When Penn State’s Board of Trustees announced the firing of football coach Joe Paterno last night in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky molestation scandal, an audible gasp was heard throughout the room. The news quickly spread across the campus. Riots and swarms of angry protestors flooded the streets. A television truck was pushed over. A chaotic night ensued.
Happy Valley it was not.
Some people are upset and agitated alright, but they’re upset and agitated over the wrong things.
Those gasps reflected shock. Shock that “JoePa” was no longer the boss. Shock that their once proud football program was spiraling down in flames.
And that’s the problem.
I understand the affinity, appeal and the emotional connection to a coach of five decades. I understand the business realities of a multi-million dollar football operation and the important role it plays in the recruitment of students and players. I get it. I played football and love the game.
But what has come of us when the dismissal of a coach generates greater shock and anger than the revelation of alleged child molestation? What does it say about the morals and ethics of an organization or institution that is willing to sacrifice the innocence of children to maintain reputation?
Watching those protestors, I am left to wonder:
Who is standing up and expressing outrage on behalf of those innocent boys and their families?
People want to know what Coach Paterno knew and when he knew it. But from my perspective, the timeline of the scandal pretty much renders such discussion moot. According to the facts of the case, State College Police began investigating Jerry Sandusky in 1998. The findings were devastating and should have been enough to put the man behind bars for life:
At the time, the then-assistant coach admitted to showering with young boys and hugging them in the nude. He even told one of the victim’s parents,”I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won’t get it from you. I wish I were dead.”
He was obviously not just apologizing for hugging a child.
Yet, inexplicably, the district attorney closed the case and filed no criminal charges!
In yesterday’s post I stated that the dignity of a person – especially a child – is a precious and fragile thing. It is to be preserved, protected and defended at all costs.
A pedophile is the one ultimately guilty for his or her behavior. But when a pedophile is identified – and those in the know do nothing or very little to stop it from continuing – the guilt is multiplied.
In the end, this is not a story about football. It’s not even a story about the sad end of a storied coach’s career. This is a story about the danger of making a sport a god – and doing anything and everything we can do in order to protect and lift up that idol.
We often hear these days about institutions being “too big to fail.” Tragically, it seems some of that same logic had seeped into the culture at Penn State. Covering up crimes against kids to keep a program from collapsing is to allow evil to take a foothold. We are now seeing the effect and impact of such wickedness.
For the sake and protection of children, let the foundations shake wherever and whenever kids are in danger. Expose the evil. Let in the light.
Children are our most precious resource. They are a gift from God and their innocence is to be treasured and lifted up. May God help us and forgive us. We must do better.