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. bubba

    who gives a dump about paterno??nobody...move on people...

    November 10, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. PA Liz

    First of all.....get things straight – Paterno couldn't fire Sandusky – he no longer worked there, he retired 3 years earlier. So, no Joe was no longer his boss. Sandusky had access to facilities as part of his retirement package.
    Secondly, seriously the person most at fault is McQuery, the assistant. He walks in on a child being assaulted and just walks away???? REALLY? Not try to protect that kid, punch Sandusky, call the cops.....something other than scoot on out of there? Incredible. Could be why the NEXT day Paterno didn't think it was serious.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • fairshare2

      I wonder if these 2 twerps who knew about and witnessed the abuses have children of their own? If they do, I hope that the prosecutor's office opens an investigation focusing on these 2 criminals home.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. streetheat1

    I want to know when assistant coach Mike McQueary is getting canned. If he's the one who saw the heinous act being done , he could have physically saved that boy. Instead he tells Joe who tells someone else, who tells someone else and so on. Bottom line is that back then in 2002 they all knew that the football program would be rocked if that got out and football is big $$. So now it's out, the football program and the whole university is rocked. The only difference is that more kids have been assaulted since 02.

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

    PENN STATE is a bunch of ENABLERS.. TAKE THEIR FEDERAL FUNDING and LOAN MONEY and tell them to clean up their act.

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

      Yeah tear the whole place down. As a matter of fact nuke the whole state of Pennsylvania they are all a bunch of creeps!!!!

      November 10, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. tinafey

    I am beyond confused on why people are crucifying Paterno as if he committed the crime. He didn't commit the crime, nor did he witness it. When the information was reported to him, he told his superior. Per policy, i'm not sure what else he was suppose to do. People always want to tell someone what they should have done in a situation when they aren't in the middle of it.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • brian murphy

      let me clue you in since you seem to be confused as to why paterno is being burned at the stake. the truth is EVERY adult from the student that initially saw it, to the rapist, to joe, to the people joe told to the janitors to EVERY ADULT who was made aware of this situation and NO ONE CALLED THE POLICE, or beat the living hell out of the rapist or did nothing to stop this horrific crime from occurring or continuing ALL OF THEM should be tarred, feathered, and put in jail. "joepa" just happens to be the most famous so he is getting the most attention, but make no mistake. every single one of the adults who did nothing to stop the crime is a coward and should be put in jail. all of them,not just joepa. if you REALLY think that because joepa did what his work contract told him he was supposed to do, and that when he was made aware someone might be abusing a 10yr old child and he did not directly intervene that because he did what his contract said that he should be forgiven......then you are a really mixed up and confused human being with no soul. so if you were told someone who works for you was naked in the shower with a boy your reaction would be to check what your employee contract says you should do to determine how you should act ....that would be your response? get a grip

      November 10, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • ChicagoGal

      Three words;

      Guilty by association.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Gal

    Sandusky sure did get his hand slapped a lot. This story is disgusting. Football and the school reputation is so much more important that adults abusing children. I don't know how any of these people can sleep at night. And Joe's wife standing next to him and supporting him??? How would she feel if this happened to her grandchild? Disgusting.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • EmmVeePee

      This is the problem with America. You're associated Sandusky with Joe Paterno. Paterno didn't molest anyone, nor did he enable Sandusky to. Paterno reported something he heard (hearsay) to the higher authorities.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  7. bubba

    jo pa is more than likely a child molester sure it will all come out in the wash in due time...

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

    Wow! So far, Mike McQueary is really skating by on this one. He was 28 when he saw a grown man SODOMIZING a 10 year old boy and did NOTHING to stop it, when he could have saved that boy! Instead, at 28 years old, he called his daddy, who must be a fervent Penn State devotee ,and tells his son, no police–just tell Joe. Yeah, just tell Joe.... And then, Wow! nine years later, lucky Mike ends up being the receiving coach for Paterno. Next to Sandusky, he makes me literally sick to my stomach. He needs to be fired and he needs to apologize for not doing a damn thing! He may look like a man, but he's a coward to the ninth degree!!!!!

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

    Maybe they should call it "Pedo State".

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

    The great state of PA has spoken. Pedophilia is acceptable as long as you're a good coach. He could become a catholic priest as well. He's got the proper credentials and experience.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  11. WishingWell

    I hope an asteriod takes out the Penn State football team so this will never happen again.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • C

      Your comment is absolutely rediculous. period

      November 10, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  12. runnerjen

    I don't really understand why people are rallying around these men. Their actions, while questionable from a legal standpoint, were morally wrong. Yes, Paterno did report to his boss. But no one thought to call the police or do any more than tell the next person up and that's what is so wrong. If someone had made allegations about one of my co-workers, I would have been nosy as hell to find out if it could possibly be true, told a supervisor, and done everything in my power to keep it from happening again. Instead, young boys were brought there year after year and abused. They may have done the minimum they were supposed to do in terms of legality, but they failed as human beings.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • WishingWell

      F your excuses.. Hang them from the highest tree in the county until they LEARN.

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

      Oh get a clue! Joe didn't do anything wrong!! The person to blame is the freaking grad student who didn't go to the police!! He was the only one with first hand knowledge of what happened, and therefore the only one would was in a position to report the incident. What was Joe supposed to do? "Oh, hi there. I heard from a student that something bad happened." Seriously, what the crap? If I called the police and told them someone told me that someone else did something, what's the first thing they'd say? "Did you see it happen?" "No." "Then we can't help you. If your friend wants to come down and talk though, we'd be happy to listen."

      So, unless Joe told the student not to go to the police, then this is 100% the student's fault. Joe did exactly what he was told to do in situations like this and ignorant people like you want to crucify him for it!

      November 10, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • LEANNE

      I totally agree. I read the Grand Jury investigation and Joe Paterno coached with Sandusky for 23 years, he was there to see all the boys that Sandusky paraded around the field, to games, to coaches meetings, picnics and special events. When he was notified of the abuse he should have and probably did put 2 & 2 together and realized this was a very serious situation that needed to be reported promptly, as he did, but the problem is his moral judgement by not following up and making sure something had been done and that someone was investigating it so that there was no chance of it happening again, but what happened was it wasnt investigated and it continued to happen. Everyone wants to pass it on, turn the other cheek and not be responsible for their actions but when it comes to abuse of children everyone that let this slip is responsible – ultimately the University. Even though it happened 10-12 yrs ago I bet if you ask those young boys it still affects them today as if it happened yesterday.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  13. JohnnyDontBelieveIt

    Those punks that tipped over the news van would have been better served tipping over the dumb bronze statute of joe.
    What is up with you sports fanatics?? Waahhhhhhhhhhh....our coach shouldnt be fired....waaaahhhhhhhh....he didnt do anything. Thats just it....HE DIDNT DO ANYTHING. FU penn state. Bunch of pedophile protectors.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  14. WishingWell

    Penn State = Allowing Gay Men to Put their Penises where Penises don't Belong for 20 years..

    November 10, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      gay =/= pedophile, you cretin.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Truth-Bomb Thrower

    I'd love to do a political poll among these pro-Paterno students on campus. I'd be willing to bet that 90% or better are eagerly anticipating voting for Obama next year.......and then they'll be whining because they don't have a job when they graduate. FOOLISH, IMMORAL, SPORTS-OBSESSED, SPOILED LITTLE BRATS!!

    November 10, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Actually their behavior is more in line with conservatives, what with their lack of priority, integrity and ethics.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • JohnnyDontBelieveIt

      Since your making this political, I'd be willing to put MONEY ON IT that they are mostly repulicans. Don't forget T-BOMB......JOE PA WAS MAKING $1,000,000.00 A YEAR. I'll bet you think he's a democrat too, genius.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
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