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. Lori

    Seriously? Now we're gonna crucify every employee of the Penn State Athletic Dept. because the AD chose to look the other way? What has happened to us? This reminds me of the Salem witch hunt and trials. Get a grip people. Punish the guilty........not those who were innocent bystanders.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kiki

      Innocent? I do not think that word means what you think it means.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wulf

      And who is innocent that knew of the abuse? Are they innocent for knowing and doing nothing?

      November 10, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • manhandler

      No, we're not gonna crucify every employee of the Penn State Atletic Dept. Only the ones who knew what was happening and did nothing and allowed this sick man to go about his evil business, From this guy McQueary, on up.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • tolerance isn't always a "good thing"

      Lori, if you know someone did something terrible and you fail to act to prevent further harm and/or begin justice for the previous victims, YOU are guilty as well. Those who are in a position to stop harm and who choose not to are just as guilty as those who perform the criminal act. Crime exists EVERYWHERE because people like you tolerate it. STOP IT!

      November 10, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Witches weren't raping children moron. There was a moral obligation involved as an educator and a human being.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Devil Dog

      Lori,

      Joe Paterno was told that his asst. coach was molesting a 10 years old in the football teams shower. All he did was tell the A.D. Are you kidding me. Everyone who knew and did nothing should be held accountable. Period.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Footballfan

      There is NOTHING innocent about an iconic person of massive authority (Paterno) turning a blind eye to the obvious horror. Rather Sandusky is found guilty or not (of course he will be), the GUILT by OMISSION of Paterno to fully investigate the allegations brought to his attention...is inexcusable. Stop drinking the Koolaid. p.s. McQuerty needs to go as well. All he had to do was step into another room or his car and call 911. Easy peasy.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tyler

      If I see someone raping a child, or hear about it and do not report it because the rapist is famous then I would be guilty of being part of the crime. Not an innocent by stander.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laura

      I think a lot of the posters are missing the point here. Sandufsky was not the only guilty party because the first response should have been to stop the abuse that was happening in the shower. The grad student should have jumped in that shower and pushed Sandufsky away from the child, and then told anyone who would listen (including the police) what he witnessed. Instead, he walked away, leaving a vulnerable child in the position of continuing to endure the abuse that was going on at that moment. He reported it to Coach Paterno, who reported it to the AD. Why didn't the grad assistant call the police? Why didn't Paterno call the police? Why didn't the AD call the police? Doing little to stop Sandufsky's behavior left other children at risk. Understand now?

      November 10, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. rudix

    What is the question dumb-is....think about the abused kids...thanks TheDimensionMachineDOTcom

    November 10, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Anne

    Paterno failed to all those kids being abused and molested once and again. If he would insist until Sandusky is out of the College, if he would contacted Police so Sandusky would be arrested, these horrific things wouldn't happen to so many little kids. And now, these students asking to Palermo stays up to the end of the season is failing again to those children, like if a season is more important than what happened to them.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. manhandler

    I'm sure the vast majority of students at Penn State don't share the views, or approve of the tactics, of the misguided mob that we saw last night. In years to come, as these kids move into adulthood , I'm sure they're going to say to themselves...."What COULD I have been thinking?

    November 10, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      10% were there to support Joe. 20% were there to show support for the school. 70% were there because they are morons who wanted to see themselves on TV or YouTube.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. susan

    This university has mishandled this situation from the very beginning. There have been many people involved with this mess yet the finger has been pointed at Joe Paterno. It just highlights for me how much there needs to be a NATIONAL dialogue on not only the abuse of children, but abuse in general. People are so freaked out when presented with situations such as this that they basically just shut down. We need education and a system of communication that addresses exactly what to do if you are faced with something like this and calling the police is just not enough. How can we expect people to call in the law against others that they respect and love...even in the face of such heinous behavior? The problem is far too deep seated and pervasive to expect law enforcement to be able to deal with all of it. This is NOT a legal problem. It is a HUMAN problem. I'm not suggesting there be no punishment; I'm suggesting we start dealing with this behavior BEFORE we have to incarcerate people.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • tolerance isn't always a "good thing"

      Susan, it starts at home with parents who should teach all their kids that (1) bullying and similar acts against others is wrong and will not be tolerated, (2) if you are bullied (or similar), please seek help at the following places.... and (3) if you see others bullying someone else, (a) DON'T ignore it, (b) verbally tell the bully to stop and (c) acknowledge the bullied person instead of shunning them and alert authorities if necessary. This behavior thrives because people tolerate it. When kids are busted for misbehaving outside the home, parents DEFEND their kids instead of hearing the evidence and punishing the kid if guilty. Mothers will hide their kid even though they know their kid just killed somebody. People need to follow truth, not genetics.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. surfsouthbay

    This is amazing. These kids drank too much of the Penn State BS kool-aid. Its like they are brainwashed. The guy is an acomplice in covering up one of the most horrific crimes to happen in a university organization and they are going to support him!?

    November 10, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  7. JFry

    What happened to these kids is a tragedy and what the media is trying to do to JoePa is almost as much of one. He knew about one allegation and took it to his bosses. It was an allegation, he did not see anything happen. The media is making it look like he knew about all of the instances of the abuse. Why is no one questioning why the person that actually saw it happen, the real witness not just hearsay, why they didn't take it any farther until now? Why is it so important to tear down an 84 year old sports icon for headlines? Joe Paterno is and always will be a legend to a very large number of poeple and I am one of them.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • manhandler

      Sorry..... that doesn't cut it. Reporting this kind of horrific crime to your immediate superiors and then letting it drop makes him complicent to all the molestations that occurred thereafter. The guy that saw the shower scene is a 6'5" behemoth and instead of intervening, he went home and told Daddy? HUH??? And then it just got worse from there.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • ultimate responsibility

      He's a legend who failed miserably at a critical point in time...and because of that, perhaps the boy in 2002 (or many others since) were subjected to horrible abuse. He wasn't responsible for the initial abuse at all...but HUGE MORAL FAILURE AT THAT POINT.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      So Joe Paterno knew nothing about the shower incident in 1998, while Sandusky was still coaching? and Sandusky's retirement in 1999 at age 55 was just a coincidence? Think about that for a minute. Was the 2002 incident the first Joe knew about Sandusky's problem, or did he find out in 1998 and force him out in exchange for sweeping the whole sordid incident under the rug and hoping it would never happen again?

      November 10, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. likeiknow

    Why isn't Sandusky's face platered all over the place?

    November 10, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  9. omission = comission in negative value

    Kudos to Penn State trustees in the effort to begin cleaning up and restoring integrity to the school again. Lies of ommission are just as bad as those of commission. If it's heinous and you know about it, it should be reported to the proper authorities to get the activity stopped. If your family member was being abused and someone knew all along and did nothing, would that be ok because that person was a good football coach?

    November 10, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Hill133

    The NCAA should give Penn State the Death Penalty. Their football program should be completely destroyed. Even were the NCAA to actually take a stand and penalize them, unfortunately, it still won't erase these children's experience at the hands of this monster nor return their childhood.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • MB_31

      That makes no sense! Why would you punish the 2011 football team for something that happened in 2002?? Not to mention the fact that the football team is made up of students who have nothing to do with what happened.

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

    Oh give me a break. I hate that the kids were lost in all this but everybody acts like this man did the deed. He didn't.
    You all have such high moral standards sitting behind your computers. What about the freaking guy who witnessed the
    horrible act itself. (McQuery) He still has a job. Joe Paterno is not a heartless man. He reported what was told to him. Upper management should have taken care of the rest. Honestly calling people idiots and gee coming up stupid acronyms shows how brilliant you can be too.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kiki

      And after what he had been told by his trusted student and after keys taken etc, he saw this monster with at least 5 more at risk little boys from the charity at games and other places and chose to turn a blind eye even though he knew what this guy was capable of.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • choopychups

      Yes, high moral standards. In Afghanistan I had an entire command's worth of Officers tell me to put gear on an Aircraft that would have killed our pilots because it was not working. I refused. I was fired and sent home early by those coward Officers. But not before I demanded to speak to the 2 star general about it. I did, the equipment was fixed properly, and we avoided killing our troops. That's courage, Diane. Or would you rather I had just done the wrong thing and had a few more troops sent home DEAD because I didn't have any courage. Moral courage. Get some.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • BMcGee

      And you are very casual about child abuse sitting behind your computer. Anybody who knew anything should have called the police. Sandusky has been arrested, and he will be dealt with in a criminal trial. Also for the two administrators. McQueary will probably get his soon, just watch. Do you really not see why most decent people have a problem with the way Paterno handled what he knew? It was not enough – morally, ethically, and it could be argued to be insufficient legally.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Douglasson

    What about the guy who FIRST saw the incident and related it to Paterno??? Shouldn't HE have called police? Where is his responsibility and accountability??? And that guy gets to stay on as asst coach???

    November 10, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • DEpley

      He should be in big trouble too. Why he hasn't been fired so far is a mystery. But his lack of moral courage doesn't excuse Paterno's lack.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. choopychups

    There are a few moments in each of our lives when we are called upon to have COURAGE. Real courage. Like reporting abuse without worrying about how people will "hate" you because the abuser is such a nice guy, or good coach etc. Think about what went through each person's mind as they learned of the Penn State abuse situation, and about how they ALL CAVED into being COWARDS. As humans, lets earn from this. Doing the right thing is unpopular amongst cowards, but the victims sure do appreciate it.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  14. banasyc

    [sarcasm]These students are fine people.[/sarcasm]

    Forgot the font.
    Sorry.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  15. flyonthewall

    Give all of this hype a week and it will be swept under a rug and forgotten.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • manhandler

      You've gotts be kidding. Right? I'm sure this is just the tip of the horrific iceberg. Don;t try to wrap your mind around it 'cuz it's truly unfathomable.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
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