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. rix

    1st of all Pray for ALL the victims. As for the Penn State Athletic Dept,Administration there are NO Words to express what a lot of us feel , SHAME would be one and if rumors are true then Federal Officials will need to take down ALL who were involved in this Sick Cover Up , because that is what it is a HUGE Cover and those that are guilty YOU know who you are!! Students and Football players i pray that you all will do what you have to but do the "Right Thing For Those Kids" who were victimized.Money , Greed and Power always blind those that just can't see, unbelievable !! Sad just Sad !!

    November 10, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. JustaMomof2

    The students 'cheering' for JoePa(et al) are no different than he is...persons turning a blind eye to a horrific crime, and embracing the short lived legacy of a sporting team. As a mother of two boys...I'm sickened by the lack of concern for these young boys(victims), I'm sickend by the crowds wishing a winning/lucrative college season over morality. As a middle aged frumpy extremely unaltheltic woman..if I had witnessed this vile abuse I would have ripped that man limb from limb..or in the very least..died trying. If I had even an inkling that a 'friend/coworker' was engaged in this sorid behaviour, I would have stopped at nothing to see that a just end was obtained. The day a 'college football team' takes precedence over a childs life...is the day We as a society need to shut it down. To the boys/men that came forward..Thank you for saving others..and if I could I'd take away your pain...that's what Mom's do...

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

    Wow....you people truly amaze me. The public wants to crucify Catholic clergy that supposedly knew about an incident, but the minute a praised football coach is accused of doing the same thing, he MUST be let off the hook. What a bunch of hypocritical BS. I, myself am not a Catholic, but respect the religion and I see nothing but hypocrites that try to attack the religion and the clergy. Paterno KNEW of the incidents and did not do enough to ensure the safety of the boy(s). Paterno is JUST as guilty as the evil man that preyed on these young boy(s). The media is so liberal-minded and our country is on a fast downward spiral. The students that are standing behind Paterno will soon find out the truth; they should all be ashamed of themselves for supporting a man that was a part of this.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Whywhywhy

    Why are whites guys always doing this kind of crap?

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

      Pent up frustrations with their inadequacies with women

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

    What Sandusky did was UNFORGIVEABLE. I know, as a parent, what I'd do if that happened to my boy and I knew who did that to him.
    That said, was ANYONE there? Does ANYONE know ANYTHING about exactly what was said to Paterno? I sure don't. So, I can't personally conclude if Paterno firing was just or not.
    At the same time, I do feel for the guy. It's not like he ignored the situation. He reported it up. Could he have done more? Yeah... but really depends on what actually happened when he was told. I know lots of people who when reporting a situation will say something like "well, I'm not sure what he was doing, but...". WE DON'T KNOW. He's done. Let it rest. I just hope he's still given credit for the football stuff he did. This reminds me of Pete Rose. All the actual accomplishments wiped out in one instance. That's not right. Justice is Justice. But Facts are Facts – and Paterno has had an impact on the football program. I only wonder, if anyone actually confronted Sadusky after all this was reported? I think so, but what actually happened? I really don't know. I wasn't there.

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

    If JoePa would have spoken up he would have been a hero. Instead he must hang his head in disgrace. Terrible story.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ed

    Pennhofiles State

    November 10, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Paolo V.

    don't understand how people can be on his side. People wake up!!!! He knew about it and did nothing. Those boys must be thinking "way to go Paterno. You knew about it and did nothing to help us"

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

    Just when I thought PSU's reputation could not sink any lower, the violent protests by the PSU students absolutely sickened me. These young people better get their priorities straight. There are many chldren who have been scarred for life here. THEY are the victims, not Paterno. Paterno was one of several PSU personnel that allowed this sick pedophile to continue to molest these little kids. Paterno does not deserve the affection PSU student body is displaying. He deserves to be persecuted for contributing to the perpetuation of child molestation. PSU students have amply demonstrated that they severely lack judgment to tell right from wrong. For all the parents of PSU students, this is the sad state of education your hard-earned tuition money is buying at the Pedophile Sodomy University. And for the rioting students that proudly chanted "we are Penn State" on CNN last night, well, right you are!

    November 10, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
  10. wgmb

    America, quite correctly, complained when bishops didn't deal with priests. Now if we are talking about sports where the administration didn't deal with it, it's ok? You must be kidding!
    The administration, including the coach, knew about it and did nothing about it. Nothing was reported to the police or DA when it happened.
    Now coach Paterno wants to pray for the victims? If he would have done what he was supposed to do, there would have been fewer victims!

    November 10, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Steve

    Have any of you actually read the entire grand jury testimony? Joe Paterno did not know the extent of the crime. The AD and Vice President of the university talked directly to the witness, implying they were investigating the situation. HE WAS NOT A COACH AT THE TIME OF THIS!! Joe Paterno had no control over anything that he did at this time. He wasn't a coworker at the time. For all he knew, the investigation was completed. The media has made it look like he was covering it up, but no where in the grand jury testimony does it say he knew any specifics of what happened. Check your facts people.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paterno is not an accomplice

      Thank you. I really don't get this. It is like a tidal wave of judgment and ignorance. This is like a textbook example of why scapegoating works. You blame someone and people assume they are guilty. If you just look at the facts, there is no reason to think Paterno would know any more than one incident – this was all going on in Sandusky's foster program who else would know. And then don't people get it – Paterno did think he went to the police. What do you think happened when he reported to the athletic director? Of course they told him there would be a full investigation – meaning his report and McQueary's testimony would all be given to the police.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  12. blacksmithjim

    This will all get cleared up when Paterno releases a statement about his conversations with Sandusky. They worked together all those years, and Sandusky was going to replace Paterno, so of course joe pa talked to his friend/colleauge about the allegations when they first happened all those years ago........... Wait a minute, Paterno never ASKED HIM A DAMN THING! Think of those victims who would not have been molested if Paterno kept pressure up to do something about Sandusky and he had been stopped long ago!

    November 10, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      check your facts. Sandusky was not a coach when these allegations occurred. JoePa had nothing to do with or any association with Sandusky in 2002 when the allegations were made.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      Of course he did. Sandusky was using Penn State's football facilities for his "charity" and you think Paterno had no knowledge of this or anything to do with Sandusky? Paterno essentially let him go in 99 based on allegations. He knew who and what this guy was. Paterno just didn't want any interference in Penn State football and his precious record.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom A

      Steve- you don't have the full picture. You are referring to the infamous "shower incident" of 2002, when a graduate assistant walked in on Sandusky molesting a 10 yr old boy. However, Sandusky was FIRST interviewed by police re. this type of behavior in 1998- when he was the heir apparent to JoPa. JoePa wouldn't let him be his successor, but he let him keep his key to the facility, etc... and we all know the rest.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. DisgustedFan

    Mike McQueary needs to be fired!!!

    November 10, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dre

      Agreed...what a coward. If I saw something like he saw...I'd do my best to beat the living crap out of the pedophile...then I'd call the cops and wouldn't rest until he was behind bars. As for Paterno and the other PSU officials that didn't see the allegations through...they got fired...or resigned. Big deal...they are still way more fortunate than the victims of Sandusky who will always be scarred by his actions. Hopefully Paterno and the rest will at least have the victims weighing on their conscience for the rest of their lives.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Steve

    Paterno did do what he was supposed to do. Once again, check your facts people. He reported it. The people that did the investigation dropped the ball, not him. Also, in 1998 a parent came forward and reported inappropriate conduct to the police. THE POLICE DIDN'T DO ANYTHING!! Where are the calls for the people involved in that situation to be held responsible.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fly Guy in SJ

      So, he reported it to his superiors and they did nothing. It's true that me met his legal responsibility under Pennsylvania state law (a loophole that the PA legislature is already moving to close), but did he meet his moral/ethical responsibility? No. He didn't even come close. When his superiors did nothing, he had a moral/ethical responsibility to investigate to law enforcement. If local LE did nothing, the FBI is in charge of the National Center for Exploited and Abused Children, and they would for damned sure do something. I know that Paterno is a great, loved, and much respected coach, but let's face it: he completely dropped the ball on this one.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • shawn

      Steve,

      As the most important person on campus and arguably as powerful as anyone you it was JoePa's responsibility to follow up...not just cover his butt by doing the lawyer thing. The people under him are his responsibility. I'm not sure what world you live in but if one of my employees or family had this allegation I sure as hell would follow up, call the police and do the right moral thing in spite of my job security.

      Grow up and join the adult world...

      November 10, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Herman

      "Hey, he reported it to his Athletic Director, what else could he be expected to do?"

      As if the blindingly obvious answer to that question is: nothing, nothing at all.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jason

    I cannot believe students were out in the streets protesting the firing of someone who didn't protect innocent children. Pathetic.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nookster

      Yeah, in 15 years from now when most of these meatheads have their own children none of them would be there.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • rayge

      What are they teaching and learning at Penn State-not the law.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
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