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. AMH

    All the "Kids" causing a riot over his firing, OBVIOUSLY don't have children of their own or have never been vicitmized. If you have children you are disgusted by PATERNO's actions...or lack there of.
    If you have been a victim you are happy PATERNO is not getting a 'pass' simply because of his football status.

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

    A bit off topic ... but ...

    If I had witnessed the shower incident, I would have punched Sandusky in the throat and then ripped his balls off. Period. End of story.

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

    Basically, what you are saying is it is OK to sleep with little kids as long as it makes you popular and successful...

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

      But it is football and that is all Penn State cares about. They don't care about 10 year old boys taking it up the rectum if it means winning... Think about success... All those little children sacrificed in the name of success. Good job Penn State students. You really stand for abolutely dog chit these days. F U PENN

      November 10, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  4. josh

    In pic 6: "OH! They've encased him in CARBONITE! He should be quite well protected. If he survived the freezing process, that is."

    November 10, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Nikki Owen

    What is wrong with the students at PENN....they need to re-think their reaction to this...what if it were one of their siblings or family members??? I doubt they would be in the street wanting JoePA to STAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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

      More like: What is wrong with the Penn State Board of Directors?

      November 10, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  6. mo

    Did the college kids flip the van because the school press was canned? Didn't think so. Screw "We are Penn State"! How's this"We are humans" and should have called the police

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

    What I find amazing is that these 20 year-old idiots destroying the campus, clashing with police and screaming "JoPa forever", are not that far removed from being children themselves. The guy new what was going on, held God-like status on campus and didn't do enough. He so could have used all that power he has on campus to stand up,do the right thing and end it but instead, he just went back to the chalkboard to draw up the gameplan for Saturday. Not a "God" I'd be proud of following. The planet is tanking and this is just symptomatic of the problem.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jay

      These kids today are so misguided and have no idea about anything. They are childeren themselves. They have no idea about real life. What are they rioting for?...For what...'Jo Pa'?///almost all of them didnt even know who he was before they gor to school.....these are the same types ytou find at 'occupy wall street'

      November 10, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      Right on! They're essentially naive kids themselves. Meaning they lack the life experience and perspective to understand the enormity of what these charges mean. Late teens to early 20's is an age of selfishness and having the belief that you have a greater understanding of the world around you than you actually do. I would imagine that years down the road looking back, many of these involved with last nights events will be ashamed and embarrassed. I would hope so.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Jay & Jeff
      You don't have any idea what's going on in the world do you?
      These students were raised by their parents. Parents that are most likely your age. Those fault is that?

      November 10, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      Steve – I'm in my early 30's, but thanks for making assumptions.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      No, Jeff, I was right. You have no idea what's going on in the world; clearly.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  8. heyheyhey69

    I don't see what the big deal is. Just give the guy his job back.2

    November 10, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Don Quixote

    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,” I have heard this excuse in so many situations, from the Holocaust to Enron to Watergate to Madoff it is sickening. As an acadmeic, I am truly amzed by the level of group think and cult-like behavior on the PSU campus as evidenced by the demonstrations the last two nights. Believe me, when everythign comes out in the wash, and I do not think there uis enough $$$ in the world to buy people's silence on this, the students and fans who were supporting Paterno will feel foolish – if they have a conscience.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • EmmVeePee

      But see, nothing has come out in the wash. This is a knee jerk reaction which undermines innocent people. The media focused on JoePa because he is famous for his strong-morals. No one knows what was said to Joe Pa. No one knows what Joe Pa knows. Nothing has even been speculated, and what has been speculated shows that Paterno was in the right. Instead of firing, McQueary, Shultz, or Curley, they fired Paterno.
      People on these boards think that Paterno molested the children, or that he saw the children being molested, or that he covered up the molestation. Few have read the indictment, where it states Paterno reported it to the higher authorities.
      Anybody with any reason sees that the media just wanted to bring down Paterno because it was the best story, and the Board of Trustees listened.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Kathy

    Wonder what JP would have done had this been one of his grandchildren? Seems like he cared more about his reputation that than anything else. There is no other explanation to remain silent all these years. What a fool!!

    November 10, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |

      And you are a 'fool' for trying to compare a Working situation, with a Personal family situation. Chain of Command. That is why its around, and he made them aware. After that point, it was out of his hands. Start pointing the finger at the man you did the crime!

      November 10, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      PSU Alumni – that's what a PSU education gets you? That's a scary mindset for someone with a college degree from a great school. Paterno went to his higher ups. But after 7-8 years, this man is still walking free, potentially abusing more kids. You don't think that at some point you might ask 'what is happening with the case?' 'Are the police aware of what's going on?' I couldn't sleep at night knowing this man may be doing this to other kids, let alone coach a high-profile football team. Grow up and get your priorities straight.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |

      Thanks Jeff! Really learned something there......learned about your opinion. Nice to know!

      November 10, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Katie

      How do any of you judge him... I care about both children and football. I also care about the rights of a human being and whether or not he violated basic human principles has to be established and therefore I cannot bring myself to crucify someone based on what the media tells me. The pre-emptive firing of anyone before they have evidence is wrong regardless of what side you are on.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |

      Well put Katie!

      November 10, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Steve

    Child Rapists should all die. It's the worst form of anything. It ruins a child's life FOREVER.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. LadiesAndGentlemen!

    Meanwhile, the 51% found something to do other than make stupid pictures of notes they wrote down on facebook

    November 10, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Aftn

    There are so many people to blame. If I witnessed an inappropriate act on a child I think I would have attempted to stop the act....I am amazed that so many people turned their heads....and no one called the police. Even the some of the most harden criminals in the prison systems know that "inappropriate acts on a child are disturbing" I do believe that is why most of them are segregated from general population. If a criminal can figure it out why can't university employees figure it out? Glad I didn't get my education at "their great university".....and on that note....I have a hard time believing their students are caring....they have a reputation in the Big Ten as being horrific to visting teams fans and the event of spiting on opposing fans.....the whole school and all their idiots can fall off the face of the earth and no one would miss them!

    November 10, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Stella

    Rioting is an idiot's response in general, but especially in this because it diminishes what happened to those poor children. Imagine how it must have felt for them, finally thinking they'd gotten a break and someone to care about them, only to be cruelly exploited yet again. Paterno's response was a reflection of the times he grew up in, when people didn't talk about taboo subjects and lived in denial. I'm sure one reason he didn't follow up with the administrators was fear of discussing something so distasteful again. This does not excuse him. I do want to know why all I keep reading about is Penn State and their staff. What about Sandusky? What's happening to him and what does he have to say for himself? What about the grad student, what does he have to say? Where is that disgusting snake Sanduskey now and how are his victims being helped? Penn State should be on that and provide therapy for the victims and comfort.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  15. 16halo

    Matt and Chris do not assume that he did not speak to Sandusky about this or that he even wanted to talk to him about this. Let's not forget and this is not an excuse but the two of them are from a different generation.

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