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. punxsutawney phil

    It's unfortunate, but if you study the grand jury investigation and look at the time line as well as the length of the term of atrocities, it's all necessary.
    Having grown up in State College through grade school State High '73, gone to school with Tim Curley and his brothers and then into PSU with both parents being professors there, I have great remembrances and affinity to my time invested in Happy Valley. I even had Sandusky for a gym class at PSU in 1974. Although I moved away in 1979 and have never returned, I always kept up with the scene and remained faithful to my roots.
    However, when I examine the Grand Jury notes and the sequence of events and what people knew, "didn't know, wink, wink" I have to express my dissappointment.
    If true morals and sensibility would have been properly exercised at the right time, from the start they could have saved 8, 9 or (many,many more kids) from exposure to this monster, and we have to ask ourselves what the outcome would have been today? A few less hero linebackers? a few less games won for JoePa? There are plenty to blame in the sequence of events aart from the 5 that made the news this week: Police dept's, investigators, witnesses, etc.

    The fabric of who we really are is woven everyday by the character of the citizens who maintain leadership roles in our society.
    If we cannot depend on them to make the right moral decisions, despite the unpopular or difficult nature of them, how can we possibly rise as one of the greatest societies in this world?

    Look around you people, we suck pretty much at everything. If you want to get a good dose at how we suck, just go to WalMart and people watch for a couple hours. Go to some free publicly sponsored event . Look around you and notice how little anyone really wants to do anymore yet get paid the big bucks.

    Look at the Republican debates on 11-09-2011 – How out of touch are these candidates with main street?
    I went to a convenience store yesterday and the 300 lb behemoth in from of me paid for a bunch of snack food, junk food, and soda with food stamps, then pulled out a wad of 100's and bought 2 cartomns of cigarettes and a case of beer. What's wrong with that picture? Morals, morals, morals.

    What are you going to do tomorrow to make a difference? Take the easy road? Or, take the more difficult one that sets you apart from the rest and helps everyone along the way?

    I love Joe Paterno. His heart is in the right place. He made a small mistake only in the way that he might have made a difference that saved some kids if he would have said Hey! We need to do something about this! and checked up on it. There were many others before him that could have nipped this in the bud a lot sooner, and yes it might have affected a national championship or recruiting, or some key players, but think of the OTHER side of the story: kids saved, Joe the hero, a University and a it's directors that saved the day from the evil monster.
    So the school would have lost 20 or 30 million in revenues, big deal. I don't know about you, but I like the Happy Ending way better than the way it's playing out now. I think the lawsuits coming up will get into the 100's of millions, so who's winning now?

    So please – Tell your kids:
    Do the right thing- always. Tell the truth, don't lie, and do your best to protect the innocent, especially when they are not your own flesh and blood. It' will be a better world as a result.

    November 10, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Denverdriver

      Well said!

      November 11, 2011 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |
    • cliff

      thank you..... your perspective is bang on!.....

      November 11, 2011 at 1:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Becky K Shotwell


      November 11, 2011 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
  2. Paul in Atlanta

    Realist, what does this have to do with gays? Sandusky is married and has children of his own. I think that makes him straight. If fact if you read the statistics, most men who abuse boys self identify as straight. Remember all of those scout leaders, police officers and youth pastors who keep popping up in the news? Almost all of them are married and many have children of their own, not unlike those who abuse girls. If you want to protect children from abusers then go find the facts. Most abusers aren't strangers, they are family members, or other people we trust.

    November 10, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fairplay99

      You are exactly right. The pedophiles prey on girls and boys. Kindergarten through 12th grade students are targets of pedophiles in public schools across the country. There are more cases of abuse by teachers than in other settings.

      November 11, 2011 at 8:18 am | Report abuse |
  3. unowhoitsme

    Joe did his job...he reported it to his boss. His boss was supposed to report it to the police. His authorities didn't do their job. We all go to our boss as the proper chain of authority. Joe didn't drop the ball.

    November 11, 2011 at 2:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Fairplay99

      Joe muffed it. At the point when he realized his boss was not responding then Joe should have gone directly to the police. Perhaps Joe met the minimum requirement, but he failed miserably on the moral and ethical test. Would you be saying this if one of the victims was your 10 year old son?

      November 11, 2011 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
    • NYC

      Based on your logic, if I saw a crime in progress, reported it to my boss, who did nothing, and then did nothing to follow up- I am not guilty as an accomplice. I hope you are not a lawyer or representing yourself anytime soon. Joe Paterno is not the guilty party, but and no one at Penn State did the right thing. The sad fact is no one from McReary on up was morally outraged enough to take personal, direct action.

      November 11, 2011 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  4. bigwilliestyles

    When the students at Penn State have children of their own, they will develop a feeling that will make them understand clearly why 'Joe Pa' had to go. They will hold that child in their arms, and, along with the feeling of overwhelming love, will come another feeling, best described as: 'God help any one that hurts my child'. Then they will understand why 'Joe Pa' had to go.

    November 11, 2011 at 3:01 am | Report abuse |
  5. BobbyKirk

    While the alleged cover up can not be justified, it can be rectified. This story marks a new day in history ~11/11/11~ where the prominent issue of Child Abuse can be acknowledged and support gained. Penn State will be the birth place of WORLDWIDE increased awareness for Child Abuse because of the terrible collective mistake made by our administration and our football program.

    Let our school be made an example of for the better. Lend us your support in a fight towards something greater than what WE WERE made out to be. The fall of Joe Pa was his destiny so that EVERYONE could be made aware of the bad choices of FEW, so that EVERYONE could see the good actions of MANY. If the media has chosen to make Joe an icon in the Sandusky case, lets make him an icon for all the right reasons. Joe Pa will go down in history not only as a great football coach, teacher, and leader, but he will rise up as the spark who ignited the flame for the massive increased awareness of Child Abuse on a GLOBAL level on the day of 11/11/11.

    A few nights ago you saw 2000 to 3000 members of our student body create a false sense of community with actions of violence and immaturity. Today, see us gather 8000+ strong in a mature, empathetic, and communal effort to put an end to and raise awareness for all those who have been affected by the heinous action of abusing innocent children.

    WE ARE United
    WE ARE and forever WILL BE Penn State!

    November 11, 2011 at 4:30 am | Report abuse |
  6. Victoria

    Thank you for this article. I am so inspired by what the Student Body President has said. Let's not let a few bad apples ruin the bunch. Stay strong Penn State and continue to support and seek justice for the victims.

    November 11, 2011 at 5:17 am | Report abuse |
  7. Fairplay99

    Will the bronze statue be removed and melted down? Seems to be the right thing to do.

    November 11, 2011 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
  8. marcus1371

    It is just football. These are likely the students that walk across the graduation stage, get their diplomas in fine arts, and then walk straight to the nearest 'occupy' rally to complain about student debts that cannot be paid-off in a single lifetime by someone with a degree in sociology.

    November 11, 2011 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
  9. Larry

    Question. It may be un ethical not to call the police, but is it illegal? If you are not personally involved in a crime, is there a law that requires you, for lack of a better word, be a snitch. If there is a lawyer or judge reading this, I would really like an answer to that.

    November 11, 2011 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
  10. Seekingasolution?

    Open your heart

    John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

    November 11, 2011 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
  11. Rosie

    I am so disgusted, sorry, sad. Just by looking at the whole situation, I can tell the society we are living these days is lost. Completely lost. The students instead of rioting for the victims, they were focus on one dammed football coach. It is not about the coach or the sport, IT IS ABOUT THE VICTIMS. Think about it, how would you feel if it would be your own kid, or grandkid, or someone you know.

    November 11, 2011 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
  12. Melinda

    What upset me is the fact that Paterno gets an ENVELPOE delivered to his home, containing a phone number for him to call, and upon doing so he is told he is fired immeadiatly. That WAS JUST WRONG , i'm sorry. The man help build this college, gave his WHOLE LIFE to it, and i think it warranted more class than a phone number in an envelope. Did he do wrong by not reporting this horrible act to the police or others when his higher ups DID NOTHING after he told them.........YES. Should HE BE VILLAFIED in this manner .........HELL NO ! Lets all focus on the face of SANDUSKY ! Will be interesting to see HOW MUCH $$$$$$$ was paid out to these families to keep their mouths shut. I think this volcano is just starting to rumble, the ERUPTION IS SOON COMING.

    November 11, 2011 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
  13. anna

    I dont understand this, the man Paterno is being treated like a God yet he knowing let young boys be abused?

    What is the matter with you people?

    November 11, 2011 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Gort01

      I dont understand any of this...why would they stand up for someone that might as well have procured the boys to be victims not notifying the police and screaming it from the stadium, he alone, is responsible for the abuse and victimization of boys that will be forever affected and scarred....Wake up football nuts...its just a game....this is about childrens lives.....not a touchdown or trophy.....Penn State shoould be banned from football for the number of years this man was allowed to continue to abuse boys....

      November 11, 2011 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
  14. aNN

    All these people need to answer questions, Second mile, Sandusky's B of a wife, NCAA, the Adoption agency that gave Sandusky tons of kids. The Republican Politicians that were friends with these coaches,ALL the coaches and Paterno who has pictures of them hugging?? If you are repulsed by a pedophile why are you hugging him.? it goes on and on This guy was waist deep in children

    November 11, 2011 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
  15. scottfrompa

    lets ask why this child molester retired EARLY from psu at the age of 55 when he was a succesfull football coach why didnt he get offers from another school for a head coach job?
    was there an agreement for him to retire early and penn state wouldnt give him a good referance?
    that means they knew all along and kept it coverd it up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    just sayin

    November 11, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
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