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. Mitch

    The focus should be upon the victims.

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

      Totally agreed. These kids do not know any better and have acted out irresponsibly. The coach was made aware of the abuse and chose to look the other way. He did what he had to under the law and knew nothing was being done about it. This is his excuse is to blame others when they all made an agreement to not "taint" the school. I am glad they have all been fired. The should expell any student who chooses to vandalize the city!

      November 10, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry

      It should be, and the pervert who did it. coach Joe didn't do it. His firing is totally wrong.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. MDChick

    McQuaery, you are next.

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

      yeah, how come we didn't hear about him......

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

      Not sure why everyone wants him gone. He was a young man, who was probably intimidated by this man, who was a slight legend there. He told his dad and Paterno, two other adults who are superior to him. It's like a new cop seeing a vet. cop do something wrong. he's probably not going to tell on him because he's intimidated. Like a student teacher seeing another veteran teacher do something wrong. That young person probably is just going to tell his superior teacher or the principal. I don't think it's any different here. If he were dismiss, It wouldn't bother me, but he's not a big man on campus, like Joe Paterno who should have absolutely done the right thing. It's not like Mike was letting Jerry back on campus.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • BRANDON

      Curtis,
      But it was Mike that kept his mouth closed from 2002 to 2011. He should be fired. Also, he was 28. At that age he knew better. He went along with the cover up. FIRED!!!

      November 10, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Military Person

      Curtis...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 with McQueary 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 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. scranton

    It's a mediocre football program and at least 9 kids lives were changed forever. Hmmm.......let's think of which is more important. These protesters should of been more upset that these little boys were sodomized.

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

      How's it mediocre? Ranked #12 in the nation.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry

      Mediocre? What planet do you live on?

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

      I guess if you're "matt" or "Larry," sodomizing kids gets a free pass so long as your football program ranks twelfth in the nation. I'm sure the victims will understand.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. JT

    These imbeciles create a further embarassment for the university that didn't need anymore. To say that Paterno should have survived this to coach to the end of the season is appalling. A grad assistant told him that he saw a former employee naked in the shower with a 10 year-old boy. Joe claims he didn't understand the seriousness of it? Say what? You cannot be serious.

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

      Why didn't the grad student report it to the police then? Joe didn't see it. He wouldn't have even been able to teatify because it would be heresay. Dont take it out on someone just because he's well know.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Military Person

      Larry....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 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. adntrgrl

    Were any of the members of the board of trustees on the board in 1998 or 2002? They should be fired too. Dont let them hide behind Joe Pa!!!

    November 10, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bill Crews

    I am truly disgusted at the way this has all been handled. This situation is NOT about Joe Paterno's firing, which is all we seem to hear about, but should be about those poor kids who where abused on a University campus.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Carol

    Lie detector tests should be given to all concerned. Read McQuerey was 28 yrs. old when he said he wittnessed the boy being attacked. Old and big enough to intercede between Sandusky and the boy. Maybe he never had anything to intercede, and it never happened. It's his word and no proof.

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

      You should read the grand jury report.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • ipsni

      True

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

      There was an inquiry into the incident. Joe Paterno never denied receiving that information. He said he relayed it up the chain of command. I believe there were other reported incidents. But as long as it's your belvoed football coach, feel free to deny the obvious. Penn State will stand out as a bunch of pedophiles and mobs now.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      You're right. I've not been able to get past that (your question). I'd like to hear the answer to your question. I mean, he's standing there watching this happen, and he lets it continue without having the guts to go in there and stop it? Now that's as guilty as it gets; as cowardly as it gets.
      What did he do rather than scream and holler and tell Sandusky to stop, and go free up the kid? Come on! He's either a spineless coward or there's more to this story he';s not telling. What was he doing in there anyway? Sandusky must have thought he could never be spotted, you'd think, so how was this other guy involved as a witness to the crime?
      This stinks of big, big lies or missing parts so terrible as can not be spoken. I hate this, knowing there are people who KNOW but aren't saying. Man, I hate feeling played like a puppet by these people who are hiding things from us after thinking they'll scarifice Paterno and all will go away; not gonna happen, it's too late, the damage has been done, the cat is out of the bag.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Stephen

    Firing Paterno and Spanier is a good first step. But they also need to fire anyone else who knew what went on including any police (campus or otherwise). Also, for those students who decide to use this as an excuse to get drunk and/or riot, expel them. Party over!

    November 10, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Whome

    One thing I take away from this entire fiasco is that there is only one opinion that counts and thats lets linch Joe and nothing else matters, this is the society we live in how sad. The younger generation deserves everything thats coming their way in the future and to think I fought for these fools.

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

      Other, educated, people might have wanted to "lynch" Joe.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. malibu123

    Oh goody, the college punks found a cause to riot and get confrontational with the cops. Wow, what a display of courage. Get out the fire hoses and tear gas. Morons.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Cathy

    There are people who know
    This is not about football
    It is about You, Victims
    Our hearts break for you
    You have courage
    You behaved like an adult and told
    You have impacted how people in power will react in the future
    You have relieved the loneliness of other victims
    You have proved that if Victims report, people will believe
    Your heart is good
    You have value
    You rose to a challenge You did not deserve
    We embrace You and pray for your healing
    THANK YOU for protecting our kids

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

      Who reported it? no one until 2011 9 years later,

      November 10, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jeanne

    why is the assistant coach, the guy who saw it still a coach, why has he not beed fired? he called his dad. did they review the video of the PUNK STUDENTS turning over a van and expel them yet? are they holding SPECIAL classes on campus to teach MORALS to these children who are trying to immortalize a man becasue he worked somewhere for 50 years but played dumb to facts that where pressented to him concerning hideous crimes against children?

    November 10, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  13. russ

    so when do the board of trustees for Penn State turn in their resignations or get fired for their role in this sordid episode?

    November 10, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • adntrgrl

      Exactly! They are hoping that with the focus on Joe that no one will think of them. They need to go too!

      November 10, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • MAD1963

      Yes, get the whole board of old trustees{I mean CRONIES} out of there

      November 10, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  14. leroy

    this is crazy i cannot believe that these students are protecting Paterno lets put it this way lets say sandusky was doing this to them and Paterno knew and did nothing about it contacting your boss is just a scape goat its stupid if you seen your fellow co worker stab someone would you call the cops or your boss he told his boss so he would not have to tell the cops. this is sick. There is not one student that went thru this themselves that would be happy or ok with Paternos actions.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  15. afalt

    Mr. Paterno had a choice to make the moment he was told of the situation. Unfortunately, he made the wrong one. I bet if it was his grand child that was being abused he would have run to the phone and made the police call in an instant but it wasn't. So I suppose, reading between the lines, it is ok by himfor it to happen to other innocents but not his family. I am with the board on this.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
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