Focus on child sex abuse, 'healing' as Penn State team takes field

Penn State students move forward
Penn State students move forward

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Story highlights

  • The interim coach says "today, just maybe, the healing process started to begin"
  • The interim president says he wants to show Penn State is a "caring community"
  • Scores of fans gather outside Joe Paterno's home to show support
  • Fans hold moment of silence before game, many wearing blue
Tens of thousands packed Penn State's football stadium Saturday, cheering the Nittany Lions for the first time since graphic child sexual abuse allegations rocked the university and led to the ouster of its president and iconic football coach.
The Nittany Lions lost the game -- the first in 46 years without Joe Paterno as head coach -- 17-14 to Nebraska. But the man who replaced Paterno said that the actions of fans and players Saturday sent a message against sexual abuse and helped them personally come to grips after an emotional week.
"It was a day of solidarity for the children, for the victims -- it was a touching moment," interim coach Tom Bradley said of the crowd's demeanor and emotional pre-game ceremonies focused on child abuse. "I felt that today, just maybe, the healing process started to begin."
A moment of silence was held before the game in honor of the alleged victims. Current and former players from Penn State and Nebraska locked arms amid thunderous applause from more than 100,000 fans -- many of them wearing blue, to focus attention on child abuse -- in attendance.
Interim Penn State President Rodney Erickson said Saturday that it was important for the Penn State community, led by the team's players, to "show unity" for one another and in opposition to child sex abuse. Doing so, he said, is particularly important in the wake of the flood of emotions, including on-campus rioting, that followed Paterno's firing.
"We ... want to demonstrate not just to the Penn State community, but to the rest of the world, that Penn State is a caring community, that Penn State is moving forward with a sense of purpose, and that hopefully there are elements of good that can come out of this situation," Erickson told reporters after the game.
Paterno's son Jay Paterno, a current Penn State assistant coach, told ESPN on Saturday that "the world ... turned upside down" exactly one week earlier with the arrest of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
A 23-page grand jury report described crimes that Sandusky allegedly committed against young boys between 1994 and 2009 -- some of them on campus, both during and after his tenure at at Penn State. Sandusky's attorney, Joseph Amendola, has said that his client disputes the report.
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Penn State ready to play without Paterno

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In addition to Sandusky, Penn State Athletic Director Timothy Curley and Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz were charged for failing to report the abuse to authorities and misleading authorities.
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Joe Paterno, the winningest coach in top-level college football history, was not criminally charged. Still, he was dismissed Wednesday by Penn State's board of trustees for failing to do more when a then-graduate assistant told him in 2002 that he had seen Sandusky allegedly rape a boy in the showers of a campus athletics facility.
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Paterno alerted Curley, his immediate boss, but it was years before law enforcement first learned about the allegation. The graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, who was later promoted to a full-time assistant coach, eventually described the alleged incident in graphic detail to a grand jury. McQueary was placed on administrative leave Friday.
Scores of people gathered outside Paterno's home early Saturday evening to show their support. The former coach wasn't home during the game -- later pulling up in a minivan -- but his wife, Sue, did come out briefly to thank those who "propped me up" after the turbulent week.
Jay Paterno said Saturday that he had a simple message for his father before the Nittany Lions took to the field Saturday.
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"Dad, I wish you were here (and) we love you," the younger Paterno recalled to ESPN, breaking into tears.
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Many questions remain unanswered in the case, with several investigations launched by the school and the state to probe further possible wrongdoing by team, athletic department and administrative officials.
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Whatever those investigations find, Erickson has said it is imperative to promote dialogue about sexual abuse and change the "culture" at Penn State so that witnesses don't hesitate to come forward.
"Never again should anyone at Penn State -- regardless of their position -- feel scared to do the right thing," Erickson said earlier this week following his appointment as interim president after trustees on Wednesday ousted Graham Spanier. Spanier initially voiced support for Curley and Schultz following the release of the grand jury report Saturday.