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. jack

    We Penn Staters love and stand behind our pedophiles one hundred percent.

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

      Hey Jack! No time for jokes.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ronnie Harper

    It's repulsive to watch video of people cheering this man. This story is a story of everything that is wrong in this country – from patriarchy, to the privelege of the wealthy, to the abuse of our young men at the expense of those in power. To see a bunch of mouth breathing hicks cheering this guy makes me ashamed of my fellow citizens (again, for yet another reason) Penn State should be ashamed for harboring those who would protect felons in order to play such a ridiculous game as football. What a bunch of cro-magnons you all are. Disgusting.

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

      Most Americans are neanderthals and unfortunately they love to breed and watch football.

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

      You think Penn State is full of mouth-breathing hicks? Only someone from the really upper echelons of society could see them as such. How's the view from up there? Where are you, the Hamptons?

      November 10, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Josh

    http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/football/news?slug=ycn-10407023

    November 10, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Alex

    The focus should be on the victims and the perpetrators. Paterno is neither.

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

      It appears he was an enabler which is reprehensible.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Nancy

    Where is the outrage for Sandusky, he is the slime that did these horrific things to small children or the outrage for the guy who witnessed this and simply walked away, and then became a coach–how convenient. Sorry, simply reporting it is a cowards way out.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Recovering Republican

    Time to stop sympathizing with sports heroes without reservation! I admire Joe Pa, just like Bobby Bowden, but Joe Pa messed up big on this one, and he paid the price. We cannot make exceptions to such actions for people we admire. Children were hurt (sacrificed) for the good of a collegiate football program, and that is just plain wrong. Joe Pa should have thought about the children, instead of his winning legacy.

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

      Amen!

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

    The actions of Sandusky are disgusting. I feel for the victims but my question is....WHY DID THE PARENT(S) NOT REPORT THIS TO THE POLICE!! If that was my child, I would of shot the SOB. There is no way that all these years would of passed without charges being brought against Sandusky. I would of been more than proud to spend time in the slammer for killing that pervert in protecting my child. Just plain SICK!

    November 10, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • jbopp82

      It's would've. Not would of. Ugh.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • ELL

      Sounds like the victims were involved in Sandusky's program because they were disadvantaged – perhaps one or both parents were no longer around.

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

      You're assuming the parents even knew about it in the first place. I think these children kept quiet for years out of fear, guilt, and shame.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. DaddyMac

    There is now way Joe Pa didn't know about the details, yes he did what the college wanted but he failed to do what was legal and right. For all of you who support Joe Pa, what if that was your child, brother, nephew, etc.....Every victory he achieved on the field is now tarnished and any decent person would trade all of those "victories" for a moral victory and doing the right thing. Shame on this entire administration!

    November 10, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Josh

    PLEASE READ THIS!!! PLEASE READ THIS!!! PLEASE READ THIS!!!

    PLEASE READ THIS!!! PLEASE READ THIS!!! PLEASE READ THIS!!!

    http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/football/news?slug=ycn-10407023

    November 10, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mindie from Indie

    I can't believe all you idiots defending Paterno who knew this horrible abuse was going on and did nothing to help the young boys NOTHING. Paterno SAW it happening in the showers and DID NOTHING and still you people defend this creep? He hasn't even receive his punishment yet and I hope he gets jail time along with this pervert sidekick.

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

      I agree with you that Paterno needed to get kicked out but he didn't actually witness the attack – he was told about the attack. That DOES not change his culpability in terms of what he should have done. Unfortunately, the rules only say that he had to report it to his superior. Obviously he should have called the police – that's what any decent human being would have done – but he was not "required" to. While I think that Paterno was wrong and should be fired – I have respect for his sadness and empathy. He is telling his "followers" to pray for the survivors and he is showing what I believe to be true remorse. If you want to get really mad – get mad at all of the people supporting him who don't understand why he is remorseful and empathetic – they care more about football than the safety of children and that's the real tragedy.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  11. brian

    ..if it was one of his grandchildren...guess how fast he would have called the police...

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

      EXACTLY!!!

      November 10, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  12. seriouslyomg

    These people clearly haven't heard Paterno speak. Paterno has said that he feels sad about what happened, he has said that he would have handled it differently with hindsight, and he has asked people to pray for the survivors. All of these spoiled brats are embarrassing themselves AND Paterno with their selfish actions. Paterno has grandchildren and I'm SURE that if this had happened to one of his flesh and blood he would have sent very large linebackers after every single person involved who didn't have the guts or the time to simply pick up a phone and dial 9-1-1. Anyone who won't stand up for a child is a wimp and a coward.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  13. WeArePennState17

    There's little doubt that the media rushed in, foaming and rabid to tear away at Joe Paterno. Whatever happened to due process? We (the public) know absolutely nothing about the details of this matter. Those details will be released when Sandusky has his day in court. For now, though, the media, along with the Board of Trustees, wants to show their moral superiority by firing JoePa and Graham Spanier. If they really want to be consistent with their own actions, why not give Joe back all of the millions of dollars which he has contributed to the university? After all, if he isn't good enough for the school, then his donations shouldn't be either! Of course, the Board of Trustees won't even mention that – they would much rather demonstrate their own morals by getting rid of a man of genuine character!....

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

      He should have demonstrated that "Genuine Character" several years ago when it was crucial.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • DaddyMac

      yeah, genuine character protected those young boys......it is a systematic cover up and a sham on those responsible, including Joe Pa and Spanier.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • big j

      1. read the indictment, plenty of details (if you can stomach getting through it)
      2. they can't give back the millions because they are going to lose that and more in the civil case
      3. he is complicit in going along with the cover up since 1998. He enabled his friend to continue molesting and raping young boys and turned a blind eye to the situation. He put football, his friendship with Sandusky and the schools reputation above doing the right thing.

      November 10, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  14. FreshxWater

    The Penn State Young Republicans and the Young Mormons Clubs riot! Young pedophiles groomed to become GOP leaders!

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

      Really, partisan politics.....we all know who the moron is here.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jeff

    why can't I post?!?!

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