Trying to put focus in Penn State case back on abuse

When thousands of students rioted to protest the firing of long-time Penn State coach Joe Paterno it dominated the national media.  Now some in State College are trying to shift attention back where they thought it should be to the alleged sexual abuse victims.   “I take this job with mixed emotions due to the situation,” said interim Penn State head football coach Tom Bradley at his first press conference.  But Bradley’s first appearance before reporters was somber, the football and the promotion were overshadowed by recent revelations.

“First off, I grieve for the victims, I grieve for the families.  Deeply saddened by that,” said Bradley.  “It’s with great emotion that I say that.  The football part I will get working on right away.  Right now I think you should know where the team is on this issue. It’s toward those children, toward those families. Our thoughts and prayers are toward them.” Bradley became Defensive Coordinator at Penn State after Jerry Sandusky retired in 1999.   Bradley would not comment on the legal charges surrounding the Sandusky case, but he did say this when asked if football coaches have a wider responsibility to report allegations of sex crimes. “We all have a responsibility to take care of our children.  All of us,” said Bradley.

Across town, Penn State students and local residents have found a way to shift focus to the victims. State College resident Jenn Buchan and about forty others are waiting at McLanahan’s in downtown State College. There’s supposed to be a second shipment of specially made shirts against child abuse to wear to Saturday’s home game against Nebraska. “The media has to stop with Joe.  It has to be about the kids and that’s what it needs to be about,” said Buchan. “I just want to show support for my school in the right way, not being out on the streets and rioting,” said Caleigh Feeny, who is in her first year at Penn State. “But in a good way. To show support for the victims, I guess is what I’m trying to say.” Feeny says she came to Penn State for the unity and school spirit and she thinks those qualities can be regained.

Laura March and two co-organizers came up with the shirt idea. “It’s really just crazy here, now,” said March.  “It’s pretty exciting to see so many people come out for this. I’m excited to say the official white out was canceled.” For the big games, March goes on to explain, Penn State fans traditionally all wear white to intimidate the opposing team.  The game against Nebraska was supposed to be a white out.  But March came up with the idea of a “blue out.” The color blue symbolizes child abuse prevention.   The shirts, which March helped design, are printed with an awareness ribbon and the words, “Stop Child Abuse, Blue Out Nebraska.” “I’m a graduate student in art education at Penn State and we talk a lot about ways to deal constructively with our feelings and trying to make something positive out of the situation,” said March. The proceeds from T-shirt sales will go to Prevent Child Abuse Pennsylvania.  The idea has gained a lot of support. A blue out facebook page had nearly 11,000 supporters. “I think what makes me happiest is that it’s a collective movement. Everybody feels it can be their own.  And I think taking ownership of the situation and creating that positivity out of our current situation is what’s really making people supportive right now,” said March. Not everyone is feeling optimistic just yet. Delilah Rumburg is CEO of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. She held a press conference yesterday and stressed that anger about Paterno’s removal only makes things harder for victims. “The actions we are witnessing now from the riots only reinforces to victims that it is not safe to tell what happened, to get help, and to bravely tell your story to stop the offender from hurting you,” said Rumburg.  “This is why victims don’t come forward and we are outraged.” Riots have other consequences as well.  State College police captain John Gardner says suspects for crimes ranging from riot to attempted arson to failure to disperse number in the teens so far.  He has some advice for students over the coming nights. “Stay off the streets,” warned Gardner.  “The behavior of last night is not going to be tolerated.  Each time they up the antee, we have to as well. These are people who have a lot to lose, the students. Most of the kids that are out there are good kids, but the problem is in the mobs.” Penn State Athletics put out a statement saying due to multiple threats made against Assistant Coach, Mike McQueary, he will not be at Saturday’s football game against Nebraska.  Some think McQueary should have been punished instead of or in addition to Joe Paterno because he was a firsthand witness to abuses allegedly committed by Sandusky. 

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal