PSU Students Riot, Plan Vigil After Paterno Firing

Scenes from State College as university says goodbye to a football coach

We are Penn State. They are not. For Penn State students, they means Jerry Sandusky and the others charged in connection with the alleged child molestation incidents.

For thousands of other students who rioted in downtown State College Wednesday night, that list includes the media, which they believe convicted JoePa in the court of public opinion and got him fired.

The students wanted a resurrection. Instead, they got a riot.

“We’re here for JoePa,” one student told me. “They crucified him.”

In a twisted way, it was as if thousands of Penn State students held an impromptu pep rally. Students crowd-surfed a JoePa cutout and sang Penn State fight songs. Some flipped a news truck, others shattered car windows and a few more lit fireworks.

But Philly, please note: More than 43,000 go here and only a few thousand rioted. The vast majority of students did not participate.

We are Penn State. They are not.

A vigil for the alleged victims is already planned for Friday evening.

“Much of the media focus is being placed on Joe and the football program,” says Kyle Harris, a senior who helped plan the event. “We hadn’t seen anything about the [alleged] victims. Hopefully, this will change that.”

During Saturday’s home game against Nebraska, students will wear blue, the official color of the Blue Ribbon Campaign, a group that fights child abuse.

While the riot raged downtown, a couple students stood on the other side of town stood in silence at the Nittany Lion shrine, the stone statue of the university’s mascot.

One of them was sophomore Emily Bachner, who says, “The riot was disgraceful. JoePa would’ve cried.”

Indeed, JoePa the legend would’ve cried. But Joe Paterno the man? He smiled. And he gave out a “We Are … ” cheer for the dozens of faithful students who made the half-mile pilgrimage off-campus to his house to offer their support.

Even in his pajamas—without his signature costume of rolled-up khaki pants and black sneakers—the faithful thought him to be JoePa.

He also playfully told the dozens of students outside his house to go study and—oh yeah—“pray a little bit for those victims,” too.

Trying to protect him, the faithful students shouted profanities at reporters who just wanted to ask Paterno the one question he’s yet to answer: Why didn’t he go to police?

Without doubt, JoePa the legend would have alerted the authorities. His actions are a testament to his character: He donated multimillions to the university and has a record-breaking 409 career wins. He defined the university’s mantra: success with honor. JoePa defined Penn State for so many students, it’s unfathomable to think any act of his could bring shame to the university.

Outside of State College, most realize JoePa the legend is not Joe Paterno the man. Here in heartbroken Happy Valley, many students are still figuring it out.

JoePa was Penn State. Joe Paterno was not. That itself is enough to cause a riot.

Kevin Cirilli is a Penn State student who will graduate early this semester. More of his work and credentials can be found online here.