Last weekend, when the report from a grand jury investigation revealed that former Penn State football assistant Jerry Sandusky was being charged with sexually assaulting eight young boys over a 14-year span, it sent shockwaves throughout the country. What no one expected would be the firestorm that brought down the school’s president, vice president, athletic director, and legendary football coach.
The Penn State Board of Trustees fired Joe Paterno, the school’s head football coach since 1966, late Wednesday night after it was found that he did not do enough to prevent the assaults by Sandusky. Just minutes after the decision was read, thousands of students began protesting outside of Old Main, and within an hour, a riot had broken out on campus.
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“This is the first time I can say I don’t love this school,” said Travis Salters, a PSU senior and the President of the school’s NAACP chapter, on Wednesday night. “Is this what we want to see? Our State College borough destroyed tomorrow?”
During the last few days, the school has become the nation’s focal point thanks to the sordid scandal. Students at the school have been largely conflicted, as they detest what Sandusky did to the children, but feel that Paterno should not have had to lose his job over the scandal.
“So many people on this campus love Joe Paterno,” said Deanna Kelly, a Penn State senior from Philadelphia. “It hurt them because of how (the school) did it. The way they fired him. He basically got fired over the phone.”
That was indeed the largest point of contention amongst the mob was the way Paterno was let go. A courier was sent to Paterno’s house and told him to call the board of trustees, who subsequently fired him.
“It makes the school look crazy,” Kelly said. “They turned over a (television) van, they got (pepper sprayed), they were throwing rocks at media people.”In the midst of the chaos, Salters and PSU student body president T.J. Bard tried to get those who were rioting to calm down. Salters said that he had told himself that a few people could not bring down the school but when there are thousands of students rioting and corruption in the administration, those actions definitely could.
The reaction of the school’s black students has been largely mixed. While there are no concrete numbers on those arrested as a result of the riots — State College Police say that there were close to 5,000 students downtown, but a fair amount were simply spectators – judging from the videos and still photos, there weren’t as many black students among the rioters.
“A lot of the black students who are big football fans are taking this kind of hard,” Kelly said. “Others are just, like, Paterno shouldn’t have been fired the way he was, but he still should’ve said something (about Sandusky).”
Paterno’s players, whose seniors will be playing their final home game on Saturday afternoon, were not happy at all with the firing. The Nittany Lions are currently 8-1 (5-0 Big Ten) and are in first place in the Leaders division with three games left in the season.
Prior to the scandal, the focus was on the team getting to the first ever Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. Interestingly enough, the Big Ten Championship Trophy was named after Paterno.
Now, there is worry the entire season could go up in flames, with people from inside and outside of the university suggesting that the team forfeit the remainder of their games.
“It’s a sad day, they ain’t have to do him like that,” said PSU defensive end Deion Barnes on his Twitter account shortly after the firing was announced.
Most of the players were angry over the way Paterno was fired, ranging from pure anger, to sadness, to disgust. Paterno’s influence is all over Penn State, including the school’s main library being named after him.
One player in particular, wide receiver Mike Wallace, had his own interpretation on Twitter: “This is almost like a modern day crucifixion,” Wallace tweeted campus had calmed down on Thursday, but will be on high alert for tomorrow’s game.
Assistant coach Mike McQueary – who allegedly witnessed Sandusky sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy in 2002, but ran away and told his father instead of authorities — will not coach the game as he has received numerous death threats. The student body vows to move forward, even as the events of Wednesday night will leave an indelible mark on the school.
“We are all full of questions, and we are eager for answers, and we will not stop until we get them,” said Bard. “But we can not allow our anger to dominate.”