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. Marie

    I think it is horrifying the people still continue to rationalize this man doing nothing about a 10 year old boy being abused. Joe Paterno was part of the establishment that turned a blind eye to the abuse and he needed to suffer the natural consequences of his actions. I don't feel sorry for him, my heart and feeling go out to all the young boys who were molested after the incident in question, who never would have been harmed if Joe Paterno was man enough to report it.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  2. edvhou812

    Heath Evans had a lot of good points about this situation on the Jim Rome Show today. He was really emotional, but he still made a ton of sense. Paterno getting fired was the right decision.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jen King

    If anyone has any doubts about the extent of what was known to Paterno or the others, go to the Washinton Post and read the Grand Jury Report. Sandusky is a MONSTER. A classic diagnosis of PEDOPHILE. He stalked these boys by text message, by phone, became irate when they started to ignore him..he is a sick, sick man. He needs to be locked up for life w/ the key thrown away. This man has no business being in society, period!!

    November 10, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Amanda

    I hate that the News is really messing this case up. They are focusing on Joe Pa, when they should be focusing on Standusky, the one who actually committed the crimes. If they news had not done all of this excessive coverage and misdirection then maybe this could have been handled better. Another thought while I'm at it, why is Joe fired when he followed the law and passed it up when the guy who first saw it happening, who walked away from it and then told his dad about it and not the police, still have a job? He had the ability to stop it right there and he didn't.

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

      dumb

      try thinking more about the kids than your dirty old coaach

      November 10, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bill

    yea yea, CNN. Penn State 'firings' playing on the alleged "Kent State" massacre in the 70's. I like how you have a black and white image of college age people right below it. You're so clever.

    This is part of the whole 'nation descending into protest and riots' psychological operation.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  6. MJH

    I understand that he is responsible for not taking action when someone told him about this act. What I don't understand is why the person who told JoePa, didn't go directly to the police and report it or even go to the police after telling the coach. That person didn't follow up either and is just as responsible, but nobody is mentioning this. Probably because the that person is just a nobody and wouldn't cause as much news.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • BMcGee

      Actually, you are about the 500th person who has mentioned it. I don't think they are through with McQuery. I bet something will be happening soon with him.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Concerned

    Old people always look over accusations like this. No excuses however.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Barbie

    Paterno, the AD and the university president had to know about the 1998 charges and investigation by the DA at the time, Ray Gricar. The investigation lasted for weeks, and surely involved questioning some of Sandusky's coworkers. Sandusky pretty much admitted to the charges, but the case was closed with no one charged. The DA went missing in April 2005, and was declared dead this past July. This is going to be a lot like the Catholic Church scandal, far reaching and filthy.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. bcfb

    Next thing you know we'll be hearing that Joe 'taika the pipe'....

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

    Now let's remove that silly statue of him from the campus !!

    November 10, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  11. TK

    I will be graduating from Penn State in December and I live in State College. I am also someone who feels the firings were justified. I absolutely grieve for the children involved.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Corpral Hicks

    I say we take off and nuke Penn State from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.

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

      great idea..NOT..why bother even to post your view?

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

    I just want to scream. I have a younger brother and that this is wrong what sandusky did, but hey there it is LETS PAY ATTENTION TO SANDUSKY AND NOT THE TEAM AND STUDENTS. THE STUDENTS AND TEAM DID NOTHING BUT SANDUSKY DID! PEOPLE GET YOUR HEADS OUT OF THE GROUND!

    November 10, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Brooke

    Yes, Paterno is a great football coach. And yes, Paterno is probably a decent human being. He did do the right thing by taking the information to his superiors. BUT, if I saw one of my colleagues molesting a child, or heard that one of my colleagues was molesting a child, I would take it to the COPS and then to my superiors. Even if he would have taken it to his superiors first, why would he just let it go when he realized they weren't doing anything about it. Think about the children's lives that could have been kept from this horror if only he would have spoken up. It sickens me to think of the number of people that knew about this but yet did nothing. Is that what this world is today?

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

      One of your colleagues is molesting children.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  15. just

    It is really bad for the young boys they will be quiet and definitely do not want to talk about their past but they will be really depressed and psychologically disturbed for the rest of their life.It should be bear in mind that the university body knowingly cover up the allege crime just for the sake of their fame and football. It would be hard to go to police and report at that time but the university should have taken a serious step , this would have saved the further abuse of these kids by this Monster.

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

      Why would it be hard to go the police? I’m sure it is a lot harder for those young innocent boys to tell their parents or speak up to someone. Who knows what Sandusky told them would happen if they did. Sometimes what is right is not always easy and what is easy is not always right. It's just an awful thing that it had to go this far. Being an adult, and a person with power for that matter, Jo Pa should have stood up for the innocent. He did not. His silence and unwillingness to step up allowed this to continue. He made the situation worse by not following up to make sure action was taken. Just goes to show that silence kills.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
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