Emotion-filled night at Penn State draws screaming crowds, riot gear
From a rooftop, thousands of pro-Paterno students were screaming in the streets
At first it wasn't civil, but it was a reasonable demonstration, then it got worse
It was a major shift from the anti-Paterno sentiment before the announcement
Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim was on the scene at State College, Pa., as news hit the campus of the immediate dismissal of Joe Paterno and Penn State president Graham Spanier on Wednesday night. SI.com quickly caught up with Wertheim via telephone ...
SI.com: What's the scene like right now?
Wertheim: I'm looking at thousands of kids screaming "We want Joe" from on top of a roof on East Beaver Avenue. We've got cop cars, and it's one of those situations of emotionally charged anger. I wouldn't call it civil, but right now it's a reasonable demonstration. You have a feeling that it's a lot of anger, and it could get ugly. I'm seeing a lot of cops in riot gear coming. They're expecting the worst.
SI.com: How has the situation on campus evolved in the hour since the announcement?
Wertheim: To some level, it's been the power of social media. To some level, it's been the power of a college campus. The past few days I've heard a lot of sentiment from a lot of (anti-Paterno) people expressing disgust, but this is clearly pro-Paterno, anti-trustees. This is clearly a pro-Paterno rally.
SI.com: How much of it is college kids being college kids?
Wertheim: I think these are college kids' raw emotions. I think a lot of it is emotional college students. I am a little surprised (at the pro-Paterno sentiment) given how much (anti-Paterno) disgust I've seen from people the last few days.
SI.com: Can you compare this to anything you've seen before?
Wertheim: I covered the Bob Knight firing in 2000. This is obviously a more charged situation for a variety of reasons, and I think some of this, too, frankly, is it's an 84-year-old-man. I think that there's almost a "fighting a fight that he's not up for fighting." I see football players out here, too. I was on the street and went on the roof for better perspective. This is blocks and blocks of students.
SI.com: How long have the crowds been out there?
Wertheim: At nine o'clock (at night) we drove around, and it was a dead campus. This was the power of Facebook and Twitter, I think. An hour before the announcement came out, drive right through campus, and you'd see three kids biking. This was pretty spontaneous.
SI.com: What do you think happens Thursday?
Wertheim: I think some of this depends on what Paterno's reaction is. I'm sure there is a scene at Paterno's house, it's a couple blocks off of campus. Everybody knows where he lives. I think Paterno's reaction will dictate a lot of this. If he expresses outrage, it's a much different tone than if he expresses, "Let's beat Nebraska."
SI.com: What's surprising you the most?
Wertheim: This university lost their president today. What Jerry Sandusky is to alleged to have done is some of the most grotesque stuff you'll ever read, but it seems to be all about Joe Paterno tonight. It's just interesting to see a new wave of emotion here. It's anger, and it's frustration, and I imagine tomorrow's going to be completely different. This story keeps jumping around.
SI.com: Was there any way Joe Paterno could have coached Saturday?
Wertheim: That's a really good question, because even when he came out with that announcement today (that he would retire after the season), everybody rolled their eyes. I just think there's so much in the air right now, it was going to be difficult no matter what. You either have an interim coach in the worst circumstances, or you have Joe Paterno wrapping up an unparalleled career in the worst circumstances. There's so much anger and frustration and shock, it would have been really hard.
SI.com: How is the situation with police on the streets progressing?
Wertheim: There's a definite police presence, but I'm only seeing a fraction of this. Just some people trying to take out streetlights and set off firecrackers.
SI.com: Any final thoughts on what's happened?
Wertheim: Nobody's talking about it tonight, but the fact that (wide receivers coach) Mike McQueary appears to still be on staff is something that's still going to be discussed.
Right now it's all Joe Paterno, but the fact that McQueary did not exit with the president and Paterno, that's something that shocked me today. I'm surprised that happened, and I think a lot of people are, too. Emotion from this aside, when people go back to the issues in this case, I think that's something.
Editor's note: The situation grew worse after speaking with Wertheim, as a crowd flipped over a news van.