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. StupidPeople

    Little Joey Paterno = sweet golden price with good heart but perhaps poor vision and memory.
    Jerry "Stardust" Sandusky = child rapist / robber of innocence / ugly and possibly a demon
    Sad day for Penn State.
    Bummer for Catholics since I heard Sandusky is catholic. I guess that whole religion is now officially stupid.
    Happy day for neighborhood children who are a bit safer without Jerry Sandusky stealing their underpants. Whata freak.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Paterno is not an accomplice

    Don't you think Paterno for all practical purposes DID tell the police? I mean what do you think happened when he reported it to the athletic director, the director said we'll just file this and sit on it, Joe and he said ok?!?!?! Give me a break, he reported it immediately because he cared and they told him there will be a full investigation. He assumed they would give his report to the police. He assumed the actual witness, McQueary (not him), would testify to the police.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      You're a moron. You know how he should have known that nothing was done about it? Because NOTHING WAS DONE ABOUT IT! This guy was on his staff for 30+ years. He saw him during and after.Sandusky had to resign in 1999 because of allegations. He was banned from bringing children onto Penn State's campus. They clearly knew something was going on. Paterno knew nothing had been reported about 2002.. He just didn't care. Had nothing to do with Penn State winning football games. Paterno himself said he should have done more. Wake up.

      This isn't the end of this story, This time next week there will be a host of new allegations. Guaranteed.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • shawn

      You assume to much...Joe knew as much as anyone this would get swept under the carpet with money for all. Since Jerry was one of his good friends he would have known if a punishment came down...and it didn't so as a human of character and one who protects the children of was is moral responsibility as a leader to lead and to protect those who cannot protect themselves...especially when power and greed block the right path.

      Just because you are not a moral person or leader doesn't mean the rest of us don't live in a world where everyone is responsible for the actions and knowledge. You would have made a great German in the 30s...

      November 10, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • rayge

      This is called "passing the trash" and the "incident" was seen as trash in quite a few people's eye, one of them being Joe's.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Chris from Oklahoma

    I'm sad that any child.. any child.. should be abused or treated in the manner described which purports that these activities took palce with a child. If guilty, Sandusky should be hung.. by his n_ts upside down over a large red ant bed and left to dry in the sun.. sounds too cruel but that's just me. On the other hand, the fact that some trustee member of the board at Penn State didn't like Joe Paterno or simply didn't get along with him, gives that person no excuse to rid the university of such a fine man as Joe Paterno. I know one thing.. I'd certainly never contract with U.S. Steel for services in the future as long as the idiot John Surma in involved with that organization. What a poor excuse for a human being he is. Not only does he lack maturity.. he lacks common sense. It's my understanding that the Board of Trustees were well informed of Mr. Sandusky's activities as well as the police. You should be asking yourselves why dismiss the one person who actually followed procedure, process and reported the incident. These other individuals aren't even in the same league as Joe Paterno. Yeah.. I know, John Surma graduated from Penn State, doesn't mean idiots don't get past the system. AND.. start asking yourselves why the news organizations aren't prepared to question the Boart of Trustee members as to why they didn't report the incident and why the police were well informed of Mr. Sandusky's activities and did nothing. Those are the questions you should want to know.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  4. WeAre!

    Little Joey Paterno = sweet golden price with good heart but perhaps poor vision and memory.
    Jerry "Stardust" Sandusky = child rapist / robber of innocence / ugly and possibly a demon
    Sad day for Penn State.
    Bummer for Catholics since I heard Sandusky is catholic. I guess that whole religion is now officially stupid.
    Happy day for neighborhood children who are a bit safer without Jerry Sandusky trying to sniff their underpants. Whata freak.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shocking...

      Little Joey Paterno=Someone who protected a child molester. Disgusting that people are defending him. He had 10 years to make this known and stop a predator from hurting more innocent children. He is not innocent in any of this.

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

    Every one of those students that can be identified rioting, should be expelled immediately.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Casey


      November 10, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • john smith

      That would definately be what is "best for the University".

      November 10, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  6. zapper45701

    Whatever happened to RESPONSIBLE, ADULT behavior? It looks like the Penn State has several failures in its arena. 1. A pedophile is molesting children. I don't care if it's secondhand knowledge, it should be dealt with immediately and without question. I don't care if it's the custodian or king of the football field that turns him him, it should be done immediately, to the proper authorities, and followed through to make sure it never happens again. 2. Rioting students? Expel each and every one of them, and send their parents the bill. No excuses. 3. Football is nothing more than violent, paid entertainment. It serves no purpose whatsoever to further the humanity of the planet. It's only purpose is to provide entertainment. Remove it totally from academics. Open schools of footballism, (baseball, basketball, etc.) and fund them as such. Lastly, 4. (And this only my opinion and feeling–as with the previous points)–all pedophiles should be dragged into the street and terminated.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  7. WeAre!

    Maybe Paterno was also molested by Sandusky, and that's why he kept it a secret.... he was ashamed

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

      get a life

      November 10, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. john smith

    The Penn State protesters are oddly making the point of why Paterno and all the leadership had to go.

    Paterno's leadership apparently has influence Penn State so much that the student body believes an enabler of child molestation should be supported.

    There are real problems with the mind set at Penn State. They should get back to education and critical thinking. Close down the sports for a year and rebuild the University from the ground up. That is likely the only thing that will save the reputation of that place. These Penn State protesters along with Paterno and the others have ruined that terrible place. Shame on you all!

    The board needs to go now as well. This is a criminal conspiracy to cover up the worst crimes imaginable. This is what is wrong with our country, we try to say things are complicated when things really aren't. This is such a clear case of right and wrong, and even remotely sticking up for Paterno makes a person a supporter of what occurred. That makes the supports oddly perverted and sick minded. I'd say grow up, but I don't think a sick mind like that can grow out of it.

    I'd simply stay away from Penn State for oh, 50 years or so, until things change.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jason

    Nice Dave! This also about due process and a man being fired for what exactly? Serma responded to this question by answering, that he can't give a specific reason, and they didn't have all of the facts yet. He said that in the same stinkin' press conference that announced Paterno's firing. How can you fire a man who's worked there before you dad hit puberty for no specific reason and without all of the facts? It's nonsense!

    They could have put on him leave until this thing got sorted out, but fired outright? Really! For reporting 2nd hand information to his superiors and to the head of the campus police. In most cases anything that happens on campus if reported to the city police gets referred to back to the campus police. They are real, legit officers. They're not security or mall officers. They're legit. So stop pretending that the campus police wasn't a high enough of an authority to file a complaint to.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  10. WeAre!

    Paterno should have used his floppy old $hlong to choke out Sandusky when he had the chance. Then we would not have this problem.

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

    Out of touch with reality.. that's for sure. The "real" world, that's what we're in.. and in the raal world, decisions are often made with many factors.. Ultimately, by the end of the day, the questions usually asked "did the process work"? Well, in this case, it appears it didn't. Don't forget the hipe from the news media. They'll do whatever for ratings.. except infringe on the toes of individuals who might do them future harm. Perhaps that's why we've not heard about the fact that the police were well aware and informed of Mr. Sandusky's activities. Why didn't they call 911?? Good question. The Board of Trustees and Mr. Surma..? They too were well informed. Why isn't the news media all over them..? hmmm... well, just take a guess then. I won't be surprised if the football team makes the decision to just not play the balance of their last games out of respect for Coach Paterno. Oh.. just one more thing.. how do you replace the President of a major university like Penn State and also replace all of the Board of Trustees where knowledgeable of Mr. Sandusky. Who's investigating the Board of Trustees??? Good question huh..

    November 10, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. collegeftbl

    As an outsider (outside Penn State) I am outraged. As a parent of a 10 year old boy I am outraged. Who had a bigger platform than Joe Pa? No one!!! He ruled. The Board was basically second in command and has been for a long time. Joe Pa had no boss. To think he had an opportunity to follow up on these allegations and made a choice. Joe Pa made a choice EVERYDAY not to say anything. EVERYDAY, for at least 8 years. The assistant made the same choice EVERYDAY! The organization that knew about this in 1998 and informed him that he could not take showers with boys anymore made a choice EVERYDAY. The janitor made a choice EVERYDAY. The Admin made a choice EVERYDAY!!! This is not about one decision on one day this about a decision made EVERYDAY since 2002 and 1998 for so many people. 7years (or longer in some cases) X 365 – EVERYDAY!!!!! That is what outrages me!

    I love college football. My heart breaks for those football players. Their season is ruined. Their college career is ruined. All of their hard work. Unfortunately for them some things are bigger than football and this is one of them.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • JustaMomof2

      Can I get an AMEN!!! or in the very least a 'thumbs up'...very well put.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jon

      If that were true, maybe you have a point. But it isn't. JoePa was not in charge. He was a football coach, he was not a super hero who's job it was to stomp out crime no matter where or who it is, he was not an all powerful being that the school bowed down to. He was a football coach that had an extremely positive legacy, and who did everything he could be reasonably expected to do in this situation, and now his entire reputation is ruined because of people like you who make stuff up to make him the bad guy.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • child advocate

      It is repulsive to see these pampered students outraged at the loss of a football coach and Penn State's reputation. Where is the outrage and sorrow over what those children suffered? They are the victims of horrific abuse, and it is that suffering that should be in the forefront of this issue. Go protest that and show some compassion and maturity. Better yet, start a fund to help pay for the years of counseling they will endure as they try to get past what was done to them. In all likelyhood, they will never be the same as they were before their suffering at the hand of monster Sandusky and the complacency of his cohorts.

      November 10, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • vmm

      as a mother, an outsider to football, I too am outraged. They, the coach, the assistant coach, the police that first investigated in 1998 all made a serious mistake in not reporting it as soon as it happened to the proper authorities. My God those poor boys I can't even imagine what they must still be suffering as this type of abuse is long term. I am so angry at these so called pillars of the community who didn't do a damn thing to stop such a heinous crime. these are children! CHILDREN! SHAME ON THOSE WHO DIDN'T REPORT IT. AND FOR YEARS THEY KEPT THEIR SILENCE. SAD DAY FOR ALL HUMANITY.

      November 10, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris Miller

      Jon, you are dead wrong. He isnt just a coach. He has a library named after him. He has kept coaching despite pressures in other years to step down. He had an obligation to follow through, to ask questions and to tell police. He is even quoted as saying he wish he would have done more

      November 10, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Darlene

      I think Joe Paterno did what was required of him. HE REPORTED IT TO HIS BOSS. Think about it the University Staff should have called police. If Joe had called police, he would have been fired then, for not following Protocol....for embarrassing the University, before consulting them.......they needed a scapegoat, and they used Joe to hush up the whole thing. What about the now coach, why didn't he call police? he was old enough? Was he afraid of being kicked out?

      November 10, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  13. densal

    to all paterno supporters: ISN'T FOLLOW THROUGH A BIG DEAL IN FOOTBALL / HE DID NOT DO THAT / he dropped the ball on this one / question – if someone told you something about your friend or co-worker that you flat out did not believe and would possibly cause him/her jail time / would you actually turn them in or question them / paterno went to the authorities so to speak / it had to be enough information to make him file the report in the first place / SO WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU KNOW THAT SANDUSKY IS STILL OVER A PROGRAM WITH MINORS AND STILL CONTINUE TO OPERATE BUSINESS AS USUAL / because his only concern was PSU football and HIS boys / not the welfare of some poor kids that he wasn't in charge of / AND THAT MAKES IT OKAY / sounds a little like the German citizen who first turned a blinds eye when Hitler started selected who was worthy of living and dying

    November 10, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Lonewolf

    Boy! A lot of people shooting off at mouth before the brain works. They haven't read everything before writing. Maybe they should school at Penn State. Get real dumb a$$es. "LEARN TO READ"

    November 10, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  15. MGM

    face it, paterno FAILED miserably in his response to his former asst coach raping an 11 year old boy. paterno may have been a great football coach and a great guy but he failed miserably by backing his old friend. And I must add that mcqueary is a gutless son of a gun for not helping the boy.Sleep well mcqueary you sorry excuse for a human being

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