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. r dewalt

    Sandusky was a sick pedophile, Paterno was his friend and his football Program generated $73 million dollars for the University last year.

    Above is a statment from a Penn State Newspaper blog. This is the underlying reason why events have played out as they have.

    November 10, 2011 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Author Charlieg

    I think it is interesting that the first reports of this are from '98. That is when Mr. Sandusky retired and when the police first taped Mr. Sandusky in relation to child abuse. If the university knew in '98 about these events, and Joe Paterno gave his first report to the university in '02, when a graduate assistant, now an assistant coach, informed him, that means Joe Paterno reported to the university something they already knew. He just had fresh details.

    I also understand, from reports on ESPN, that Penn State wanted Joe Paterno to retire a long time ago. This being the case, it is strange that this report comes out the week after he won more football games than any other head coach. It is like Penn State Management wanted Joe Peterno to retire, but decided to allow him to reach that milestone. Then they gave him the choice, "Retire now, or we expose this and fire you." Joe Paterno took the or else.

    Do we need more proof? Penn State athletic director Tim Curley, is on administrative leave, not fired. Likewise, Gary Schultz is retiring, not being fired. They are the people who should have reported what Joe Paterno told them. They are also the people who knew about all of this as early as '98. There is no proof that Joe Paterno knew about this until '02. It also means that Joe Paterno was set up for firing and that the real charge is failing to retire, not the abuse those poor children suffered.

    November 10, 2011 at 8:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Really Jersey

      Penn State employees tried really hard to keep this abuse covered up. They did it very well because the administrative head for their police department, Schultz, did not report or downplayed incidents like the 1998 shower episode. With the help of the head of the atheletic department,Curley, they could ignore reports of Sandusky's behavior. With Paterno as his good friend, Sandusky was a non-stick pedophile.However, they could not prevent a Sandusky victim from growing up & demanding justice. That unraveled the whole disgusting sordid mess & revealed the enablers at Penn State.

      November 10, 2011 at 11:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. maxotraib

    are you out of you mind? do you even have3 a mind? These were little children!!!!! I am glad that this fool got the axe but mike mcquary needs to go as well!!!! and I am sure there are others that also need to be fired!

    November 10, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Listen Up

    Joe was just doing the kind of "things" that the Catholic Church taught him to do! Namely cover it up or condone it!

    November 10, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Timothy

    Is everyone white who attends Penn State? I didn't see a single black, asian or hispanic face in any of those pictures? What's really going on there?

    November 10, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • reason

      because not all students attend to that riot, I think

      November 10, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • dzinergirl

      Uh... definitely all white. Don't be stupid. Isn't this subject matter ugly enough without throwing out totally random racial comments?

      November 10, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jethro Bodine

    I'd love to see the entire Penn State football team boycott the game Saturday.

    November 10, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jethro Bodine

    Hit the University right in the pocket book. Players don't play!

    November 10, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mauser

    Athletes and athletic orginizations today(including the nfl nba mlb) have some of the worst morals in existance today,because of? -Money,Fame,Prestige,Greed,

    We used to teach our children to look up to athletes and they were our heros,Babe ruth,Jackie Robinson,Jesse Owens,etc, Now they are sorry excuses for human beings,they are spoiled,crybabys who demand evermore fame and fortune and the fans and the public get less and less.

    November 10, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
  9. brotha

    look at the photos of the people in the background of the article and that will explain everything that is going on.

    November 10, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. bk

    Sports are now more important than protecting children from child molestors? Who are these horrible students? What kind of animals have their parents raised? I'd disown my children if this is how they behaved.

    November 10, 2011 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Marco Pogo

    I don't get it. Somebody explain. Eight kids abused over a decade? None told their parents or anybody? Now this week they all come out of the woodwork? What about the mother on the phone with Sandusky? Was she paid off? Very few answers by the media. I'll bet there is a long list of people who knew about this and did nothing.

    November 10, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Really Jersey

      Sandusky got victims from an organization he started called "Second Mile" for disadvantaged kids. A child reported to his mother that Sandusky showered naked with him on campus & handled him. Sandusky admitted showering naked with the boy & apologized to child protective services. The head of Penn States campus police, Schultz, testified, downplaying what had occurred & Sandusky was told to not do it again. They "retired" Coach Sandusky, but the head of the sports program, Curley,l allowed him to volunteer & continue bringing "Second Mile" children on campus. Enablers.

      November 11, 2011 at 12:04 am | Report abuse |
  12. Marco Pogo

    Funny how Sandusky's punishment was to have his keys taken away. As if to say, "go do this someplace else"

    November 10, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
  13. choppertrash

    Why are we still talking about this? It's just school sports... let's concentrate on academics!

    November 10, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fairplay99

      Wow, you are incredibly insensitive or VERY SICK!

      November 11, 2011 at 8:14 am | Report abuse |
  14. glotk

    If the board wanted him removed immediately, then make his retirement effective immediately. He already said he would retire so why didn't the school say OK effective today you are retired. Instead they fire him after he announces retirement which causes a huge riot at the school. If the board was thinking logically, they would have thought of this beforehand.

    November 10, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • scotty501

      Are you a child? The school had to take that stand for damage control. The students caused the riot, no one else. They screwed up the Penn reputation even farther which was difficult to do. Damage control is hopeless now and the students are too dumb to realize it

      November 10, 2011 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • TGN

      "If the board wanted him removed immediately, then make his retirement effective immediately. "

      Retirement is voluntary - he can't be forced to retire. By refusing to retire immediately, he brought down the only action possible by the board.

      November 10, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nebraskan

      Paterno tried to manipulate the trustees with his unauthorized press conference announcing his retirement. It backfired.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:38 am | Report abuse |
  15. Mike

    Penn State is a school full of cowards and you will all never get hired. hahahahahahah

    November 10, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
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