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. MollyBee

    The word "sports" should never come up in this conversation. Something is amiss when people riot for football when what appears to be many innocent children have been abused over many decades. Sometimes I wonder what is wrong with Americans and where our civility has gone. Get a grip, sports fans.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  2. JohnRJ08

    What is there to be 'divided' about? If you are working in a bank and you witness a bank robbery, you don't go to the manager. You dial 9-1-1. Joe Paterno knew a crime had occurred, but he went to the 'manager'. One time. Then he dropped it. He NEVER dialed 9-1-1. Why? Because he was either stupid or he was trying to cover up the crime to protect his organization. What are these children protesting about? Do they actually support Paterno after all this? What have they been smoking up there at Penn State lately?

    November 10, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. tldixon

    the sub humans that want any of those creeps to stay would put a sport before children's safety-all perverts

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

    No one called the police. That's the bottom line. They knew, and they did nothing. Shame on all of them. They were more interested in preserving Penn State's image than in doing anything for the victims.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Haley

      Joe Pa reported campus POLICE. those of you who say otherwise have been misinformed.

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

      Haley, Haley........Shultz is not the campus police. As a VP, he oversaw the campus police, and we know how that turned out. Big difference in talking to Shultz and dialing 911.

      November 11, 2011 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  5. realist17

    Penn State or Pennophile state. you heard it here first. Who will make up the shirts and the bumper stickers.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  6. us1776

    Penn State, a campus that needs to get its priorities straight !!

    .

    November 10, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  7. grvol

    Paterno should have retired years ago then he could have avoided any tarnish on his legacy and possible criminal charges in the future by claiming dementia, "What happened after 1998? I don't remember nothing." As senile as he already is, everyone would have believed him.

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

    someone please explain to me here where are the parents of these victims? there is no way this would have happened and the news and police would have been notified years ago. Have the victims been paid off years ago?
    i guess i have to sit and wait for the reason to be answered

    November 10, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike in Pekin

      Ths guy was working with at risk children. They may have been children of single parents, or wards of the state, or whatever. Bottom line was, Sandusky used his position and nororiety in working with this organizations, which was supposed to be helping these kids. He took advantage of the trust and hope that these parents and their children put in him when he said he was there to help. This is not any fault of the parents or the kids. Sandusky is a pedophile, and Paterno, McQuery, and the rest in the Penn State organization were enablers. When any one of them saw that nothing was gong to be done, why didn;t any of them go to the police? Not even an anonymous tip to the authorities? Doing what is legally required will keep you out of jail. Doing what is morally required keeps you out of much worse!

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

      What do the parents have to do with a pervert raping their child?

      November 10, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • BMcGee

      Why would you think parents would have been paid off? Read the grand jury report so you will know the story.

      November 11, 2011 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
  9. David M

    The focus needs to be where ever the investigation takes it. I suspect there are more stories of cover up to come. The one focus that's not needed is on a bunch of idiotic 19 year old kids all bent out of shape because the football coach was fired. They need to see the bigger picture and realize a lot of kids were forever scarred by an animal, and he was enabled because others tried to cover it up. That's what they need to be upset about. Not your football program.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. dachsmom

    Listen up–What kind of ignorant, bigoted statement is that to make? Go back under your rock!

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

      Perhaps YOU where not listening the first time! 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 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. professor

    Let's take a step back here-Sandusky is observed abusing a child and it is reported to Paterno and then the AD and then Univ. administration. Lo and behold, Sandusky retires. It isn't a coincidence and numerous levels of the university knew the dirty secret, including Paterno. They all fell way short on the morality scale, they all hoped it would be forgotten and go away, and now they are beginning to pay the appropriate price. Any PSU students bent out of shape over this need a lot more courses in logic and ethics in their curriculum.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • snarks

      All liberals are the bottom of the pit losers. They have no idea what is real, what is not real. Same reason this coach couldn't simply hand this sodomite over to the FBI. He held it in, he did it the liberal way. He should leave, and everybody protesting at the college should be forced to go back to highschool. Why would anyone protect a person who practices sodomy on a child? Only liberals can make up an excuse for that one.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Carol

      I totally agree. Every person that saw any of this behavior and didn't follow through and report it to police should be fired.
      I also do not like the fact that Sandusky is free at all. His crimes are so egregious that he should be held without bond. He did commit murder on these children. There is a really good chance that they will never lead normal lives. Throw the key away football fans.

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

      When Joe got the report of the assault he should have gone directly to the guy, flattened him, and then called the cops.

      He didn't.

      He failed.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Daniel

      I couldn't agree more. I was victimized by a female relative from the time I was 4, (to my memory) until I was old enough to fight back. I am 67-years-old and to this day, when anyone of either gender gets physically "too close" (about 4 feet or so) I immediately move back. People tease me about this, not knowing the source of my sense of danger. I can only imagine what a horrible trauma these children have to live with. Resign? Fired? I'm holding back the tears. Anyone who has any questions about this, in my opinion, is complicit, in not to abstract a sense of the word, not leagally, of course, but morally , and shows a lack of empathy and a lack of an interior life.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. snarks

    bunch of loser liberals. Then again, all liberals are the bottom of the pit losers. They have no idea what is real, what is not real. Same reason this coach couldn't simply hand this sodomite over to the FBI. He held it in, he did it the liberal way. He should leave, and everybody protesting at the college should be forced to go back to highschool. Why would anyone protect a person who practices sodomy on a child? Only liberals can make up an excuse for that one.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • CmonNow11

      I have read a bunch of articles about this and have not seen one addressing the political leanings of the people involved. Do you have any support for your dim-witted comment? Right, didnt think so!

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

      Let's see – a poll recently came out that most conservatives are religious. The catholic church is obviously conservative. Remind me how long the conservative catholic church covered up the fact they knew about priests molesting children. How much money have they paid out in settlements to victims? Perhaps it's time you stop drinking the Jesus juice served up by Fox News?

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

      The slobberings of the knucklewalking right.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  13. scott

    Should Paterno have been allowed ot finsih out the season? YES! Is he part of the problem? Possibly only if he had knowledge and failed to do anything about it.
    when a corporation does wrong we hold the CEO accountable.....Ebbers, Koslowksi, etc......The abuse of small children in the stadium locker room by an assistant/former assistant coach had to have been known to many including Paterno. He is morally repsonsible for having NOT taken appropriate action.
    Let's not let the story be about Paterno and NOT the victims....

    November 10, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • CmonNow11

      And why exactly should he have been allowed to finish out the season? Are you one of those, but-hes-old-and-the-best-coach-in-the-world apologists??

      November 10, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shocking...

      All Paterno had to do was report the abuse 10 years ago when the grad student first told him what he witnessed. Had he done the morally responsible/right thing 10 years ao he could've finished the season (and more) and still gone down as a hero, both on and off the field. He probably would've been considered an even greater hero for speaking out for the victims and preventing more from happening. He should NOT be allowed to finish this season because he chose football over the innocent lives of the victims. Simply astonishing that people can think otherwise and that the students acted like morons last night with the riots. It’s an education they attend college for, not football.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  14. hass

    Bout time sports are cut down several notches. Too much attention on them from the money and gambling.
    What are we? The hell with football. Was Penn State a football academy?

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

      Yep I agree...seems like the lure of sports kinda blinds the peoples eyes from the upper monsters of expliotations. Makes you wonder if he became a coach to expliot boys while riding that high glory horse of football as a blinder.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • BKS

      I never liked sports anyways. Had to many incounters with rude kids all into that stuff. I rather windsurf.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  15. watash60

    well there is some hope for Penn State. I thought all you had were dumb head liberals..

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