Editor’s Note: Not everyday can you turn on CNN and find pundits talking college football instead of politics. The unraveling of the scandal at Penn State transcends sports. Within hours, Jerry Sandusky, Mike McQueary, and Graham Spanier have all turned into household names. On Wednesday night, as the situation at Penn State transgressed into the national spotlight, legendary head coach Joe Paterno was fired. Riots at State College then ensued at the culmination of the week that Penn State students and alums would love to quickly forget. S2S has a couple close friends that attend Penn State and witnessed the riots personally. I asked one of them to write a first-hand account of the riots, and he agreed under the condition of anonymity. For the record, the official stance of S2S remains that Penn State was correct in firing Joe Pa. However, since everybody on twitter/facebook is attacking PSU supporters, I figured I would provide a medium for which a Penn State student could defend himself and his peers.
Turns out, Happy Valley can get vicious. The Penn State campus was enraged on Wednesday night after it learned that its head coach for the past forty-five year, Joe Paterno, was fired. How enraged was the campus might you ask? There was enough anger to incite a riot that lasted over three long hours.
Shortly after news broke that Head Coach Paterno had been fired by the Board of Trustees, rumors of an impending riot quickly spread throughout Facebook and Twitter. Masses of students flooded onto Beaver Avenue as more students marched into the thick of the crowd from Old Main, home to the office of then University President Graham Spanier. Penn State University was well prepared. At least one hundred police officers–armed with riot gear and pepper spray–manned the streets in order to prevent any vandalism.
At first, the riots were very peaceful. Thousands upon thousands of students were shouting chants supporting Paterno. These included “We Want Joe” and “One More Game.” At one point during the protest, a large majority of the protestors got down on one knee and prayed (referred to now as Tebowing thanks to a certain Broncos quarterback). The peaceful riots soon turned violent as crowds of students quickly started to cause disorder. Police officers began to pepper spray the crowd as protesters began to shake light posts and street signs. The pepper spray caused a stampede as many students fled, but the majority continued to protest as they became even more enraged. More light posts continued to be uprooted as the riot officers forced the protesters onto the neighboring street, College Avenue.
The riots continued to intensify as angry students left Beaver Ave and flooded College Ave. The students’ attention quickly shifted to a news van parked along the curb. A few rioters successfully attempted to flip the van as many members of the crowd backed away from the scene. Officers in riot gear quickly made their way to the flipped van and attempted to disperse the crowd with a flurry of pepper spray. Instead of dispersing, the crowd just relocated a few blocks over. The cops continued their attempt to disperse the crowd by liberally pepper spraying the protesters. It proved useless though, as protesters just moved to a different area of downtown Penn State. This back-and-forth movement between riot officers and rioters continued for the next hour or so. As it got later into the night, the riots slowly began to die down to reveal the mess that had been left.
Joe Paterno’s dismissal remains to be a very opinionated topic of conversation. Not surprisingly, Joe Pa has received more support from the Penn State community than the rest of the nation. The only reason the Penn State Board of Trustees gave for his release was that “it is in the best interest of the university to have a change in leadership to deal with the difficult issues that we are facing.” Through a Penn State perspective, the ambiguity of their statement gives students and alums the impression that the board did not have a definite reason to fire Coach Paterno. In the midst of this scandal, he seems to be shaping up to be a scapegoat.
The negligence of athletic director Tim Curley, Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz, and President Graham Spanier is being wrongfully swept under the carpet. All three school officials, three of the most powerful individuals at the University I might add, were informed through the chain that started with Joe Pa alerting Tim Curley. Publically, Joe Pa is shouldering most of the blame. And that is exactly why the Penn State student body is outraged.
Joe Paterno is an iconic figure at Penn State. He has coached Penn State football to 409 wins. He has encouraged his players to keep up on their academics as well as their athletics. Penn State is far above the NCAA four-year graduation rate. He has donated over $4 million of his own money towards Penn State University. He has helped raise $13.5 million in order to expand the Penn State library. Paterno has even stated, “I have come to work every day for the last 61 years with one clear goal in mind: To serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to my care. I have the same goal today.”
The Penn State student body realizes how much Paterno has done for the university. He has dedicated his life to the university, and the university left him when he needed its support. The university redirected a lot of undeserved anger towards Paterno. The university used him as a scapegoat. Penn State didn’t even have the decency to fire Paterno in person. They notified him through the phone. Does Joe Paterno deserve that after all he has done for the school? The Penn State student body doesn’t think so.