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. Bob

    The whole situation is a tragic story. And it's sadly ironic that a lot of the students who were protesting Joe Paterno's firing at Penn State last night were about the same age as that 10 year old boy back in 2002.

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

    Sidenote: How much money did the university waste on that stupid statue? Do they have a statue of another faculty member that has been there just as long? I suppose not. The American (and worldwide obsession) with sports is not only unwarranted but it is a huge waste of money and resources. I'm not saying there should be no sports but, come on people! There are more people out there and going to college that ARE NOT in a sports related field or program. Distribute the money around the campuses evenly. Ugh, so tired of brainless jocks and their lame programs hogging a fair chunk of the cash at most Universities. It really is a senseless waste of money for a small minority of people....

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

    Is everyone forgetting that there was a grad student who witnessed this whole incident and did nothing.....he did not pull Sandusky away from the 10 yr. old boy, he did not call the police he phoned his father. Then, reported the incident to his boss. To what extent of details he told Paterno no one knows yet. He was not as graphic as he was to the grand jury. Yet this person who witnessed this disgusting act first hand was able to accept a coaching job and stand on the sidelines everyday and unfairly even still this Saturday knowing what happend. Why did he not go to the police since he is the only eyewitness? He followed the chain of command, so he did enough in the eyes of the trustees. Why is Paterno being made into this monster by the media. When there was someone who has been able to live with these images in his had for years and been able to sleep at night. He kept his mouth shut...even tighter than everyone else.

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

      Because Paterno is supposedly a "leader" on campus and should have taken care of business instead of turing a blind eye. Are you that bedazzled by Paterno's ability to coach a team in a game whose outcome that, in reality, makes no real difference to anyone that you want to find a scapegoat to absolve him of blame? Wow.

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

      You're right, the grad assistant you witnessed this should not be coaching either. That doesn't change the fact that Joe should be removed from his position. Joe did what he was obligated to do, but he didn't do EVERYTHING he could have done. A man in his position could have and should have done more. It doesn't matter what others did. Stop deflecting and deal with the reality that the well being of children is more important than a stupid game. I love football, but at the end of the day, it's just a game.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Tea Party Express

    The Liberal Breeding University of Penn State needs to be shut down and destroyed. All diplomas declared void and all mentions removed from history. It is an abomination in God's Eyes and is a drain of our tax dollars.

    November 10, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • PSU ALUMNI

      O yea and this will solve everything! Please.

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

      That is the smartest, most lucid, logical thing I have heard in years.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tea Party Express

      @fellow posters

      Thanks for your support! SPREAD THE WORD! We must unite with God to destroy this evil forever!

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

      Well you guys need to go ahead and get the moving! Penn State shouldnt be the only place shut down and destroyed if thats what you stand for! Be gone, on to the next one! Safe travels!

      November 10, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  5. berman

    This is SO much more important than the IAEA report released this week which definitively shows that Iran is racing towards a nuclear weapon and may be only 1 year away from having the capability to build one. Thanks for giving top billing to the stories that are really important and have an impact on the world. The fact that World War III may break out over the IAEA report is much less important than a geriatric college football coach getting fired. You rock CNN!

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

      this is world news / other countries relish in the news that reminds us that we are not perfect / which we are not / how could we be / when an entire system to include JOPA and every other adult that did not FOLLOW THROUGH to make sure the children in the program started by a PSU coach were safe / HOW DARE THE MEDIA FOLLOW UP ON SUCH AN UNWORTHY STORY / seriously / what world do you live in if this is not worthy of world news / who determines that – you / i find it interesting to know the character of the people running a school and a program that my children, nieces and nephews may want to attend / that their welfare comes second to a school's football program

      November 10, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Buffy Singleton

    Your headline asks "where the FOCUS should be??!!" ON THE VICTIMS!!!! And finding out what REALLY happened - and prosecute the pervert!!!!

    November 10, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  7. mapexvenus

    Here is what I find interesting. Neither the boy who saw the incident , nor his dad who heard about it called the cops. Wonder how they've been sleeping.

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

      The "boy"? The one you're referring to is on staff and is 28 years old (yes, the one who called his dad).

      November 10, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • mapexvenus

      @Datch, thank you for correcting me. Makes the situation worse doesn't it. Two adults who knew about the incident before the coach didn't report it. Not saying that the coach should get a free pass, but aren't the first two accountable too? Why aren't there any eyes on them?

      November 10, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Michelle

    I am confused. Why were there young boys showering in the Penn State locker room?

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

      They were part of a program Sandusky founded for at risk boys.

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

      ok, thanks...i missed that somewhere...taking advantage of the disadvantaged. what a shame.

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

      They should have been in the shower period. Did no one find it weird a late 50 early 60 year old man is in the shower with a 10 year old boy?

      November 10, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jen King

      And he continued to have access to PSU facilities after retirement so he would take them there.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JPK

    So the coach gets fired because he only told higher-ups and not the police; um, what about the grad student who supposedly reported it to him? (And is seen as some kind of hero!) Even if he was going to give the university a chance to take care of it, once he realized nothing happened to the abuser within say a week, why didn't HE call the cops? He thought telling one person was enough to clear him of culpability? How many more kids got hurt because HE didn't do the *moral* thing?

    November 10, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • dean

      The coach at Penn State is a higher up. In fact, there may not have been a loftier individual at that school.

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

      The ego that goes with college sports is astounding sometimes; I absolutely think they were right in firing the coach, but I don't think the grad student deserves any accolades. He contributed to any further acts as much as the coach did..IMHO, of course...

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

    No one thought to make an anonymous call to Child Protective Services..they don't release your name when you file a complaint/concern...

    November 10, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Well..

      Well close. Sandusky actually was investigated by a Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare agent in 1998. They didn't do anything about what they found. Hmm, where is the media calling for the head of that investigator?

      November 10, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  11. buzz

    In this country, we love to see the mighty fall. We prop people up and then love to see them come down. Look at how mainstream media looks very similar to tabloids. I'm not saying Paterno is innocent, but the vitriol to string him up is amazing. He did not commit the crime, and he did report it as per policy. Those he reported it to covered it up. Should he have reported it directly to the authorities? Well, hindsight being 20/20, yes. Why don't you put yourself in his position? If someone who works for you came up to you and said that someone else who works for you was abusing children, would you pick up the phone and call the police immediately? What if those allegations were false?–you're done, right? And you will likely get sued. Policy was to report it to higher ups, remove the suspect from positions of direct contact of children, and conduct an investigation. If corroboration exists, then the police are notified. I think Paterno followed policy, and I don't understand why the masses want his blood. You should want the blood of the people who committed the crime. Why are you so quick to want blood? The next blood the masses want may be yours.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • dean

      "Why don't you put yourself in his position? If someone who works for you came up to you and said that someone else who works for you was abusing children, would you pick up the phone and call the police immediately? "

      YES

      November 10, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jen King

      The GA gave him a vivid description of what took place in that shower. His initial reaction should have been to tell his boss and take the steps to contact AT LEAST campus police. Paterno is a teacher, therefore a mandated reporter. I work in the field of social work. I am a mandated reporter myself. If I'm on a call and know of abuse and or see it taking place, I DO NOT just call my boss and leave it be. I call the Hotline myself, immediately. My boss has no say on whether I should hotline someone. It's my decision and mine alone. In my opinion, the GA should be held accountable as well. I would have had a hard time just leaving the lockerroom. I would have had the guy by the balls and he would have had a hard time walking away. They all failed the kids..and now the student body, by supoorting Paterno and crying out for his return, are failing the kids as well. No Coach or program is bigger than what took place.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Lisa

    Why weren't people this angry and furious at the Catholic Church in calling for them to fire bishops, archbishops, and the Pope? I guess when it's done in the name of religion, it's okay. I wish this hypocritical public and the media would hold all civic leaders this responsible when bad things happen to innocent people.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      You got it backwards. There WAS anger, a lot of it, aimed at the Catholic ministry for the child abuse coverups, and you must have missed a lot of news if you didn't see it. There was even more anger when the US church and members of the Vatican turned a blind eye to it. However, the anger you're seeing here is in *support* of the coach, not against him. It's like a crowd rioting in favor of a bishop who knew about a priest's abuse when the Diocese decided to boot him.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • KNS

      Unfortunately, Lisa, we cannot fire priest, bishops, cardinals or the pope. We are stuck with this male leadership in the Catholic Church and for those of us who were horrified by what took place, we stopped going to Mass, we stopped donating to our parish and we looked to support other programs within the Catholic Church, many run by communities of Sisters. I think that is why I am so upset with this, having been through it for so many years within the Catholic Church. I am happy Coach Paterno was fired and I hope he and Cardinal Mahony in Los Angeles spend the rest of their lives knowing that they are to blame for the many victims of child abuse because they did nothing.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Tea Party Express

    Yes. And God will destroy them for their sins as He so lovingly destroyed Sodom.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  14. abh123

    The school was right to fire him, no one should every let a child be abused by a monster! I'm surprised they found a way to sleep at night!

    November 10, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Realist

    Don't leave the gays alone with little boys.. And this could have been avoided.

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