is planking.

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

    For all the people who feel that Joe Pa is being used as a scapegoat and that he should have been allowed to finish the year as head coach and retire with dignity, ask yourselves one simple question: How would you feel about the man if you were one of the victims ?

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

      I wasn't sandusky's victim but when I was a child I was molested by a trusted adult male. I don't judge 60+ years of service to the community based on a tragic lapse in judgement. Not so simple now is it.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. At the scene

    Footage showing light-post coming down and injured/maced person in street.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. JimmySmack

    Oh, no rubber bullets? I guess there weren't any war vetrans present to shoot in the face.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jeff Davis

    "Coach" "They gave me a job for life to keep quiet" McQueary should be fired as well. It is a travesty that he will be on sidelines this Saturday.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bryan

    Clearly this student body president is a level-headed fellow and I suspect his sentiments are widely felt throughout the campus. I'm sure emotions have been running high for everyone and the firing of their beloved coach was the straw the broke the camels back. These are college kids, after all, I'm sure that they don't really value a coach's career over justice for these victims. Just let them cool down for a bit.

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

      Penn state = Paedophiles..

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

      I graduated from Penn State and I'm a CPA not a pedophile. If I were given the chance Mr. Sandusky would become a Mrs. Sandusky via a butter knife.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. trigtwit palin... America's favorite tard baby


    November 10, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Laura

    Maybe people shouldn't be supporting Paterno, but he was seen as much, much more than a football coach at that school. And to the people of State College and the surrounding area. In all honesty, he was more like an indirect father figure (or grandfather figure) to a lot of people. If your father or grandfather was in this situation, how would you react to it? Would you abandon them completely?

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

      He wasn't a father figure to the poor boys who were sodomized.

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

      Sigh. You clearly missed the point of my post. And actually, I would beg to differ with you. You have no idea what those boys thought of JoePa...I would guarantee they idolized him.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Truth

      The students of Penn State are a far cry from the old Penn State protesters. You should be ashamed of this guy supporting the abuse of children.. No 10 year old child deserve to have a penis shoved up their rectum for a stupid football game. F U Penn State students..

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

      @Truth: I'm not normally a name caller, but you are an ignorant idiot. Paterno isn't supporting child abusers and neither are the students of PSU. Please start thinking intelligently.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. kevin

    there are only three people responsibel for this mess at psu and of them is not the football coach please bring back joe p he is a good man

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

      Seems to be too late for that. Poor Joe has been tried and found guilty in the court of public opinion. A court, I might add, that is filled with idiots.

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

      Millions for Football are more important then having Chester the Molster on your team.. Good job Penn State Students!!! I hope you are on unemployment for the rest of your stupid idiotic lives you worthless piece of dog excrement file bankrupcy for your worthless debt you will wash away on the rest of us taxpayers..

      November 10, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jennifer M

    (We firmly believe that Joe would never turn a blind eye to something as sick and disturbing as this, )

    A grad student *told* Joe tha the *witnessed* Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy. Joe was well aware of this. He did report the problem to his superiors, and yet he continued to see Sandusky lurking in the locker room, with little boys around, year after year after year. Paterno is smart enough to know that pedophiles do NOT change. He should have called the police.

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

      Penn state has been DISGRACED. Shut up and sit down your Penn State Fans.. Football doesn't mean you can do whatever you want with 10 year old children.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Anthony

    Why was Paterno fired yet the Tim Curley, the school's Athletic Directo,r was not – he's still on leave which is not the same as being fired? Curley is facing charges and Paterno is not...sounds like the administration wanted Paterno out and thought this would be easier than not renewing his contract.

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

      His contract was up anyway.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Spaz

    Ironic that the real culprit is getting the benefit of a fair trial while those who did the right thing and report the abuse up the chain of command are getting shafted. I can see Joe being let go – AFTER a trial and IF a guilty verdict is handed down.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  13. heyheyhey69

    I don't see what the big deal is. Just give the guy his job back.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Truth

      He allowed this pedobear to sleep with 10 year old children. Fcuk Penn State, and F U you piece of dog chit.

      November 10, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Norasusan

      You stupid twit. Paterno had a MORAL obligation to see this through to the end. The end being Jerry Sandusky's arrest. It wasn't enough to report the sodomizing of a 10 year old little boy to his boss. It might have relieved him of his legal obligation under the letter of PA law, but Paterno's inaction following the report will never, ever be excused.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jeanne

    i wonder what the new name of the school will be??? maybe they can name it after the first kid who came forward....its scary how fast an establishment can fall at the hands of the devil and a bunch of cowards who hide in men costumes

    November 10, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Aaron

    My problem with this is based on the indictment, the whole town knew there were rumors of this going on but there was never enough evidence to convict Sandusky. Everyone from the president to the janitors knew this was going on. University Police, State College Police and Child Protective Services knew this was going on but yet everyone is focused on Paterno only. If he is guilty than the rest need to be found guilty as well. State College Police and Child Protective Services both need to be reviewed as well. Focus should not be on Paterno but the system as a whole.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
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