Reflections on Joe-Pa and the Penn State Tragedy

10 11 2011

Yes, I may be “quest pastor” but I am also an avid sports fan.  In fact, sports can be one of my vices!  So when the sports world makes headline news and involves such heartache, I feel compelled to throw in my two cents.  Here are some of my reflections on the entire scenario:

  1. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, seriously, get your head out of the sand.
  2. As a sports fan, I am very sad to see Joe Paterno exit the college ranks in this manner.  Without a doubt, 2 weeks ago, I would have said he was the greatest college football coach ever. He had the most Division I wins (a great trivia question will be, “What team did Joe-Pa defeat in his final game?” and the answer would be, my Illini) of all time, won two national championships, and until 2 weeks ago his Penn State program was impeccable in a sport riddled with NCAA violations.  As a sports fan, I would be marching with the numerous Penn State students in his defense.
  3. As a father, however, I am outraged at this entire tragedy, and the fact that it has only recently had light shed on it is in itself is even more outrageous. When you witness child abuse, especially sexual abuse, it is a NO BRAINER. It must be reported – immediately. In his defense, Paterno did not witness the abuse (a sexual encounter between 50+ year old Jerry Sandusky and a 10 year old boy), but it was communicated to him in some form or fashion. And although he reported it to his superior, he never followed up, never took measures against the accused to keep him off of Penn State grounds (Sandusky was in fact, Paterno’s longtime friend) even when he was seen with another young boy. I have two kids. I don’t live in constant fear, but after this incident, I am more fearful of the atrocities that COULD be committed against them at such a young age. Atrocities that could affect them forever. He could have done more. As a father, I know it was right for J0e-Pa to be held accountable and to be fired.
  4. Finally, as a pastor and follower of Christ, I find myself feeling compassion across the board here:
  • For the victims – The ongoing pain and trauma that is caused by sexual abuse are immeasurable. It literally ruins a life. In this case, many young men were affected forever. There is hope. There is healing. But not without more pain and hurt and baggage that can be passed on for generations. The question these now young men will be asking is, “Where was God in all of this?” It breaks my heart. God most often works today in and through His people. If the Penn State brass are God-fearing people (it would be a big assumption), then it’s obvious that God’s people failed to protect the powerless in this case.
  • For Michael McQueary – the then grad assistant who witnessed the molestation. I can imagine that instantaneous moment of seeing a superior (Sandusky, although retired at the time was a LONG TIME defensive coordinator under Joe-Pa and revered around the football complex) sexually abusing a minor. Nobody asks to be in that position. Nobody directly prepares for being in that position. And in this case, McQueary failed. He failed to defend the defenseless. He failed to stand up to a superior in the face of fear of reprimand. He took the easy way out. I’ve taken the easy way out at times (never anything even remotely close to this), and I know the guilt that comes from it. I bet he wishes he would have responded differently – not because of the backlash – but because he failed to do what was right. Sometimes, you only get one chance.
  • J0e Paterno – I don’t know Paterno’s character. Until the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard nothing but great things though. He has used his legend to make a difference in the world and I’m not going to question everyone’s previous revere for him. But this goes to show that it only takes ONE failure to bring everything crashing down. One choice can ruin your life and the lives of many others. When you’re in a position of power and influence, the stakes are only magnified. The responsibility is great. Paterno failed in this case, and he will forever be remembered for it. But I will not throw a stone.
  • Jerry Sandusky – The perpetrator. The monster. It would be easy to hate him. The pain he has caused cannot be measured. He deserves the worst of the punishment that is headed his way. At the same time, I am always tuned in to what creates a monster. What abuse was done to him? What baggage and pain was passed onto him from previous generations? Sin repeats itself. Things did not start with Jerry. And unfortunately, they won’t stop with him either. I find myself grieving for him; for the abuser he’s become. I hope he finds forgiveness in the cross of Christ.

In the end, I’m thankful that the Penn State trustees made the tough calls. Enabling ongoing child abuse by not directly confronting it and condemning it must be quickly and swiftly dealt with. Firing Joe Paterno was necessary. Let me just say this in closing. You can’t prepare for it, but there are defining moments in each person’s life. The folks in the Penn State story made poor choices in the defining moments that were thrust upon them. Prepare your heart NOW in the little things so that you prove yourself trustworthy in those defining moments. It takes everyday, ordinary obedience to prepare yourself for those moments. Don’t miss yours. But if you do, turn to Jesus and find forgiveness in him, and PRAY that your failures don’t leave a horrible wake behind them.

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