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.
Photo of statue of Paterno by nviziondotnet
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