Penn State Students Riot Over JoePa’s Firing

Students from Penn State University clashed with police last night but not for the reasons that UC Berkeley students seeking to occupy Sproul Plaza. Enraged at the firing of legendary coach Joe Paterno, thousands of Penn State students stampeded down the streets of downtown State College, tearing down lamp posts, overturning a television news van and chanting Paterno’s name and nickname, “JoePa.” Students threw rocks and firework at police in riot gear, who responded with pepper spray.

Other students stood around the statue of Joe Paterno outside Beaver Stadium and sobbed.

Paterno and Penn State President Graham Spanier were fired on Wednesday night by the university’s Board of Trustees, in the wake of the arrest last Friday of Jerry Sandusky, a long-time assistant on Penn State’s powerhouse football team. Sandusky has been charged with 40 criminal counts of sexually abusing 8 boys in the football facilities of the university, over a period of 15 years. Timothy M. Curley, Penn State’s athletic director, and Gary C. Schultz, its interim senior vice president for finance and business, had already stepped down earlier this week and face charges of perjury and failing to report the child-abuse allegations to the police. Paterno and Spanier have not been charged with any crime but have been deeply implicated in the scandal, Paterno because of what he says he knew, or did not know, about allegations of abuse of a boy in 2002.

Relatives of the alleged victims have been deeply upset by the riots. The sister of a boy who was 11 when Sandusky allegedly molested him in one of the school’s showers says:

— “I’ve been going to minimal classes, because every class I go to I get sick to my stomach. People are making jokes about it.” Others, she said, have coined the verb “Sanduskied.” You can imagine the context.

— The young woman also says that the scenes in State College, Pa., last night of students rioting in the streets because they’re angry about Paterno’s firing, mean that “if there was any pride left at PSU, it’s gone now.”

“I’ve just been really upset about it all,” she added, “because a lot of people aren’t focusing on the victims in this. And instead they’re focusing on other things, like football.”

Penn State students proclaimed it unfair that Paterno has been drawn into the scandal:

“I think the point people are trying to make is the media is responsible for JoePa going down,” said a freshman, Mike Clark, 18, adding that he believed that Mr. Paterno had met his legal and moral responsibilities by telling university authorities about an accusation that Mr. Sandusky assaulted a boy in a university shower in 2002….

“We got rowdy, and we got maced,” Jeff Heim, 19, said rubbing his red, teary eyes. “But make no mistake, the board started this riot by firing our coach. They tarnished a legend.”

Students — some of whom said they needed a way to vent their anger — attacked and overturned the TV van because of anger at the media, whom they accuse of tarnishing Paterno’s name by dragging him into the scandal. Aerospace engineering student Paul Howard said “Of course we’re going to riot. What do they expect when they tell us at 10 o’clock that they fired our football coach?”

Howard’s comments capture the emotional fervor and passionate loyalty that students feel about college sports. They also reveal how deeply the whole Penn State community, including faculty, have associated the prowess and reputation of the Nittany Lions with the university’s fortunes. Says the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Since the scandal broke on Saturday, events have accelerated, and the quickened cycle of revelations and recriminations has been reflected in classrooms. On Monday morning, students talked a bit about the news, said Donald E. Heller, a professor of education. By Wednesday, he said, students in the hallway were asking what the scandal might mean for the university and the quality and reputation of their degrees. Alumni were asking the same questions, he said….

Some faculty members have said the scandal has rocked them to their core. While scandal has soiled other campuses, where athletes have been arrested or been paid by boosters, some Penn State faculty said they once took comfort that the motto of their football team, “Success With Honor,” had helped to burnish the university’s image.

But no more. “I would kill for this to be about tattoos right now,” Mr. Manuel said, referring to the revelations that football players at Ohio State University had sold memorabilia in exchange for discounts on tattoos, which led to the resignation of the team’s head coach, Jim Tressel.

It’s an open secret that college sports are a big, big, big business in the US. As the defensive coordinator for the football team, Sandusky played a huge role in its successes on the field and, accordingly, in the acclaim (and donations) Penn State has garnered.

Paterno said on Sunday that “we were all fooled” by Sandusky. But the sex scandal has exposed the shroud of secrecy that Paterno himself has long cloaked his football team in:

If Curley and Schultz did lie, as is alleged, in an apparent effort to cover up Sandusky’s behavior, the attempted cover-up makes perfect sense. They were reacting in much the same way most other Penn State athletic officials have long dealt with the outside world.

They withdrew into the comfortable cocoon Paterno wrapped around his program.

For reasons both logical and illogical, the coach has long been obsessed about sheltering his Nittany Lions team, as if it were a wartime army.

Practices are closed to the media. Assistant coaches are off-limits. Reporters have virtually no access to players. Information – think of Paterno’s long-secret salary – is locked away.

A decade ago, for example, when The Inquirer did a lengthy series on the growing influence of money in college sports, Penn State jealously guarded information – such as the dollar amount of its contract with Nike – that other schools, schools with less-upright reputations, readily made available.

The rest of the world will know want to know what else went on behind the blue and white curtains in central Pennsylvania. The Inquirer even says that the very “reputation for integrity that Paterno and Penn State developed has been a shield of sorts” that has “deflected criticism and potential problems” and that, most of all, has been “Penn State’s currency” with which “the school bought the confidence of recruits and, especially, their parents.” Now the shine on that currency is dullened, and darkened.


Related Care2 Coverage

Joe Paterno Fired, Penn State President Steps Down

Sex Abuse Scandal: Why Were Penn State Officials Silent?

Penn St Officials Head to Court on Perjury Charges

The Sex Abuse Scandal and the Church That Did Not Know Right From Wrong


Photo of statue of Paterno by nviziondotnet

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


leanne mcivor
leanne Torio4 years ago

I hope Pen State and the football program go the way of the kooko bird - it is time society starts glorifying things of importance instead of a stupid game - and imagine the ignorance of a statue of a coach! Despicable and disgusting and the world is watching and you pathetic pieces of shit that support that corruption are just as bad!

Denise L.
Denise L.4 years ago

people who riot over a coach being fired but not over children being exploited and abused are disgusting, pathetic excuses of people

this is an example of why I lose faith in the world, more time and energy is devoted to trivial matters by so many people than caring about things that truly matter

Tammy D.
Tammy D.4 years ago

what a shame. I can understand why these young people are upset. Paterno was more than just a coach, he was an institution. He brought in a lot of money to the university, but also a lot of respect. He kept the bar high for players. He definitely failed here, but I'm not sure if dragging him through the mud is necessary. We don't know what was said behind closed doors. If he indeed did report what he knew to the administration, then it is possible he did nothing wrong. Not to be...ageist, but I think perhaps someone who is 84 is not going to think like someone born in the '80s/'90s. Not that that excuses an action, but it might indicate that he saw things in a different way.

I'm not defending, just questioning. What I am completely *not* defending is the absolutely ridiculous reaction from these rioters. What a way to make the student body look like a bunch of thugs who think that sexually abusing people is okay. Idiots.

To the previous poster who noted that all Penn Staters are loud, foul-mouthed drunks, well, there's no proof here to oppose that, but, as an alumna, I would like to say we're not all idiots, thanks. I have never shouted 'we are Penn State,' but I certainly have never gone around accusing people of having NO morals. Even if Paterno failed to act as he should have, I don't think that wins him the honour of being completely without morals. Obviously this is an emotional topic, but I don't think that means we need to resort to stereotyping and oversimplifi

colleen p.
colleen p.4 years ago

ooh. who wants to playfully harass the butthurt morons who are upset he got canned and not over what he did.

raise your hands, and find them for me.

now if only we can force them to read or look at things.

Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson4 years ago


tiffany t.
tiffany t.4 years ago

I cannot believe the students are not thinking about the victims! What pathetic souls!

Erin D.
Erin Hummer4 years ago

I have been to Penn State four times in my life. EVERY time I've been there the students have been loud, foul mouthed drunks!!!!!! I can't believe that anyone would riot over a "legendary" coach being fired. He may have done what was required of him, but he knows as well as everyone else that he should have done a lot more!!!! Everything was pushed under the rug because if it would have came out it would have hurt their precious football program. Football and Joe Pa mean everything to Penn State. It's absolutely disgusting that people put winning a stupid game over the lives and safety of a child. I have NEVER been a fan of PSU and I NEVER will be. I can't believe that people defend a person with NO morals. I'll bet if it was his son or grandson he would have done things differently. I despise PSU and I hope their precious football program goes down the tubes!!!! They have no one to blame, but themselves. All of the morons that say "We are Penn State" need to stop and think just what that means and I wouldn't be proud to say that!!!!!!!

Nancy L.
Nancy L.4 years ago

It's too bad Joe has to go out like this.

Bruce S.
Bruce S.4 years ago

I can't believe that these students would riot over a football coach. If it was me, I would be rioting if they DIDN'T fire him.

Rebecca Smith
Rebecca Smith4 years ago

I can't believe that students were rioting over this. Anyone who was responsible for watching out for students and did not report that abuse was going on, deserves to lose their job at the very least.