The Penn State Problem

As I read Psalm 15 in The Message on this bright morning, I’m struck by the directness of its five verses. The psalmist wants to know: “God, who gets invited to dinner at your place? How do we get on your guest list?”

Verse 2 begins a rather short list of what it takes to dwell with God …

“Walk straight; act right; tell the truth.

“Don’t hurt your friend; don’t blame your neighbor.”

Verse 4 hits like a hammer: “… despise the despicable.” I immediately think of a despicable act. It was described by a witness on the Penn State campus. He reported the violation immediately to the head coach, Joe Paterno. Soon, the president of the university knew of it.

But they did nothing. The incident happened eight years ago but only came out this past week. For all that time, the perpetrator was free to go about his life as an assistant to Coach Paterno as if nothing had ever happened. As if the victim(s) didn’t matter.

Sports fans across the nation heard about the scandal. Many went viral. Quickly, the board of trustees dismissed both Paterno and the president of Penn State. These men in charge did not despise the despicable. Not only that, every admonition in this psalm was violated—no walking straight, acting right, or telling the whole truth about the incident.

Verse 4 continues: “Keep your word even when it costs you …” Coach Paterno and other responsible officials didn’t keep their word. Besides winning football games, they were expected to ethically respond to aberrant behavior. Was Holy Scripture quoted or referenced in Joe Paterno’s job description when he took over as head football coach 46 years ago? Unlikely. But the public expectation that he walk straight and act right, while speaking truthfully, was assumed as clearly as if those verses had been engraved on the walls of every room in every building on that campus.

The public outcry erupted because lies, excuses, and weasel words were presented as truth. They were seen as attempts to deny justice, ignore the victim, and allow an evildoer to go scot-free.

The public response is a positive sign. In today’s relativistic culture, it’s fashionable to say there’s no absolute truth because truth is relative. However, that very statement is an absolutist statement of what truth is; thus, defeating the argument for relative truth. The relativist stands on the pinnacle of an absolute truth and wants to relativize everything else. This scandal displays the bankruptcy of relative truth.

This brings us back to ask: Why would a coach with the ability to win two national championships and numerous Big Ten titles try to bend and shape truth in order to cover the moral predations of an assistant coach? Simply, he wanted to play god so he could create his own truth so he could keep a coach so they could increase the chances of winning more games so … You know the scenario. This neglect of the up-front cost will, in the end, cost far more in damage to more people and to Penn State University.

We speak about the victims and the cover-up and solemnly declare our grief and outrage. Coach Paterno’s malfeasance certainly exceeds my petty crimes and occasional shading of the truth to spare embarrassment or gain advantage. Really now? Do I/have I tried to modify truth to cover my shortcomings or to get what I wanted?

Yes. To my shame, I must say yes. You, too? Of course. So where does that leave us? Back to Psalm 15, verse 2—“Walk straight; act right; tell the truth.”

And to whom do I direct this truth-telling? To the person(s) I’ve offended, which includes the Truth-giver, God himself. That’s called confession.

With it must come repentance and the asking of forgiveness. I may even have to pay restitution and submit to appropriate penalties. God’s requirements may seem hard but without adherence to them, there is no healing of lives, of institutions, of relationships, or even of families.


About samuelehall

A follower of Jesus, husband, father of 3 adult children, writer and learner.
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5 Responses to The Penn State Problem

  1. m kofron says:

    Yes this is so ugly and egregious on so many levels. However it does not compare with the Catholic and Mormon churches. Why all the focus on this so called evil 84 year old coach?
    Because of the ugliness, in typical fashion we want to lynch someone…….how about Coach Paterno?
    Why so much anger toward this coach who before this was a father and mentor to his players way beyond all other BCS coaches.
    He was a giant of a coach with unblemished integrity. He freely admitted as an honest man before having a lawyer, that he wished he had done more. He did the legal minimum by reporting it to the AD. He did nothing illegal . He should have been fired for not doing more. One player who knew his coach well–Franco Harris–stood by the the coach was fired from his job today for not drinking the lynch mobs vitrial kool aid stirred by the press By the way Jerry Sandusky who is the evil monster, that your blog mostly ignored was not on Paterno’s staff when the alleged crimes happened. He is the evil slime here that is getting very little criticism as evidenced by your blog. Why is there so much more anger directed toward Paterno? Lets get our facts straight and there are many more facts to be explored. JS did have access to the campus and had an office there. Then he was asked not to bring boys on campus…..sounds like the catholic metalliy of no sin in my yard take it somewhere else. Why did the charity that Sandusky started and used as a base for operation observe what was going on?????
    Why has the Catholic Church not gotten more press for the hundreds of molested children in churches :where they just transferred priests to another parish. It’s easier to target an 84 year old coach. Stop bashing Coach Paterno. Lets be patient and wait to know the whole truth ….and watch our communities for the weak and defenseless that are being abused. Have you seen any adults being abusive to children in shopping areas in our town? What did you do?

    • samuelehall says:

      Hey, Matt, thanks for weighing in. Sounds like you want to defend the 84-year-old coach. He might need some defending. It appears you know more about him than I do.
      I’m not sure why you brought the Catholics and Mormons into this. Each case should be considered on its own merits without smearing other groups.
      My point was not Sandusky. His stupid interview will make it difficult for any lawyer to defend him. What concerns me are: the victims (which you ignore) and the climate of relative truth which allows bestial behavior against the helpless while the perpetrator is free to continue abusing. Maybe Paterno didn’t do anything illegal but he didn’t prevent evil when he could have.
      It seems that you’re saying we should cut Paterno some slack because he’s old and he was a father to his players. What about the boys that Sandusky “was just horsing around with … in the shower … grabbing their legs”–all under Paterno’s watch? JS continued his abhorrent behavior because Paterno and others looked the other way. That’s not a paragon of virtue in my book; it’s a selfish man who doesn’t want to be bothered by the helpless, who’s indifferent to the pain of others. Not much of a father figure, where it really counts.

      • m kofron says:

        Thanks for your thoughhful reponse. I will reserve judgement on who ever no matter how old until all the facts are in. No one is giving JP a pass, but he is the only one getting all the hate. How could he sleep the night he found out……….how much was told to JP????
        Did the current red headed assistant coach stop the rape or not. Did the caMPUS POLICE LIE OR DID HE? There is no cross examination in a grand jury and I am not sure if lying is perjury in that forum
        JS was not on Paterno’s staff in 1998 but was in his back yard and JS was asked to not bring boys on campus……. reminiscent of the RCC handling of gay–yes I said it pedophile priests. By the way I find that more repugnat being done by a man of GOD ha ha with a robe and cross. What a sick blaphemous act!!!
        We know the victims were brutally used……but we are trying to bring justice to the crimes and prevention. Rightfully we are allowing them to heal and litigate. More has been written dumping anger on JP rather that JS……….why???

        It is much easier to vindictively destroy a man than a religious institution. Why all the ink here and not there?
        We all should think about how we see people handling children in public and do we step in??? what goes on in these people’s homes………how about the Texas judge that beat his 13 year old daughter with a belt on film……..where’s the outrage there????? Should Franco Harris be fired in America for standing up for his college coach? Heat is prevailing over light. This whole incident is revealing a lot about all of us. It makes me ill and I will be writing no more about it. Thanks for listening

      • samuelehall says:

        Good points, Matt. I must agree that the public is much quicker to tear down an icon, with the media flogging it on. Following is an abbreviated email on this subject from Bill Perkins. It shows another side of Paterno.

        Few men have fallen as far and as fast as Joe Paterno … Few men have risen to the heights he achieved. Counting his years as an assistant at Penn State, he coached there for 62 years. He holds the record for most victories with 409 … He coached five undefeated teams and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
        Author Joe Posnanski, who is writing a book about Paterno, has talked with hundreds of people about him and read 25-30 books that detail his life. He … concludes: “Joe Paterno has lived a profoundly decent life … a whole life. He has improved the lives of countless people. I know–I’ve talked to hundreds of them … I walk by the library that he and his wife, Sue, built … the religious center that tries to bring people together, and his name is on the list of major donors … the countless stories of kindnesses that came naturally to him, of the way he stuck with people in their worst moments, of the belief he had that everybody could do a little bit better–as a football player, as a student, as a human being. I’m not going to tell you these stories now, because you can’t hear them. Nobody can hear them in the howling.”
        Of course, the greatest tragedy … is the lives of young boys who have been forever scarred … souls corrupted … Many of these boys would have been spared if the ever devout coach had done the right thing right away upon hearing about it … and who knows for sure when he first knew … We do know that on March 2, 2002 a graduate assistant visited Coach Paterno at his home and reported what he had seen the day before in the locker room. That is the day Paterno should have used his whistle to summon the police …
        And so I return to the coach’s fall from grace … All his accomplishments will serve as the sub-plot to his life … He will be remembered for the decade he valued his tenure and Penn State’s reputation above the welfare of a boy … many boys.
        As I considered this tragedy, I remembered the words of Solomon. In Ecclesiastes 10:1 he wrote, “As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.” It takes wisdom to build a great football program over a half-a-century. Nobody else has done it. I suspect nobody will do it again. Until a little over a week ago Joe Paterno’s life had the perfumed fragrance of greatness. Now it stinks. And once the flies of folly have ruined the perfume, there is no pulling them out and restoring what was.

  2. Lanny Sells says:

    The accusations are so sickening and disgusting that I find myself sometimes changing channels and waiting to see if the accused are proven guilty in a court of law.
    It seems that to many among us are afraid of losing a promotion, a job, or a championship run and the right thing to do is avoided by morally weak compromises.

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