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. Cosmo

    It wasn't even a few thousand students. Every student who peaceably and orderly took to the streets last night had every right to be there!! I think it is unconscionable that the media called this a mob and a riot well before ANY negative activity took place. As for the few tens of or maybe, just maybe a hundred or so vandals that were out in the street, they deserve to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But I'm really miffed as to how the majority of the students were portrayed. ESPN in particular, as far as I'm concerned was rooting for a real riot to occur. There coverage was almost a new journalistic low point.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  2. oh geez

    The man was not found guilty by the court. joe pa did the right thing by treating an innocent person as is. A person is innocent until proven by court. Now dont get me wrong, i think Joe Pa could have done more. But the fact is he didn't commit those acts. That is VERY different than committing those acts. You can view him as an immoral d-bag, but to put the same fault on him and fire him for actions committed by others? isnt that a little too intense?

    November 10, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • tldixon

      you are defending the undefendable-he allowed a pedophile to continue defiling children-he was complicit in a loathsome crime and you're defending him-take a look at yourself creep

      November 10, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Joe

    Does anybody really believe that the reporters who are berating Paterno didn't know anything about thisfor the past NINE years? They should receive the same punishment as Joe,

    November 10, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Brian

    CNN is just pathetic... Penn State isn't in any way 'split'. Their entire student body supports JoePa

    November 10, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • tldixon

      it's really sick that you freaks defend someone who pretended he didn't know there was pedophile amongst you-you're ALL SICK FREAKS

      November 10, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Calvin

      Jo Pa is a coward and a creep. He stood by for years and allowed children to be abused. Anyone who defends his actions is also a coward. You and he are the same kind of people who would see that child in China get hit by a car and do nothing. Real men stand up for the innocent. Jo Pa is an absolute coward. Go to Iraq or Afghanistan and you'll find true heros. Joe Pa is a pathetic coward and so are those students who rioted.

      November 10, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
  5. heartbroken

    I am heartbroken by all that has happened and in shock so it has been hard to even get my emotions in check this week about it all. However, one thing keeps popping in my mind. Joe is being blamed for not calling the police and everyone is saying that if he had it would have been stopped immediately. The police were called in 1998 by a mom of a victim. She confronted Sandusky and along with the police heard him NOT DENY anything but instead beg her forgiveness, say he wished he was dead, and he would never do it again. No charges were filed and no further investigation was held. Whether or not Joe new about this incident isn't my question but rather...who let this slip thru the cracks? The police. They were contacted by a mother. Why did she accept this decision not to press charges? I've heard from people who knew Sandusky for years that he had a charming personality. did the police and mom fall for that? As a parent of two daughters I hope I wouldn't have. Just think, if the police had done their job in 1998 it would have stopped. But instead Sandusky had four years more before Mccreary had to witness anything. Why should Joe be the scapegoat and everyone blame him because nothing was done? Is he really the only person in State College who could have stopped this? If that is true that is sad in itself because the very people who are blaming him now are the very people who gave him this so called "power" in State College including the media who have always raved about him. Now they are making him the subject of the story instead of the one who committed the crime. In every story it starts out with Joe's name and face and you have to read a while or watch a while before you hear anything about Sandusky. Since the police were contacted in 1998 and did nothing how do we know for sure they would have done anything in 2002 if they had been contacted? They heard a confession and still did nothing. Seems to me everyone wants to pass the blame off from themselves. Have those policemen stepped up and offered an excuse as why they did nothing in 1998 to stop Sandusky? Has the media ever decided in these high profile cases to report just the facts as they unfold? No, instead no matter what the case is they seem to draw their ratings by how stirred up they can get the American people by asking their so called "panel of experts" what they think. We never get a clear picture of any story and then as the truth unfolds they twist it around anyway and never let the truth speak for itself. The fact is, right now we don't know much of the truth. We know what parts the media is drawing our attention to and that is that Joe Paterno didn't do enough. that may be true but I still don't believe he is a bad man and I do still believe his legacy should stand out for all the good he has done in State College and not just for football. Plain and simply we don't know exactly what was reported to him, what exactly he did and what exactly Sandusky might have said to make all of them think he was innocent. It hasn't come out yet. But we do know for sure that in 1998 the police were called, heard a confession and still did nothing but it's funny they aren't being blamed for the fact that it could have stopped then. Obviously, he must have said something to the mom that convinced her and the police it was okay not to press charges; then why is it so hard to believe that he didn't use his reported charming personality, friendship with Joe and lies that men like him tell to convince Joe every thing was okay and McCreary didn't really see what he thought he saw. The mom and the police let the situation drop and no one is blaming them. How about instead of showing Joe all the time the media instead interviews those police officers. I'd like some of those questions answered.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ted Nugent

      So what are you saying?

      November 10, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. dion

    There are a few more articles which can add more gunpowder to the latest NEWS:

    "I can give you a rumor and I can give you something I think might happen," Madden said on the radio. "I hear there's a rumor that there will be a more shocking development from the Second Mile Foundation - and hold on to your stomachs, boys, this is gross, I will use the only language I can - that Jerry Sandusky and Second Mile were pimping out young boys to rich donors. That was being investigated by two prominent columnists even as I speak."

    "The other thing I think that may eventually become uncovered, and I talked about this in my original article back in April, is that I think they'll find out that Jerry Sandusky was told that he had to retire in exchange for a cover-up," said Madden during his Thursday morning radio appearance. "If you look at the timeline, that makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

    November 10, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Meg

    Also, I would like to add...there are thousands of students/people standing up for Paterno. There are SOOO many other issues people should be in support of or rallying against; the thousands of innocent babies being aborted each year; those dying of hunger and deplorable conditions. Our egotistical country...

    November 10, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • finally

      I was wondering when the "save the whales" wingnut would show up.

      November 11, 2011 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
  8. Yes1fan

    Joe DID report it to the police – the head of the Campus Police, who has jurisdiction on campus. He ALSO reported it to his boss, the Athletic Director, IMMEDIATELY after talking with McQueary, who, for some reason as a recent football player, FAILED TO TACKLE Sandusky right in the shower to protect the kid. The Chief of Police AND the AD, acting under the orders of Spanier, kept a lid on the situation, NOT Joe. Furthermore, the D.A., Gricar, had the dirt on Sandusky YEARS before, and despite a CONFESSION from Sandusky, decided "there was not enough evidence". Paterno DID his part – the REST of the system failed the kids, NOT HIM! If Paterno was reluctant to go so far as to take down the whole Centre County legal system, then consider that the D.A. still "disappeared", despite dropping the charges. Paterno had his own family to protect as well.

    November 10, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  9. neverwas

    McQueary needs to resign

    November 10, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Vince

    I look at those pictures and they just scream "Don't Hire Us" to potential employers. You PSU students that were out there just made yourselves look like fools. PSU looks like like a landfill to the rest of us.

    November 10, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. k9luver

    "We are Penn State" translation "we let pedophiles sodomize little boys!"

    November 10, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. gulliguy

    Colleges and Universities are loathe to do anything that may hurt the bottom line, namely money. This is why so many incidents go unreported or covered up. Heaven forbid that people stop sending money, especially in athletic departments.
    My opinion of athletic instructors was formed over 50 years ago, and there has been nothing that has happened to make me change my mind.

    November 10, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. warren

    This by far is the worst violations in NCAA history. Take action swiftly.......... As with SMU.. impose a 15 year ban at once

    November 10, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marco Pogo

      They don't need a death sentence ban. Who will want to coach there? Who will sign letters of intent?

      November 10, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
  14. SmithJonesJohn101010

    For those saying that McQueary did nothing, he actually did do something (although the minimum). If he hadn't done what he did (report what he saw), then Sandusky could very well be abusing a child as we speak.

    November 10, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. jimmyd

    i suppose Joe had to go, but the self-righteousness of the news media is nauseating. That being said, the whole thing sounds like a massive PR stunt–let's fire everybody so everyone thinks we're responsible. But what is really happening to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again? No one seems to be talking about that. This isn't about Paterno or the President of the university, it's about protecting children.

    November 10, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
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