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. margarita mixxe

    I have a hart time believing that NOT ONE person called the cops about this. Penn State is a disgrace

    November 10, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • C

      Did you know that the District Attorney , Ray Gicar msyteriously disappeared in 1998 after he opted not to prosecute Sandusky & Penn State. Seems he left home, they found his car- a laptop with a missing hard drive, the FBI was unable to get anything from it. car keys, wallet in the car. The stripped hard drive was found month's later in water in the vicinity where the car was found. Drag of the river did not produce a body.His bank accounts haven't been used, nor has he contacted his family, he was about to retire and had no financial troubles- they were recently allowed to declare him legally dead. The question is – why would this man go to such lengths to committ suicide. The FBI doesn't think he disapeared to help his famliy get insurance money. Hey- just saying

      November 10, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jack

    Wow, Penn State really loves their pedophiles.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  3. i_know_everything

    huskers 50- lions 0

    November 10, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. formerlyfreeAmerican

    Who was it that said, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."

    When these college students have children of their own, maybe they will understand how appalling it is that *no one* called the police or did anything further. Completely sickening.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bob

    We have a mass-murdering ex president happily living out a cushy retirement. We have traitors on the so-called "supreme court" that threw a federal election to put him in office and more recently ruled that outright bribery and corruption of politicans is protected by the First Amendment. We have many, many corrupt politicians that have greatly harmed this country. The situation at PSU is awful – but nothing compared to committing mass murder and bankrupting a nation by launching unnecessary and unjustified foreign military adventures. So – glad to see some accountability at PSU – but even there, tons of brain-dead students riot in support of a slime bag. What a sick, immoral country this has become.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Anchorite

    Why is there a controversy? It's clear those two should be gone. Think of it this way: if it was your son, or you, being abused in that shower, and you knew two people knew about it, but they didn't tell the police, and nobody was a brilliant athletic coach or his boss, what would you want to happen to those two guys? That's what I thought. Amazing how people bend their logic when they really like the accused.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Anna

    The board of trustees crucified the greatest leader in Penn State history, yet Mike McQueary, who had an obligation to report the crimes to the police and the ability to stop Sandusky in the act, still has a job.

    The moral obligation undoubtedly rested on Mike McQueary and the janitor, who witnessed the events, and the athletic director and the head of campus police, who were told of the events and had true authority to do something about it. Joe Paterno never saw anything and told everything he knew to his superiors, trusting that they would do the right thing! "He should have done more" is an argument that clearly shows no understanding of the situation.

    To the board of trustees, you crumbled under the pressure and martyred the greatest Penn Stater of all time to appease to a rightfully angry, but very misguided mob. Do you feel absolved in using the ends to justify the means?

    To the media and every bandwagon crusader trying to scapegoat Joe Paterno, I am disgusted with your pretentious sense of moral superiority, spreading slander as if a truly honorable man is secretly a monster with no conscience. Did you genuinely try to understand the situation in context before jumping to conclusions?

    This man dedicated 46 years of his life to unite and inspire Penn State, donated $4 million of his own money to the school, raised $13.5 million to expand Patee library, pushed his football teams to excel academically far above the national average, raised 5 kids and 17 grandkids to think for themselves, and has nothing but pride and respect for the people who so quickly turned their backs on him, yet you are convinced he turned a blind eye to protect his reputation? Such a person would never have reported everything he knew to authorities, and would have absolutely no reason to cooperate fully with the prosecution in Sandusky's trial. For one second, accept the possibility that you are horribly, horribly wrong.

    Joe Paterno, I have nothing but heartfelt sorrow and deepest respect for you. You are above reproach.

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

      A great leader doesnt allow children to be r a p e d in his house.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mac

      Joe Paterno is no scapegoat. I'm willing to bet you he knew Sandusky was a pedophile in 1998 when he "retired" at 55 very quietly and suddenly. He protected the program then and again in 2002.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. H. McCartney

    I'm sure it will eventually come out that Paterno knew about Sandusky in 1998 or 1999 when he quietly retired at 55. He went from head coach in waiting to retired because of concerns about inappropriate behavior with little boys. So the school let him retire and Paterno let him continue to have access to facilities. The incident in 2002 just seems like more of the same. Paterno minimized the incident in his report to higher ups in order to protect the program. In the end (pun intended) Sandusky was told not to bring the kids to the college. Okay to bang them just don't bring them here. Wow!!!

    November 10, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. rudix

    All the "good students" will look into the suffering of the kids and than get a little awareness....lofe is not football...thanks TheDimensionMachineDotCOM

    November 10, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. hey hey

    Why would these people get mad over stupid sport. Peoples lives are more important then an image. The ethics here are a little off. All the people supporting him are bit off their rocker. Can always find a new coach its just a sport! Kids lives have been ruined. I can think of all the professors that probably teach there to who are jerks to their students but they never get fired cause they bring in THE MONEY! Multiple universities around have crappy professors, but when their well connected and bring in the DOE. They seem to stick around which is unfortunate for the students. Fire them all!

    November 10, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ProperVillain

    I think the only people causing the "conflict" on campus are unthinking sports fanatics who apparently feel that as long as you can coach a team to victory, you get a free pass and can do no wrong.
    It's a game people, get your priorities straight. This guy turned a blind eye to child abuse and the only reason no one dared question him is because he has the useless ability to lead a football team. In reality this man has accomplished nothing but putting some numbers in a ledger that shows his team won occasionally.

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

    I'm sorry, but these are young 18, 19, 20-year old kids with no CLUE. Once they are parents themselves maybe they'll "get it". Until then their opinion is that of biased & uninformed.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • beth

      Maybe you should think that about this Kath. They feel bad and pray for the victums but they will defend their team because THE PLAYERS DID NOTHING!

      November 10, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tony1954

      If they're as cluess as you say, and actually I believe they are, then they shouldn't be able to vote. They clearly have no sense of right from wrong and have no ablilty to make a reasonable inteligient decision by putting sports over the victims of crimes such as these.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Elizabeth

    I would just like to say is for everyone to please stop this at once. I am not attending Penn State because i am currently still in high school, but i still wish to attend to the school. I understand that there are many people that are mad about what is going on and i am too. But i will just say this I am making the drive to go to the game on sunday because.....THE PLAYERS ARE NOT TO BE BLMAED FOR SOMETHING THAT THEY DID NOT DO! REALLY PEOPLE REALLY! I am going to suppor the team and not the coaches. Not only that but i will be saying a prayer for the victums. I have a little brother and i would never want this to happen to him, but please stop the comments about the players and students......THE STUDENTS ARE DEFENDING THERE TEAM NOT THE MEN BEHIND THIS AND WE ALL FEEL PAIN IN OUR HEARTS FOR THE POOR CHILDREN

    November 10, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • grammar Nazi

      @ Elizabeth...Study more, post less. Your spelling and grammar need your support.

      November 10, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
  14. rudix

    life is not football...look on the kids

    November 10, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  15. nvwikiwiki

    hese students should take a morals class. football vs child abuse? Paterno should have taken it to the Police. If these students are what we are producing in college then we need to take a second look at the moral characteristics of our teachers.

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