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At Penn State: Solidarity For Abuse Victims

Penn State students show their solidarity at the university's last home game of the season — and the first without legendary coach Joe Paterno.
Gene J. Puskar
Penn State students show their solidarity at the university's last home game of the season — and the first without legendary coach Joe Paterno.

The stands were blue at Penn State University this afternoon, as students and fans of the school's football team showed their symbolic support for victims of child sexual abuse.

Most of the more than 107,000 spectators at the game against Nebraska were wearing blue and many gave money to organizations that battle sexual abuse — their way of responding to the allegations that a former assistant football coach at the school abused young boys for more than a decade, sometimes on campus.

There was a moment of silence before the game for child victims of sexual abuse. The Penn State players walked out, arm-in-arm, instead of charging on to the field as they normally would. There were prayers at midfield. And afterward, though their beloved team lost to Nebraska 17-14, Penn State's students and fans broke into cheers and chants of "We Are ... Penn State!" — a sign of how much they wanted to show support for both the victims and the players, and express a sense of community.

The scandal cost 84-year-old head coach Joe Paterno his job this week (because of allegations that he didn't do enough to stop what was happening) and led to the dismissal of the school's president.

We updated this post before, during and after the game. Scroll down and read "up" if you wish to see things chronologically.

Update at 4 p.m. ET. Penn State Coach On "Powerful" Moment Before The Game:

Penn State's interim head football coach, Tom Bradley, just told reporters that "the pregame show of unity with Nebraska [when players met at midfield to pray] was one of the most powerful moments he's ever been a part of," Penn State's athletics office says in this Twitter post.

Update at 3:45 p.m. ET. School President Is "Pleased And Proud" Of Students And Fans:

New Penn State President Rodney Erickson just told reporters he is "pleased and proud" of the way the students and other fans acted today, reports Michael Sanserino of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Update at 3:40 p.m. ET. "We Are ... Penn State!"

The student-run Daily Collegian reports that the crowd at the stadium is chanting "We Are ... Penn State!" And, it tweets: "Don't see many cheers after losses normally. But this is not a normal loss."

Update at 3:35 p.m. ET. "Dad, I Wish You Were Here," Jay Paterno Says:

A tearful Jay Paterno, Joe's son and the team's quarterbacks coach, just choked up on ESPN when he was asked about his father. "Dad I wish you were here, we love you," he said.

Update at 3:30 p.m. ET. Nebraska Wins, 17-14.

Penn State just ran out of time. And now the two teams are meeting at midfield again. And despite losing, Penn State fans are cheering — surely a sign of both support and relief. "I was awful proud" of the team, Penn State interim head coach Tom Bradley just told ESPN.

Update at 3:26 p.m. ET. Penn State Ball With 49 Seconds To Go:

Penn State just stopped Nebraska on fourth down and will be getting the ball on its own 29-yard-line.

Update at 3:20 p.m. ET. Big Stop By Nebraska:

The Cornhuskers just kept Penn State from getting a first down. The Nittany Lions had to go for it on 4th and 1. There's 1 minute, 49 seconds to go in the fourth quarter.

Update at 3:05 p.m. ET. Touchdown Penn State; Nebraska Leads 17-14:

That fumble recovery has turned out well for Penn State. The drive from midfield just ended with a short rush into the end zone. It's now Nebraska 17, Penn State 14. There are 5 minutes, 42 seconds to go in the fourth quarter.

Update at 3:04 p.m. ET. Media Crush:

How intense is the news media interest? Brian Siegrist, Penn State's basketball and football sports information director, tweets that "589 members of the media at today's game, 365 single game credentials issued, about 170 more than a normal Big Ten game in Beaver Stadium."

Update at 2:54 p.m. ET. A Break For Penn State; Nebraska Fumbles:

There hasn't been too much for Penn State fans to cheer about, but now there's this: Nebraska just fumbled and Penn State recovered the ball at midfield. There are 9 minutes, 35 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, with Nebraska ahead 17-7.

Update at 2:47 p.m. ET. Largest Crowd Of Season:

According to a Twitter post by Brian Siegrist, Penn State's basketball and football sports information director, there are "107,903 fans at Beaver Stadium today, Penn State's largest crowd of the season."

Update at 2:35 p.m. ET. Many Former Players At The Game:

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Michael Sanserino, Penn State's sideline "is full of former players." One of them, LaVar Arrington, gave what's described as an emotional speech at the vigil held on campus last night for victims of sexual abuse. He called the scandal an "ultimate wake-up call" and a "call to duty" for all Penn Staters.

The third quarter just ended.

Update at 2:21 p.m. ET. Touchdown Penn State:

Now the crowd is really into it again — Penn State just ran the ball in from the 5-yard-line. It's now 17-7, Nebraska leading. There are 5 mintues, 7 seconds left in the third quarter.

Update at 2:20 p.m. ET. But Now, A Roar:

All it takes is a long pass that moves the ball to Nebraska's 5-yard-line and the crowd is back into it. First and goal for Penn State.

Update at 2:17 p.m. ET. A Quiet Stadium:

The combination of this week's events and the fact Penn State is behind 17-0 seem to have combined to quiet the crowd, judging from the ESPN audio.

Update at 2:11 p.m ET. Touchdown Nebraska:

After a Penn State turnover, a Cornhuskers drive ends with a run into the endzone from the 14-yard line. With the kick, Nebraska has a 17-0 lead. There are 8 minutes, 51 seconds to go in the third quarter.

Update at 2:02 p.m. ET. Cheers When Videos Show Paterno:

The student-run Daily Collegian, which is live-blogging, writes that: "Every time a clip of Joe Paterno comes on the video board, the crowd is cheering."

Update at 1:55 p.m. ET. Second Half Has Begun:

Nebraska has the ball first.

Update at 1:47 p.m. ET. "I Share Your Anger And Sorrow," School President Says:

During broadcasts of college football games, the participating schools usually have the chance to air commercials that promote their programs. On ESPN a moment ago, there was a very simple video of new President Rodney Erickson saying, among other things, "I share your anger and sorrow" about what has happened and pledging that Penn State will "remain committed to our core values."

Update at 1:40 p.m. ET. School President To Talk:

After the game, PennLive.com says, new President Rodney Erickson "will address the media and take questions." PennLive is live-blogging here.

Update at 1:35 p.m. ET. Penn State Interim Coach:

As he headed to the locker room at the half, interim Penn State head coach Tom Bradley was asked by ESPN about how his players have handled the day's emotions. "We got off to a good start," he said. "We just have to sustain some drives."

Update at 1:33 p.m. ET: First Half Ends, Nebraska Leads 10-0.

Update at 1:28 p.m. ET. Touchdown For Nebraska:

After an interference penalty gainst Penn State gave Nebraska the ball on the 2-yard line, Nebraska pushed the ball into the end zone. With a successful point-after kick, the Cornhuskers now lead 10-0. There are 44 seconds left in the first half.

Update at 1:24 p.m. ET. Minute To Go In The First Half:

With 61 seconds before halftime, Nebraska is in Penn State territory at the 14-yard line.

Update at 1:06 p.m. ET. Paterno's Message To The Players:

According to ESPN, Paterno sent a note to the team Friday, saying he is heartbroken and sorry he can't be with them, but to focus on the game, not on him. There are 8 minutes left in the second quarter.

Update at 12:58 p.m. ET. Nebraska Takes A 3-0 Lead:

Nebraska just got the game's first score, a 40-yard field goal. There are 10 minutes, 55 seconds left in the second quarter.

Update at 12:55 p.m. ET. All Is Quiet Outside Paterno's Home.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes that:

"Nearby, all was quiet outside the Joe Paterno home on McKee Street just before the start of the game. Yet camera crews remained focused on the house, where hours earlier fans and supporters trickled past to pray on the front lawn or catch a glimpse of the former coach, iconic and embattled. Some passersby looked upon the home with curiosity, but the drapes are pulled shut.

"On the front porch, people have left signs that read, 'Thank you, Joe!!' and an American flag."

Update at 12:45 p.m. ET. First Quarter Ends:

No scoring yet.

Meanwhile, here's the latest headline at the website of The Patriot-News, which broke the scandal story: "For State College And Penn State, A Loss Of Innocence."

Update at 12:30 p.m. ET. Paterno's Seat Left Empty On Team Bus:

When the Penn State team rode to the stadium on their buses this morning, ESPN says, the "first seat on the first bus was left empty." That's where Paterno would always sit.

Update at 12:25 p.m. ET. Penn State Has First Scoring Chance:

After some success moving the ball, Penn State tries a 47-year-old field goal. The kick, though, is wide of the goal posts.

Update at 12:16 p.m. ET. Paterno's Son Is On The Sideline:

The game has started. Penn State started on offense, but got nowhere on its first drive. Nebraska's first drive was short-lived as well. The Cornhuskers just punted. So Penn State's about to go on offense again.

Note: One of Paterno's sons, Jay Paterno, is the Penn State quarterbacks coach. He is on the sideline with the team. Joe Paterno, according to ESPN, is at his home in State College. There's talk that Penn State players may walk to their former coach's home after the game.

Penn State running backs Derek Day (24) and Silas Redd (25) hug during warm ups before the game.
Gene J. Puskar / AP
Penn State running backs Derek Day (24) and Silas Redd (25) hug during warm ups before the game.

Our original post, from 11:30 a.m. ET:

The tailgating scene outside the stadium at Penn State University is more subdued than usual this hour, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, as Nittany Lions fans gather for a noon ET game against Nebraska that comes against the backdrop of a sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the university.

"There is a bit of a lull here," 42-year-old Jeff Berger, a 1990 Penn State graduate, told the newspaper this morning.

Last night, instead of a pep rally there was a vigil on campus to remember the victims of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky's alleged sexual abuse of young boys (Sandusky, through his lawyer, has professed his innocence). Today, as we've said, many students and fans plan to wear blue — a symbolic message of support for victims of sexual abuse.

This is, of course, Penn State's first game since before the 1966 season without Joe Paterno as the head coach. He was fired this week. A grand jury report said he had been told of a 2002 incident in the Penn State locker room involving Sandusky and a young boy. Paterno told the school's athletic director about it, but took no further action (and no university official called police).

We'll be updating this post as game time nears and during the contest. So check back if you're interested. The game is being broadcast by ESPN.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.