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Penn State students’ reactions to Paterno firing was inappropriate

In the aftermath of the Penn State sexual abuse scandal, the school’s student body had the opportunity to react in a constructive manner. Unfortunately, what began as a show of support for Coach Joe Paterno devolved into a riot protesting the legendary coach’s firing.

The sexual abuse allegations leveled against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and the purported failure on the part of the university to stop the abuse are shameful enough. The scandal tarnished the reputation of a college football legend, Coach Joe Paterno. Whether or not he failed to fulfill a moral obligation by not going to the police is a separate question. Showing support for Paterno is not necessarily wrong. However, the rioting demonstrated a lack of consideration for the core of the scandal: the very serious crime of sexual abuse.

Instead of expressing outrage at the sexual abuse itself, or the university’s subsequent failure to end it, the rioting demonstrated a deep loyalty to the football program. Football plays a large role in defining the culture of Penn State. However, when confronted with something as potentially horrifying as the cover-up of sexual abuse, the proper response is not to riot. There might not be a proper response. The way that a school handles itself in reaction to a scandal as large as this dictates the perception that the nation has of the university. The allegations themselves are deeply embarrassing, the response even more so.

Nothing can erase the shame following a scandal of this magnitude. Nothing will make everything right again; Jerry Sandusky ruined too many lives. But, when something like this happens, it is the duty of the student body to try and make it a little better.

Joe Paterno was and will continue to be a football legend. At a school where football plays a significant role in defining the university as a whole, it is understandable that students would want Paterno to stay. The student demonstration began as a show of solidarity for the coach, but the second it devolved into rioting was the second that demonstration crossed the line.

At Wash. U., we have no comparable sports culture. However, as college students, we can agree that in the wake of a scandal of this magnitude, such a reaction only exacerbates the situation. When you react like that to a scandal, it only makes things worse. How you react to a scandal defines you as a school, and the reaction of Penn State’s students defined them in the eyes of the country as a school that emphasized love of football over allegations that its coaches and administrators are criminals.

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