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. unbelievable

    What a shame that the actions of one individual can ruin so many lives with his perverted actions! Hopefully justice will prevail, my heart goes out to the victims, they are ones who have suffered the most!

    November 10, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fred

      This was not just wrong doing of Zandusky. It was also the inaction of the people that knew of the allegations and did nothing when they saw a cover up was happening. Where was the conscious of those people that knew a possible Child molesting predator was on the loose.
      In order for the right change to happen so this kind of situation never happens again people need to stop trying to deflect the blame on those that knew and participated in this cover up. Because ultimately that was why Paterno and others lost their jobs. They covered up or stood by like a silent coward. All in the protecting PSU football and protecting Paterno's friend of over 30 years Mr, Jerry Zandusky.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ute Man 2010

    Ok I'm not a big Penn State Fan but... why fire someone who had little to do with the crime ? There has not even been a trial yet for the guy who they say did these deeds 10 years ago. I seems to me that this is a knee jerk reaction and old Joe is getting the blunt end of the deal.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • paige

      Couldn't agree with you more! They needed a scapegoat and Joe Paterno was the name on the short straw.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • bushcandy

      I highly doubt that you would be saying the same thing if it was your 10 year old son that was the victim

      November 10, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      Because he knew, and did not stop it. How many could have been saved from abuse if he simply did the right thing at the right time...?

      November 10, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • jewel055

      Anyone that is an accomplice (or even thinks that a child is being molested and doesn't say something) should be burn at the stake along with the perpetrator!! Molesting a child is the sickest most damaging crime out there. Not speaking up which is what Paterno did is also a crime against that child. Remember people we are talking about a child being molested. ONE PERSON could have saved the innocent child.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • DEpley

      Whether or not Sandusky actually committed the crime is not the issue when talking about Paterno's responsibility to report the allegations to the police. If child abuse is alleged, you report it and let the police investigate. That's their job. What a shame that no-one let them do it before other little boys were molested.

      November 10, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jmp38

    Kudos to Board of Trustees for growing some balls and doing the right thing.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      You're not kidding. They took appropriate action, and fast. They need to wipe the slate clean immediately, do some planning, then present a plan for the University going forward. This is going to hurt the finanances and reputation of the University, but they need to show that they're serious about not tolerating this kind of behavior from anyone on staff, and move forward from there. The authorities will handle whatever happens to Paterno and all the rest...

      November 10, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Paul

    Easy answer, here. For the immediate moment, "the focus should rest" with which type of rubber bullets to shoot at the next student that even THINKS about rioting. That'll calm them down, and fast.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ron

    I am still baffled beyond words how a 20-something male graduate student (presumably fit and in good health) could witness the abuse of a 10-year old child by a 60-something man and not intervene. The grad student had no legal obligation to say or do anything, but I would think he had a moral obligation. Instead he walked away, let the abuse continue, and told something to Paterno. He essentially did nothing. Morally at least, I find him to be just as guilty as Sandusky. Or maybe there is a lot more to this story than is being told.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kiki

      He put loyalty to brand over being a human and it looks as though he's been greatly rewarded by the program for doing so.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Paterno is not an accomplice

    Wake the heck up people, Paterno is a scapegoat. He knew of one incident which he REPORTED. Guess what his boss told him? What you can't guess? Get a clue. His boss told him we'll do a full investigation, Joe, and the authorities will be notified. Why in the world would Paterno go separately to the police when he thought he just did his job. And get a clue these were not his players. He was not covering up some abuse of his players which he'd know about. These were 10 year old foster kids in Sandusky's charity program. How the heck is Paterno supposed to know what is going on in Sandusky's foster home or if Sandusky brings one to the gym off hours.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • latent

      And this will be his argument should this go to trial. Due to Pennsylvania law though, he was obliged to go to the police first. Failing to act is enough to be an accomplice in his state (in most it is not). This is should be a lesson to all natives of Pennsylvania–you report suspected child abuse to the police or CPS.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      You can't just say something and walk away: nothing came of his report, so it was his duty, his moral obligation, to report that his report had not been addressed. Instead, football, the Penn State brand, mattered more than the human beings at risk.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Military Person

      Really? This is where courage comes in. Obviously Paterno lacked any sort of moral fiber or personal conviction to know he had a moral obligation to protect a child. He should have confronted the accused and asked him flat out if this was true. He was probably afraid of the answer and decided to let "others" handle it instead of taking the responsisbility as a human being to protect vulnerable child victims. You are pathetic. that's why the moral fiber of the world is in decline...because of people that think like you and Paterno....also that coward McQueary....he's lower than filth and should not even be called a man.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • buzz

      Concur

      November 10, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Really Jersey

      Paterno knew the report never reached police when no one came to interview either him or the grad assistant. Joe knew Sandusky was never investigated. Do you have a little brother or a cousin? Imagine it was them . Pushed into a wall as Sandusky sticks it to them. Paterno has kids & grand kids. He knew what this guy did to a 10 year old & had dinner with him frequently. Best buds. Are you feeling sick yet? If not, you are just as bad as they are & better stay away from my kids & grand kids.

      November 11, 2011 at 1:08 am | Report abuse |
  7. Mistylynn

    This is a very sad day. I hope and pray that the victims can get some comfort knowing that a lot of people are praying for them. It makes my heart ache. This is so very very horrible.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  8. rita raymond

    the apparent moral bankruptcy of the students at penn state is appalling-they rioted because the coach who wasn't accountable enough to report the victimazation of a 10 year old boy was fired but there was no student outrage, much less rioting, when the allegations about that 10 year old came to light
    I hope they close the whole school if this is the character building that is taking place there

    November 10, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      I agree Rita! They should have closed Duke when those students were accused of wrong doing as well . . . oh wait a minute, a FULL investigation revealed that those accused of wrongdoing were exonerated. Why don't you wait and see what the full investigation reveals about McQueary and JoePa before you arbitrarily condemn an entire University.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • med06

      lets go easy on the kids, this is hard news for them to take. This is someone they idolized and admired, it's like a death of someone

      November 10, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Really Jersey

      A grand jury already charged both people Joe had the grad student report to with perjury & failure to report the felony. As a close friend of Sandusky, Joe has known for years this assault was never investigated. The law stated Joe HAD to report it or ENSURE it got reported because he was the coach the witness of the crime reported it to. Plus, Paterno did not report Curley or Schultz for failure to contact police. WOW, looks like Joe needs a lawyer, for not obeying the law & making sure the real police knew. Sins of omission, as a catholic Joe should know about how they can damn you.

      November 11, 2011 at 1:36 am | Report abuse |
  9. brian

    Just think if it was one of your kids...nothing more needs to be said

    November 10, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  10. crabtown

    I was expecting the students to demand that Joe Pa be fired and demand the university help the victims. Must be the culture at Penn State that creates this atmosphere of football is more important than stopping a child molester. Joe Pa when first learning of this should have fired his friend and called campus police.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      That's the thing crabtown – Sandusky didn't work for Paterno at the time the incident happened. He worked for a non-profit that was granted access to campus facilities. Paterno had no business relationship with him at the time. If that were the situation, then I completely agree Joe should have done more. As it is, Joe reported the incidents to the people who were responsible for Sandusky and who should have reported the incident to the police.

      Joe Paterno was no hero in this situation. But just because a man is not a hero, it does not make him a villain.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Military Person

      Chris....looks like you need a lesson in decisiveness. Make a stand and make a judgement. You are right, no hero, but for sure a villan for letting a child get abused and turn a blind eye. I mean really? This is where courage comes in. Obviously Paterno lacked any sort of moral fiber or personal conviction to know he had a moral obligation to protect a child. He should have confronted the accused and asked him flat out if this was true. He was probably afraid of the answer and decided to let "others" handle it instead of taking the responsisbility as a human being to protect vulnerable child victims. You are pathetic. that's why the moral fiber of the world is in decline...because of people that think like you and Paterno....also that coward McQueary....he's lower than filth and should not even be called a man.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Gregg

    Paterno has been made the scapegoat. He reported the "alleged incident" to his boss. Had he not done that, I could see justification for his firing. He passed along information so that those qualified to investigate could do so. Being fired because he didn't report hearsay to the police...come on. The true predator in this case is being overlooked.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • BMcGee

      The predator has not been overlooked. He has been arrested and will go to trial. Read the grand jury report and see how you feel about the "allegations." Grand Jury reports are findings of fact. Further, "hearsay" does not apply when reporting child abuse. Educators and other mandatory reporters are required by law to report SUSPECTED child abuse.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Military Person

      Gregg.....Really? This is where courage comes in. Obviously Paterno lacked any sort of moral fiber or personal conviction to know he had a moral obligation to protect a child. He should have confronted the accused and asked him flat out if this was true. He was probably afraid of the answer and decided to let "others" handle it instead of taking the responsisbility as a human being to protect vulnerable child victims. You are pathetic. that's why the moral fiber of the world is in decline...because of people that think like you and Paterno....also that coward McQueary....he's lower than filth and should not even be called a man.

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

      Gregg: How do you equate such an egregious act of child molestation to the the passing on of "information"? We're not talking about the knowledge of something like stolen property. We're talking about the worst kind of violation to the most vulnerable population. Though something was indeed stolen – the emotional lives of the victims.

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

      Gregg, what Paterno did is called sins of omission.
      He did not obey the law, to report felony assault to off campus police.
      He did not report Penn Staff, for covering up the the felony assault.
      He did not rescue a 10 year old child, from the pedophile abusing him.
      He did not stop Sandusky, from s3xually assaulting other children.

      November 11, 2011 at 2:06 am | Report abuse |
  12. Damian

    THey did the right thing by firing them........Sad that they didn't report it to the police just to save the Universitie's reputation. As a result several children were at the hands of that sick man!!

    November 10, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  13. MisterPL

    Arrest the trouble-making students, boot them out of the school, keep the tuition to pay for all the damage they've done acting like babies.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      I agree. I've heard that the vast majority of students there are really great. This incident was 70 bad apples that should have been introduced to "Mr. rubber bullet". That would've stopped them in their tracks. Like any other mob, they need to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mike Infanti

    Joe Paterno now holds the record for most wins by a D-I coach yet he has proven that he is nothing more than a loser, both morally and, ultimately, legally. He just doesn't get it.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  15. borandle

    I am sorry ladies and gentlemen, but when it was brought to his attention in 2002 that his ole buddy had a boy in the shower, Paterno should have followed up to ensure the matter was fully investigated. When he continued to see his ole buddy still hanging around the football facility with kids from his pedophile breeding ground, Paterno should have called the state police himself. His first duty was to ensure that 10 year old boy was safe. Paterno didn't. Shame on Paterno and shame on the student response to his firing

    November 10, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kiki

      Hear, hear.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Really Jersey

      Enablers.

      November 11, 2011 at 2:10 am | Report abuse |
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