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. Richard K

    You ain't heard NOTHING yet.

    Penn State Scandal: Jerry Sandusky Rumored To Have 'Pimped' Boys To Donors: REPORT
    The Huffington Post Chris Greenberg First Posted: 11/10/11 11:29 AM ET Updated: 11/10/11 01:41 PM ET

    November 10, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  2. metamind

    And we think the Kardashians are dysfunctional?? Wake up all you JoePa lovers!!!!!!!!

    November 10, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. TK

    What is astounding to me is that these students raise more money for pediatric cancer research (through Penn State's annual dance marathon, also known as THON) than any other student run organization worldwide. The irony of this is absolutely lost on the students: they are devoted to THON fund raising and the pediatric cancer patients their fund raising supports, but can't quite wrap their minds around the fact that the administration, the athletic department, and, yes, their beloved Joe Paterno knowingly harbored a home grown campus pedophile for years.

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

    I think that this extreme emphasis on sports is making people lose their sense of perspective. A university should be viewed as a place to go to study and get a degree – that should be the primary aim of all students. Sports should be viewed as an extra-curricular activity and nothing more. I think one of the principal reasons for this cover-up in the first place was because the school could not afford to tarnish its image regarding its football team.

    De-emphasizing sports in a college environment will also raise academic standards overall – just look at how many academically sub-par students get admission to prestigious schools – with fat scholarships, to boot – just because they are star athletes. It's a shame.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Chris

    He failed as leader, failed as a coach, failed as a human being. Regardless of committing the act or not, he chose the easy way out of the situation, rather than stepping up.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Anton

    Why dont the majority of the people here check the facts before they post. Paterno reported to the AD AND the man who was the head of the police department at the time. How could he have gone to the police with a secondhand account. The man that SAW it happen is still employed by the school, as are the two men charged with the crime. How does that happen.

    Also to people saying that everyone is upset about Paterno because of football: You are wrong. This man is much more to us than a football coach. The things he does for the community are amazing, and unless you grew up here or went to school at Penn State you will never understand.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • BMcGee

      Fact: Shultz oversaw the campus police as part of his VP job, but he was not head of the campus police. Note: next time you witness or hear of a violent crime committed against a child, call the real police. You do not have to even witness it to report child abuse; you report suspected abuse as well.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • metamind

      Oh PLLEEASE!!!!! There IS nothing else in State College, PA but football. He knew of the 'allegations' but let this man in teh lockeroom with his boys.

      You may not have JoePa anymore, but you can rest assured this will be the most watched Penn State game in the history of the school -Go Cornhuskers!!!!!!!!!!

      November 10, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jolene

      AMEN!

      November 10, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Brandi

    How about MCQueary, a 6 foot 4, 220 pound man who actually caught Sandusky in the act? Why is he still allowed to coach if Paterno is not. He didn't stop it!? What about the Janitor? Neither bothered. SO who is the bigger dirtbag?

    November 10, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ed

    All these child molester should have their testicles removed. period.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mac

    Children were sacrificed for the program. Every football player at Penn State should be given the option to leave at season's end and transfer without penalty to any school that accepts them, with immediate eligibility.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  10. lou50

    Everyone protesting needs to be rounded up and expelled for moral turpitude till the rest understand they are in school to get an education and not support covering up violation of underage boys. either that reduce the age of consent for boys down to 9 and keep the girls at 18 so double standards will continue. It will be funny to see NOW attack that one!

    November 10, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Listen Up

    I have one question? Is Joe Paterno Catholic? "If" so, his mindset would explain EVERYTHING!

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

      ListenUp – Yes. Why couldn't you find that out yourself? Google?

      November 10, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ted

      Your comments are idiotic. If you lack the compassion to see the tragedy of the victims of these crimes and the fall out that the school will have then you should think before you express your comments.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • blueshirt33

      you are a moron!

      November 10, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • StupidPeople

      Father Sandusky?

      November 10, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phil4523

      Wow, did we (yeah I'm Catholic) do something to you personally? I mean.....what religion he belongs to really has no bearing on this issue.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Listen Up

      Sadly Joe's priorities are much like the churches! Joe Paterno and the Catholic faith should be so ashamed of their history!
      Enabling pedophiles, glorifying them even for the sake of "The Brand" is demonic at best. Thankfully those who put greed, glory and fame before the children will in time get whats coming!! I'd get of out Penn State as well as the Church as soon as humanly possible! Revelation 18:4

      November 10, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gerry

      I was stunned by how vicious Rosenthal of S.I. was via his comments of Joe Paterno. You would have thought that Paterno committed the crimes against the students that have come forward with their allegations. I have a family member in a very high level of responsibility with babies who reported misconduct to his superiors. Then, we nothing was done to implement corrective action, he threatened to go public. The fallout of his actions was so severe by going outside the chain of command that he nearly lost his job in the process. Sound familiar? The media needs to be more responsible in their witch hunts. Stay focused on the one who committed the crime. The media should not be trying to profit from the most famous name in this case. Stay focused on seeking justice, once the legal process has been completed against the one who has been accused of the actual crime once the accused has been found guilty.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  12. John

    I believe that the best thing we as members, past and present, of this University can contribute something to help the victims of Sandusky and the self-serving indifference of these other men involved. CAn we not put aside our near blood thirst for justice and instead redirect our energies to an outpouring of support for the victims? Can't we focus instead on getting them the help they need? I remember a Penn State that fanned across the entire eastern half of Pa to ask for donations in support of THON. I remember a good natured student body full of ideals and wishing to help others (partying aside)

    Let's bring back that side of the Penn State that made people proud...and let's allow true justice to take it course.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dennis C. Pence

      John – This is what the U.S. used to be like. How about stepping past Penn State and asking the entire country to step up. Or maybe we just want the government to do it for us.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. This Guy

    WOW>>>>>This is hilarious. For 6 years students,alumni, fans have been trying to get rid of old Joe.....Now you want him to stay???? Is Penn State that boring of a college where you cry for someone to stay that does nothing good for your program.. How about we learn to lead students...You guys like little boys up there, Its been time for to change up the staff.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • AthensGuy

      Idon't think PennState students have any sense of moral values . The only (ONLY!!) issue here that actually deserves any attention is the repeated abuse of children at university-owned facilities. All support should be to the victims of such abuse. Cant those jocks see beyond football? Back to class, students!

      November 10, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al

      The students and alumni are not a monolithic body. Neither is the U.S government. (Notice the two parties plus some independents in Congress?)

      November 10, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. ArtisticLicensing

    All children are victimized by these situations. As an adult volunteer that provides guidance in athletic, academic and professional situations, I know that I must plan carefully my interactions when coaching, tutoring or mentoring. These types of instances make it even more difficult for good adults to work with kids. I have resorted to audio or video recording coaching and tutoring sessions just for my own protection. The upside has been that the kids can then replay the coaching or tutoring session. The downside is that somethings that kids might have share with me confidentially are not shared.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Eric

    Herp derp, you stupid Penn State protesters. Why are you sticking up for Paterno? He informed school authorities and never bothered to follow up with it? Where's his conscience and sense of justice? Your St. Joseph was complicit.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Not followed up? The indictment didn't say that. That's been a big assumption passed off as fact.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • s

      Seriously? I know what its like to be in Paterno's shoes. I had to deal with a similar situation without having substantial evidence that the molestation in fact did occur. Its the right thing to inform somebody, but what else can you do? At some point, he still has to go on living his normal life. I could not make a certain little girl admit to anyone she was touched inappropriately, but there wasn't much else I could do. People act like everyone has to behave as if they have the power to right every wrong they come across. Its never that simple, and just because the accusations occurred does not mean Paterno knew who to believe, especially when he probably thought he knew Sandusky better than he did. Everyone, get off your dang high horses and cut the guy some slack. He notified officials. Its not like he completely disregarded the situation.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike in Pekin

      S – Are you nuts? No evidence that it occurred? It was reported to him by an eyewitness! This wasn't heresay.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
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