Week of turmoil leaves Penn State dazed

November 12, 2011


— All the familiar sights and sounds of a football weekend at Penn State were on display: Crowded sidewalks and restaurants, fans dressed in the blue-and-white of their cherished Nittany Lions, scalpers pestering passers-by for extra tickets.

Something, however, was clearly missing.

Happy Valley is anything but these days.

“There’s no life here,” Homer Berlew said as he and his wife, Sandra, strolled the campus to take pictures Friday. “Nothing is being said. It’s like everyone’s in a daze.”

As the most tumultuous week in Penn State’s history came to a close, the university struggled with a child sex-abuse scandal that has rocked the school and cost football coach Joe Paterno and President Graham Spanier their jobs.

Work to be done

The board of trustees, in its first public meeting since firing Paterno and Spanier, began the process of repairing Penn State’s image by forming a committee to investigate the university’s failures to stop alleged sex abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

The school also put wide receivers coach Mike McQueary — a key witness against Sandusky — on paid leave. It already had said McQueary would not be at today’s final home game against Nebraska because of “multiple threats,” and the Harrisburg Patriot-News reported that he has told players by phone that he was in a secluded location outside State College.

New president Rod Erickson plans to appoint an ethics officer, and said the school will review all standards, policies and programs to ensure they meet “not only the law, but Penn State’s standard.”

“I know we can do this. We are resilient; we are a university that will rebuild the trust and confidence that so many people have had in us for so many years,” said Erickson, formerly the provost.

Paterno’s son, Scott, meanwhile, released a statement saying his father had hired Wick Sollers, a high-profile criminal attorney.

While not the subject of any criminal investigation, the winningest coach in major college football wants “the truth to be uncovered and he will work with his lawyers to that end,” Scott Paterno said.

“My father is experiencing a range of powerful emotions. He is absolutely distraught over what happened to the children and their families. He also wants very much to speak publicly and answer questions,” Scott Paterno said. “At this stage, however, he has no choice but to be patient and defer to the legal process.”

‘Complex set of emotions’

Students planned a candlelight vigil Friday night in front of the administration building to show support for the boys who were allegedly abused, and several groups are raising money for victims of sexual abuse, getting more than $192,000 so far.

Rather than the traditional “white out” for today’s game, fans were asked to wear blue — the color associated with child abuse awareness. Prevent Child Abuse Pennsylvania is selling T-shirts with a blue ribbon and the slogan, “Stop Child Abuse, Blue Out Nebraska.”

“It’s a really complex set of emotions on campus,” Sarah Knutson, a junior from Atlantic City, N.J., said as she manned a bake sale in front of The Corner Room, the popular restaurant across the street from the university gates. Money from sales of the homemade cookies, brownies and cupcakes with blue icing will go to Prevent Child Abuse Pennsylvania.

“We’re trying to get past it. But sometimes you can’t get past things,” Knutson said. “You have to work through them.”


Sandusky, Paterno’s former assistant and onetime heir apparent, has been charged with molesting eight boys over 15 years, with several of the alleged incidents occurring on Penn State property. Paterno and Spanier were fired because trustees felt they did not do enough to alert law enforcement authorities after an alleged assault in March 2002.

McQueary, a graduate assistant at the time, told the grand jury that he saw Sandusky sodomizing a boy of about 10 in the showers at the Penn State football building. McQueary did not go to police but later told Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley and university vice president Gary Schultz, although it is not clear how detailed his description was.

Schultz, in turn, notified Spanier.

Curley and Schultz have been charged with perjury and failure to report the incident to authorities, as required by state law. They have maintained their innocence, as has Sandusky.

In announcing McQueary was placed on administrative leave, Erickson said that it had become clear the assistant coach “could not function in this role under these circumstances.”

‘Sad and mad’

The scandal and its fallout is all anyone in State College has talked about this week.

“It’s all I hear,” Erica Lalli, a sophomore from Philadelphia, said. “It’s all over Facebook, it’s all over Twitter.”

It’s even in the Penn State classrooms.

Luis DeJesus, a junior from Philadelphia, said his entire history class was devoted to it Friday, with his professor asking students how they think the scandal, Paterno and the university’s role will be viewed in the years to come.

“Everybody is pretty much sad and mad,” DeJesus said.

Added Jon Bayona, a senior from Harrisburg, “Students want to express their emotions, but I don’t know if they’ve been provided enough information. ... As more information comes out, people are realizing they might have made some immature decisions.”

Thousands of angry students paraded through the streets after Paterno was fired Wednesday night, some throwing rocks and bottles and tipping over a TV news van.

Gov. Tom Corbett, who came to State College for the trustees meeting, had asked students to refrain from further violence, and trustee Joel Meyers echoed that plea Friday.

“I would just ask we show a new, high level of sportsmanship, civility and class,” Meyers said.


KEITHMILES05 6 years, 7 months ago

These individuals at PSU have truly displayed horrendous lack of judgement and lack of morals. Nothing like supporting power structures and stomping on the moral decency of society. Shameful, shameful, shameful.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 7 months ago

Think of the kids first. Think of the kids who were victimized after university officials became aware of the abuse and decided not to call the police. Victimizers like these don't stop just because they are asked to stop. They continue until incarcerated. More children were victimized because these officials thought first of the football program and not of the children. The shame they brought upon themselves was well earned by their reprehensible behavior. They failed to live by normal standards of behavior we expect of all adults.

Maddy Griffin 6 years, 7 months ago

Everyone who knew shouldbe prosecuted to the full extent of the law. I hope Paterno is happy with himself. He could have gone down as one of the best football coaches EVER. Instead he'll forever be the guy that turned a blind eye to child molestation and rape. Way to go Joe Pa!! Aren't you the proud one now.

beatrice 6 years, 7 months ago

If I tell you something, does that make it true? If I tell you something about something someone else did and you then go and report it to authorities, wouldn't they just call it hearsay? Isn't the actual eyewitness needed?

I'm not arguing for covering anything up here and I do think much more should have been done, but I can't help but to think the weight of this issue falls on first, the rapist, then secondly the 20-something adult who saw it and didn't stop the crime before calling the police.

If you see a crime happening, don't do me any favors by telling me about it -- tell the police yourself.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 7 months ago

But it also falls on everyone this then grad student told, who then failed to do anything about it, allowing this creep to abuse many more kids over the last nine years.

There's plenty of blame to go around on this, and they should all be held fully accountable.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 7 months ago

Bea, I think you're confusing hearsay testimony that may or may not be admitted in a court of law with telling the police what you "suspect" might be happening. The latter is always O.K., it's encouraged and in the case of suspected child abuse, it's mandated in many cases. That's not hearsay, it's a responsibility to affirmatively perform an action.
You are right, that 20-something year old man who saw, yes, he should have gone to the police. However, having gone to his bosses at the university, they should have taken that information to the police. Let them investigate and let the court decide what's hearsay and what's not. But deciding not to report, that's inexcusable.

Richard Payton 6 years, 7 months ago

Another victim came forward yesterday. The Attorney General Linda Kelly is asking for other victims to come forward. PA State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan anticipates he will hear from new victims.

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