Posts Tagged ‘Penn State’

The Penn State Football Scandal

Friday, July 13th, 2012

“While people are saying ‘Peace an Safety’ destruction will come suddenly.” (2 Thessalonians 5:2)

It was sad reading the Freeh report about the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal at my alma mater, Penn State.  The facts appear irrefutable.

  1. Those in positions of power, notably  President of the University Graham Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley, University VP Gary Schultz, and head football coach Joe Paterno all knew of credible allegations against Jerry Sandusky as early as 1998
  2. All failed to act even though as Schultz in 1998 noted in his files, “Is this opening a Pandora’s Box?”  ”Other children?”
  3. The above men at best misled a Grand Jury about their knowledge of the 1998 incident including Paterno who clearly was informed in 1998 but denied any previous knowledge of allegations against Sandusky.
That is sad.  Being a pastor I have huge compassion for the victims and for these gentlemen as well.  And incidents like this mean we have to ask some pointed and uncomfortable questions.
The Nature of Evil
What is the nature of evil?  It is far more complex than what we at first might imagine.  We need to see it in three “layers” – culture/ institutions, then individuals, then protectors.
The base, the culture, is hard to call into question and what I want to share will upset some. It upsets me as an avid lover of athletics.  Our culture is in many ways numb and sick.  Scandals like this grow out of that very numbness.  Just look at the outsized role football played at Penn State as well as at many other universities.  It’s outsized importance molds it into a quasi religion of sorts replete with “offerings” and “sacrifice”, all managed by its own “priesthood.”   That of course is not to say athletics are without merit but lets ask the hard questions, the hardest of which is this, “Have athletics become too important in our culture?”
The fact that they have, I believe, fed at least in part the timeline that unfolded at Penn State.  These men were caught up in that very culture where 11 to 12 games per season determined whether the university had a “good” year or a “bad” year.  Look at the statistics. In college after college, a winning season, especially if it involves championships, leads to a sizable increase in donations.
The problem is we rarely question that culture and if we do, it creates a backlash.  Here is a stir-the-pot question.  How many of us have missed a church service due to an athletic contest for our children.  How many of us fear that our child will “fall behind” if we don’t attend such contests?  Church will loose out to Sunday morning sports every time because our culture gives us parents little choice frankly.  Just ask your coach!
Or let me put it another way, what has your family done more of, athletics or community service?  If your family is like ours, the proportion is overwhelming lopsided in favor of athletics.
This is where the ground for “evil” is established.  A slow,cultural numbing occurs that blinds and binds us to certain behaviors and an increasing inability to envision alternatives.  I have to ask myself would I EVER choose church for my kids over a game?  Am I even be able to see it as a choice anymore?
Out of a numbed culture grow numbed individuals like Spanier, Curley, Schultz, and Paterno.  These people are not demons.  They are you.  They are me. They are people who have done many good things, even great things but because of a numbness growing out of a given culture, they were unable, simply put, “to see the forest for the trees.”  That inability carried tragic consequences for those children abused by Jerry Sandusky.
We will demonize them without ever looking at the very culture that created these horrific events and that created the coverup.  We pluck the leaf but leave the roots.
And what of the “Protectors” at the top of the pyramid, those now charged with cleaning up the mess?  Sad to say, but they likewise contribute to the numbness.  Many in the Penn State community will feel a sense of understandable closure with the release of Freeh’s report, which is in part true.  Rigorous honesty is a step towards healing.  But the danger is this – by targeting individuals and their accountability – which is necessary – the wider culture remains outside the realm of critique.   Have we “solved’ the problem of the aforementioned numbness with this report?  If we think it ends the story, it has not.  If we think this opens up a conversation, maybe something different comes out of this.
Peace and Safety
We love “peace and safety.”  No doubt Spanier, Curley, Schultz, and Paterno were all at least partially motivated, as we all often are,  by a desire for “peace and safety,” realizing that in coming forward there would be neither.  Coming forward in 1998 would have saved many victims but also probably would have cost all these men their jobs.  So they chose to push Sandusky’s criminal activity to the side as well as any concern for the victims.
Yet “Peace and Safety” kill.   Christ never asked us to pursue safety nor did He hold it as a moral virtue.  Life well lived calls us to discomfort, to unease.  That is the only thing that gets us to look candidly at evil in all its various disguises. Only an awake life has any hope of puncturing self deception.

Penn State: When Reputation trumps Practice.

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

For years I counted myself an avid Penn State fan.  I not only graduated from the University but remained a loyal fan for decades.  I truly believe that the endeavor to achieve “Success with Honor” – a byline for the football program – is core to living a life of higher purpose.

That made the recent scandal regarding sexual abuse of minors by the former Defensive Coordinator at Penn State, Jerry Sandusky, so disheartening.  Many parts are overwhelmingly distressing including the amount of “buck passing” that occurred.  In 2002, after Sandusky was caught in the act of sexually assaulting a 10 year old boy in the showers of the Penn State foortball locker room, the head coach, Joe Paterno, reported the incident to the AD, who reported it up the chain of command.  The credibility of the witnesses’ account led to the retired Sandusky being told he could no longer be with children on campus.  At no point were the (a) authorities notified or (b) the parents of the assaulted child notified. This highly limited decision was handed down despite the fact that the University’s own police force had investigated Sandusky in 1998 for a similar allegation.  His sexual proclivities were in fact so well known that even the non-profit founded by him to serve troubled young men – “The Second Mile” - banned him from working with children several years ago!

Reading the story, many, many folks followed a similar pattern of looking the other way.  Another child was assaulted at a local high school.  The parent notified the school which in turn gave the Sandusky the same punishment – he was not to be on high school’s campus.  Neither the parent or the school contacted the authorities.

The question remains, why?  Why do we prefer to often look the other way, a choice that often entails tragic results?

It is because for many the primary values are stability and safety.

We do not talk here of stability and safety in a broader sense of stability and safety for the sake of  the children.  We are talking of stability and safety in terms of the carefully crafted reputation at Penn State as an institution where things are done “right” and where values are held of the utmost importance, and where one can achieve “success with honor.”  The reputation around these markers became gods in and of themselves – idols zealously worshipped and protected. Restated the reputation became more important than the practice.

Hearing the comments defending the actions of the authorities at Penn State deeply troubles me because there appears to be real blindness.  To defend not telling authorities or parents because the alleged assault was not done by a current employee is frankly crazy.   The act occurred on campus, in a privaleged space that was only accessible via Sandusky’s ties as a former employee.  The act of banning Sandusky from being on campus in the company of children speaks to the fact that there was a real knowledge of what occurred.  We all carry a moral obligation to protect children.  As noted by Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan “Call the police immediately.  How difficult is that? It’s not a high standard.”

To close, yes at this point Sandusky is charged with crimes, not convicted.   Regardless however of the final legal verdict, a rather daunting moral verdict has been rendered – not rendered by a judge in a court of law but rendered by actions that put the pristine reputation of a University above the moral imperative of protecting defenseless children.