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. Paterno is not an accomplice

    It's really just a shame and this is not fair to Paterno and not the way he should go out. In 40+ years this man has been a mentor and role model to countless thousands. He has always stressed academics, personal discipline, values and integrity. There is a reason he is so well loved. You want to impugn his whole character over this incident you better look at all the good he did too – and remember none of us are here to judge. Paterno is not a pedophile. He learned of one incident and he immediately reported it to his boss and that's how it works. Of course his boss told him there would be a full investigation so why would he think he should go separately to the police he wasn't even a witness. And don't *assume* he knew of any other incidents these were, sickeningly, 10-12 year old kids in Shadusky's foster program how is Paterno supposed to know what goes on in the program.

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

      Paterno and many other were aiding the pediphile by not reporting him. He is and they are definitely responsible.

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

      I'll tell you why he should have gone directly to the police. The reported assault was a crime, not an administrative rule violation.

      Regulations = Adminstration

      Crime = Police

      November 10, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paterno is not an accomplice

      But in retrospect because it continued its easy to say, and in retrospect Paterno has now even said he wish he did more. But at the time, I think it's pretty clear, he immediately reported it to the director of athletics. I'm sure when he went there he was very concerned. Who knows he probably asked well what is going to be done about this. Don't you think if they weren't going to do something then he would have gone to the police. But he probably thought he just did tell the police because he figured they were already going to notify the police. What would be the point of his calling the police separately. They probably told him there will be a full investigation and as far as he knew that meant the police would get all the relevant facts including his report and McQueary's testimony.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. D-man5005

    Penn State and BYU are the only two colleges to not have any major offenses in their sports history. Ever stop to think that maybe they're doing something right?

    November 10, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. AthensGuy

    Hopefully, this will expedite the end of collegiate athletic programs, a resource consuming, fast growing tumor inside academia, and so, so pervasive to the Ameruican academic system.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Pennsyl-tucky

    They gave him time, he couldn't do it himself, so they did it for him. It was the right thing to do.
    Change was forced upon the "Nation"(?) (it such a small world there), and alot of people don't like it.
    I've lived in S.C., talk about life in a bubble, that's a big part of the problem, Big Fish in a small pond.
    Ya'll need to get a grip and move on, pick your heads up and try to do something good for somebody that truly needs it.
    If you think rally'n around a statue is gonna bring about change, or prove something, well, that dog won't hunt..........

    November 10, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  5. C Mac

    STILL trying to find out what Joe Paterno was fired for? He did nothing illegal. He followed the university rules and reported an incident within 24 hours of hearing about it. What is he guilty of again?

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

      He didnt call the police.....like any human being would have.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • CmonNow11

      Let me clear up your misunderstandings for you: your dont have to be found "guilty" of anything, or have to do anything "illegal" to be fired from a job where you are an at-will employee. He was fired because he didnt do more to stop the child molestation that was going on under his nose – in his own words, he "could have done more."

      Any more stupid questions?

      November 10, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mike

    If Paterno knew even a little of what was going on without contacting the authorities he deserves everything he gets, and his reputation and "legacy" deserve to be forever tainted. Next up, Mike McQueary needs to burn for seeing what he saw and doing nothing about it.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Chris from Oklahoma

    Left earlier comments.. don't see them now, nevertheless, I'll only say that this situation was ongoing.. University officials were all aware, the police were aware and had been for a long time.. Coach Paterno..? He runs the football program at Penn State. He's a faculty member. Penn State, just like any other major university has policy and procedure in place for faculty to follow.. even Joe Paterno. He followed the procedure and the process outlined by reporting the incident immediately. Sorry to say, it's not his job to follow the post career of Mr. Sandusky, or know his whereabouts 24/7. When Joe Paterno reported to his boss and the Penn State Administration, he got back to his responsibilities. Everyone needs to ask themselves if the police knew about the 2002 and previous incidents involving Mr. Sandusky, they were responsible to the citizens and parents and the individual victims involved, not Joe Paterno. You should be asking yourself why the administration officials, President, Vice-President, etc. didn't follow through with their responsibilities. Why didn't the police follow throught with their job? Whenever a University the size of Penn State makes policy change as they did in 2002 after the incident involving Mr. Sandusky by no longer allowing children..i.e., children of the players, alum and special visitors access to the locker room and shower areas of the football facilities, trust me.. the Board of Trustees also knew why policy was changed and were certainly informed. Why then did Mr. John P. Surma not call 911..?? or other trustee members? too important to get involved? you tell me. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Board of Trustees were well informed as to Mr. Sandusky's activities. Joe Paterno followed the guidelines designed by the University and followed them to the letter. Not his joy to make sure his boss or the President of the University is doing his job. That's the Board of Trustee's job..!! It would appear that the news media should be looking in to Mr. Surma's activities and asking why he didn't call 911. That's my opinion.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Becky Browell

    A brief note from a heartbroken alumna:

    Outrage. Disgust. Disbelief. Disappointment. Humiliation. Heartbreak. These are all emotions shared by a nation during the past several days as we learned of horrific, unconscionable actions of one man and subsequent inaction, enabling, or cover-up of others.

    The Board of Trustees, bullied by the media, nevertheless did the right thing in sacking the two most prominent figures involved in this travesty. If one is to believe the 23-page grand jury findings (which would turn even the toughest stomach), they probably should have gone further and canned Curley, Schultz, and McQueary.

    There is obviously a cancer in the administration, and it will take time to root out all of the malignant actors. I am confident the university will do everything in its power to this and to help bring a measure of justice, closure, and comfort to the victims.

    From the perspective of one who has bled blue and white for 32 years, I’m shocked and saddened. I’m not proud of the apparent inaction of the university faculty and staff. I’m not proud of how the board of trustees used Paterno as a scapegoat to deflect some of the media pressure and attention. I’m not proud of the way the board of trustees chose to notify Coach Paterno of his termination. I’m not proud of the students who rioted last night, but they do not have the benefit of perspective like the rest of us.

    I am proud to be a Penn State alumna. Penn State is so much more than this recent tragedy. There are over half a million Penn State students, alumni, and employees who had nothing to do with this and want to uphold the tradition and integrity and honor that this university stands for. In the past several days, something we held dear, something we fervently believed in, was obliterated. We feel betrayed. While the board of trustees moves forward, while all of the investigations and trials continue, and while more victims inevitably come forward, our family must remain resilient. Remember the victims. Support our students. Continue to represent Penn State they way we should- with dignity and pride. Remain Penn State Proud.

    For the Glory,

    Becky Browell, Class of 2001

    November 10, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jerry Sandusky

      Dork

      November 10, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • densal

      i guess i have a problem with the word scapegoat that keeps appearing in defense of JOPA / scapegoat means without blame / HE ADMITTED HE SHOULD HAVE DONE MORE / his not following through makes him just as guilty / he knew the man was not in prison / he knew the school was not punished / i worked for attorneys / if any action had been taken – he would have been one of the first to testify / none of that happened in a court of law / according to him, his involvement ended in that office making that report / WHAT HAPPENED TO THE FOLLOW THROUGH / HE IS NOT A SCAPEGOAT / HE IS GUILTY BECAUSE OF THAT / ASK ANY SURVIVOR WHO WAS LET DOWN BECAUSE OTHER ADULTS KNEW AND DID NOTHING

      November 10, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Sue

    What is wrong with these people...no one even cared about this poor child not even to find out who he was. Was he hurt? He was a 10 year old for gods sakes. Cry for your children they could be next you never know.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
  10. StupidPeople

    Any religion that believes in keeping little boy concubine is NOT ok!

    November 10, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
  11. John

    We would all like to believe that we would have done something about it. But the NBC show "What Would You Do" demonstrates that even for relatively trivial matters people look the other way. Ask yourself how many times have you or your friends said "my Gym Teacher is a bit 'strange' make sure to stay away from him" or for that matter about a Teacher. We all suspect, and we might even tell our parents, but we did nothing. And maybe seeing this from the outside, it reminds us that we should be better and do better than we did before.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      Hearing that your gym teacher is strange and hearing that he's in the shower raping a boy are about 3 universes apart.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Biff

      Yeah right.

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

    It's ridiculous that so many people on here are claiming to be the epitome of ethics and morals. It's very easy to say what you would or wouldn't have done when you are looking back at situation. Remember the case of the woman being beaten and murdered on the sidewalk, with about 30 people looking out their apartment windows witnessing the entire scene? Not one person called the police. Is that right? Absolutely not. But that is how people react to situations...hindsight is 20-20. Get off your high moral horses.

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

      The difference here is the diffusion of responsibility in the situation you allude to. Joe had a direct responsibility in this situation.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Renee

      Everyone that turned there back in this case are responsible. This has nothing to do with being in a "high horse" its doing the right thing. These innocent children will have to live what has been done to them for the rest of our lives, and it is our jobs as adults to stand up. Do I believe they are pushing too much of the blame on Patierno, most definetely, the school board should be help more resposible for dismissing this.

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

    ahhhh college kids, so idealistic, yet so out of touch with reality

    November 10, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Noel Tetreault

    So, who is the person that told Paterno about it? Why didn't that guy/gal go to the cops/campus cops...they are an accessory as well...the way the board of trustees at PSU handled the whole thing is a joke as well...send Paterno a FedEx with a note to call a number...call the number and get fired...that took a lot of guts (not) and that is why PSU is in this situation...no one there has the cajonas to do things the right way...

    November 10, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. HolyCOW

    there are a lot of pathetic humans at PENN>gotta love the gays.

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