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. C.

    The students are passionate, and well, it is Penn State, so they were drinking, I forgive them for their passionate actions, and I'm sure most of them are horrified at the abuse. I think the university made the right decision, have to put all behind them and move forward in order to erase themselves from this horrible mess. A lesson to all of us, if you witness or know about any abuse to any child, DO SOMETHING, and FOLLOW IT THROUGH. Those children only have those that know to help them, to save others. We all need to remember this forever.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • What?

      Idiot rioters!!! They were not worried about the victims at all. They were only worried about the person who took care of himself instead of doing the right thing!!!!!!!

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

      So the fact that this ridiculous behavior was caused by drunken passion excuses it? Nice spin.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jamie

    It makes me sick that everyone thinks Joe shouldn't have been fired. "He did only what he could do" my ass. You say he would have been fired if he went to the police? I would rather get fired then to have these poor kids go through what they did. It makes me sick that all people ever do is think about themselves and how their actions will affect them, not the victim. Everyone does the bare minimum in this country to get by. Come on people, do the right thing!

    November 10, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • matt

      But that's you. Some people would look out for themselves first. That was Joe's choice. Why would someone risk such an enormous career and football program for a chance to bring everything down that they have worked so hard for? I know it sounds cruel, but humans usually look out for "number one" first.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      I agree. There really seems to be no bottom to morality.

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

      So based on the facts we know as of now: A young guy says he may have seen something innappropriate happen between an old acquantaince and a kid. You then immediately take it up the chain. The higher ups tell you they investigated the matter and the charges have no merit. Clearly a rational person would have assumed that the higher ups were lying and therefore go to the police.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe in Colorado

      Just because you have some religious moral issues doesn't mean the rest of us do. Don't put your morals on everyone else.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. matt

    Let's move on people. A crime was committed, a man is being charged, the media has used JoePa as a scapegoat. Let's focus on beating Nebraska and winning the Big 10.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jonathan Adamec

    Penn State students are idiots. They condone Joe Paterno's "accessory after the fact" & possibly "accomplice" charges if he had the knowledge of this continuing. You riot over a guy who let a man molest children in a shower but you won't riot on how a man went to court trying to get a jury trial for being molested & groped at an airport. Penn State, you disgust me. Your a generation I wish I could say I wasn't apart of. I just hope I can finish my education before this country which is run by a two party dictatorship & foreign bankers takes the country down a hole that it will never get out of EVER.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • meg d

      Why aren't these social idiots protesting the fact that when they graduate in 2-4 years they will have thousands in debt and most likely not be able to have a job that has the ability to pay down that debt? The money students are paying Penn State will now be going towards this horrific scandal. In 10-15 years when these social idiots have a family they will rethink their actions

      November 10, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. rxs

    I am a former PSU student. I am heartbroken by the recent allegations.
    I graduated in 2001 and I haven't been to University Park since. But I still took the allegations to the heart because the alleged crimes occured on at my univeristy.
    Attending PSU was one of the best experiences of my life. I felt being part of a strong community. It was place that had a sense of innocence attached to it. It is hard to imagine now that so many may have lost their innocence and were victimized.
    The sad part of this whole story isn't that JoPa lost his job..We love him and he had 61 great yrs at the University. The sad part isn't that Spanier got fired.The sad part of this whole story is that so many lost their innocence and let's not forget the ages (10, 11, 12, 9).
    Suprisingly, I took a class at PSU that was about human rights. We discussed child abuse as one of the human rights violations. These children were violated as humans. I am just so very sad for everyone of them.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  6. michaelfury

    November 10, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. human race

    have you seen his glasses.... what senses do you think this poor 90 year old has left.... leave him alone.....

    November 10, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Todd

    Joe Paterno is a scapegoat for the AD who did nothing after Paterno notified him. Paterno followed what guidelines were set up in reporting to senior officals. They have been trying for years to get Paterno to retire, this just helped them push him out. What they should do is BOYCOTT THE GAMES. Do not spend any monet to support the University and help the trustees realize that it was Paterno and The football team that brings in the most funds for them.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Josh




    November 10, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Ken

    And here you see the result of a true liberal education. A man abuses young childern for many years, people who knew something was going on merely reported the items up the chain and ignored it or brushed it under the rung .. and do the students get angry over this cover-up and lack of responsiblity??? NO, they get angry over the firing of the coach who knew about this long ago but did nothing expect tell his boss and pass the buck.

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

      Ken, this has nothing to do with politics. I'm sure Liberals are just as horrified as Conservatives over a child being molested. These are kids that really have not read the indictment and are more affected by feelings for a coach instead being concerned with the victims involved as any "parent" would be.

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

      You can confirm that all these students are liberals? I guess you would say that the Catholic Church is all Liberal also since they have the same response to child molestation.

      November 10, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  11. jack

    Maybe Penn State should be renamed Ped State.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe in Colorado

      Peen State

      November 10, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Josh




    November 10, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. human race

    remember everyone..... he reported this incident..... its not his job to report it to the police.... just to his superior which he did....... leave him alone

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

      I agree 100%

      November 10, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  14. LT

    I am not sure why Paterno is the only one being fired at this point. Maybe there will be more after further investigation, but I feel that ANYONE who knew anything should be terminated and legal action brought against them if there is need. As for the students, all they did was hurt their cause. They may be outraged by the decision made, but rioting was NOT the way to show their anger. All that does is make the school look worse. Hopefully, this incident will bring to light the fact that we have to take more responsibility and we need to not put anyone on a pedastal so they think they are above all else. They are not Gods, they are human beings, and we need to start treating them as such.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Skip

    I'm not a brave person, nor have I ever been one who would come out against the status quo as a rule. Once upon a time in Babenhousen, Germany I exited a bar and found a man lying on the ground having his face asulted whith fist of fury from another GI. Reactioons caused me to knock the man on top from his perch on the other fellows chest. Listening to the Board of Directors stonewalling made me want to ask for my money back for my education. Clearly these people are not "Men and Women for all seasons." "What does it profit a man to sell his soul for the whole world?" " But for Whales?"

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