Over the course of six decades, Penn State football coach Joe Paterno has been considered a paragon of virtue. His exploits both on and off the field have given him iconic status.
However, the ultimate legacy of college football’s winningest coach is now in jeopardy as the tragic story of his former defensive coordinator turned alleged serial pedophile unfolds.
With criminal charges pending in at least eight sexual abuse cases, and other alleged victims coming forward daily, the families of the boys whose innocence was taken from them by Jerry Sandusky, as well as society as a whole, are struggling to find answers to anguishing questions.
1.)The tipping point in the case, according to sworn grand jury testimony, was Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary testifying under oath that he was an eyewitness to Sandusky sodomizing a boy in the shower of the Penn State locker room. Both McQueary and Paterno also testified that McQueary alerted Paterno to the incident right away. Paterno then passed the allegation on to his superior in the athletic department, which is all well and good. But how come neither McQueary, Paterno, nor their superiors managed to contact the police about the incident for eight long years?
2.)McQueary was the starting quarterback on Penn State’s 1997 football team, which spent most of that season ranked in the top 5 of the national polls. The 1997 Penn State football roster lists McQueary as being 6 feet 4 inches tall, and 213 pounds. The rape he was an eyewitness to occurred just a few seasons after the conclusion of his playing days. Therefore, assuming the much younger McQueary could more than handle himself versus the elderly Sandusky, how come he never stepped in to save the boy who was being raped? Why would he just walk away?
3.)Over the course of the eight years that elapsed after the incident McQueary witnessed and reported, was there ever a night that either McQueary, Paterno, or anyone else at Penn State had their conscience wake them up in the middle of the night to call the police and do something?
4.)One of the steps Penn State University took was to ban Sandusky from bringing children from his non-profit charitable organization with him on campus. If you don’t want a guy bringing kids with him on campus, is that perhaps a sign that he shouldn’t even be on campus?
5.)What is the explanation for why Sandusky was still on campus working out at the Penn State football facility as recently as last week while the grand jury proceeding was pending? You mean to tell me after McQueary testified under oath he witnessed Sandusky sodomizing a young boy, and Paterno verified McQueary told him about the incident, nobody thought even then to stop this monster from coming around?
6.)The original allegations against Sandusky date back to 1998, and then Sandusky retired as a Penn State assistant coach the next year (coincidence?). How many boys were abused because these allegations weren’t dealt with, let alone the 2002 incident McQueary eye witnessed? Doesn’t that make everyone at Penn State who never called the police, including McQueary and Paterno, somewhat culpable in the sexual assault of those boys?
7.)What was going through the minds of the Penn State students who gathered at Paterno’s house on Tuesday night to chant “beat Nebraska?”
These and other pertinent questions have only one answer, and that answer is a word we view as antiquated in our “enlightened” and “tolerant” contemporary society.
That word is idolatry.
In our modern age, we view idolatry as ancient pagans worshipping wooden figurines, but really the idolatry the Bible speaks of is a heart condition caused by an estrangement between the Creator and His created. Minus filling that “God-shaped void” in each of our hearts with a fulfilling relationship with our Creator, each of us will find something else to compensate for that emptiness. Often we’ll construct functional saviors, if you will.
Those functional saviors may be wooden idols meant to symbolize a pagan pantheon, or it might be devotion to our favorite matinee idols or idolizing our favorite sports teams—but all is idolatry nonetheless.
When we put our earthly attachments ahead of our eternal one, we make decisions like protecting the Penn State football brand ahead of protecting the children being molested by the coach who was carried off the field on the shoulders of his players in his last game. We make decisions like considering the implications to our relationships that give us validation, as opposed to doing the principled thing regardless of the consequences.
Years ago I used to cover a Division I men’s basketball program when it had a sex offender on its squad. The player had assaulted another university athlete, was suspended for a year, and then brought back on scholarship immediately thereafter. At the team’s media day prior to that season, I stood there and watched as dads brought their sons to this creep so he could give them an autograph.
When I pointed out the immorality of putting this sex offender on scholarship and asking for his autograph, scores of fans called into my show complaining I was hurting their team. Sadly, few called in to say how they couldn’t bring themselves to root for their favorite team while a suspected rapist was wearing its uniform.
Less than two years later that player assaulted another woman and went to prison.
What happened at Penn State is what happens to a culture that abandons objective moral truth and replaces it with a subjective standard of accepting only that which benefits the beholder as true. Moral truth has become the primary casualty of America’s cultural implosion, and whenever a culture rejects moral truth you can rest assured that the next casualty will be its own people—beginning with its most innocent.
Like those innocent boys Sandusky raped.
Culture-wide, we are putting our idolatrous relationships ahead of the truth. For example, many Democrats stood silent while allegations of John Edwards defiling his marriage were being vetted four years ago. Meanwhile, many Republicans piled on Edwards the first chance they had.
Now, those same Democrats who said nothing about Edwards are eager to take down Herman Cain, and some of the same Republicans pouncing on Edwards back then are running interference for Cain today. In neither case did each side bother to investigate what was objectively true. They just each jumped to the subjective conclusion that was the best and most convenient truth for them.
Another example is the fan that rips on a rival team’s decision to play a criminal, but then piously preaches everybody deserves a second chance when his favorite team does it.
Past generations of American males would’ve stormed the gates of those who provided cover for a pedophile on a quest for vigilante justice. Nowadays, they show up at their homes to urge them to “beat Nebraska” this week. I’m not advocating for mob rule, but at least the posse begins with a moral premise – that there must be swift justice for those who are or harbor evil-doers – even if its application is flawed.
At places such as this we discuss how best to preserve our freedoms, liberties, and sacred traditions. I don’t have all the answers but this I know for certain: until we submit ourselves to the common grace of absolute moral truth in this culture again we will continue on the path to the scrap heap of history we’re currently on.