Thinking about the Penn State Tragedy

Nov 19th, 2011 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

That the Penn State football coach, Joe Paterno, has been fired is almost unimaginable!  I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and in that state he is probably the most important single individual in PA.  But his fall is a powerful reminder that sin permeates this fallen world and even the mighty fall!  I want to press this point in this Perspective.

  • First, some important background.  The situation at Penn State is difficult to believe.  Joe Paterno and the Penn State football team are legendary.  But the fact of child abuse by one of the coaches has brought down this legend.  Here is the situation in summary:  Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach, almost a decade ago, had been observed forcing a young boy into a sexual act in Penn State?s football locker room showers.  [At one point, Sandusky was considered the likely successor to Paterno; but he retired.]  Sandusky had also established a non-profit organization for boys, and he often brought these boys onto the Penn State campus.  I believe he also maintained an office at the University.  The coach who observed Sandusky abusing the young man informed Paterno, who then informed the Athletic Director and a Vice President.  Nothing was done?and this is the point that cannot be ignored.  Once this information was made available to Paterno and once he observed that nothing was done, it was obligatory for him to push the issue.  He did not.  Hence, his complicity in the cover-up that persisted.  It is probably not possible to know exactly how many boys Sandusky went on to abuse but Saturday, 4 November, he was arrested and charged with 40 felony counts of sexual abuse involving young boys (stretching from 1994 to 2009).  Subsequent to Sandusky?s arrest the University?s athletic director, Tim Curley, and its senior VP of Business and Finance, Gray Schultz, were also arrested.  The grand jury?s 23-page report also revealed that both Paterno and the University president, Graham Spanier, had knowledge of the 2002 first-hand report and did nothing.  The Board of Penn State has fired both men.  The US Department of Education has also announced that it would investigate Penn State?s handling of the Sandusky case.  Had the University acted on the 2002 incident, every child abused by Sandusky after that could have been spared!  This is an ugly and reprehensible situation that could have been avoided.  One can only think of David?s words after the slaying of Saul and Jonathan??How the mighty are fallen!?
  • Second, what should the church and other faith-based institutions do in light of this horrific scandal?  It is imperative that such institutions implement decisive and clear policies on how reports about sexual abuse are reported and handled.  I am going to make certain that this is the case in the institution I lead.  But I also believe that there is a very personal application that can be gleaned from such a scandal.  Each one of us who loves the Lord must be certain that our lives reflect the highest personal integrity and righteousness.  Each year, I review the following questions with my leadership team at Grace University.  These twenty questions focus on personal integrity and accountability and are part of a personal strategy for holiness.  [They are adapted from Chip MacGregor?s Organization Resource Handbook.] 
  1. How often did you have a quiet time last week?
  2. What did you study in your devotional life this past week?
  3. On a scale of 1 to 10, where would you rate your spiritual life?
  4. Besides Scripture, what constructive material are you reading/studying?
  5. How did you build up (encourage) your wife (husband) this past week?
  6. Were there any times last week when the sun went down on your anger?
  7. On a scale of 1 to 10, where would you rate your marriage?
  8. What significant investment of time did you make with each of your children?
  9. What one thing have you done recently that your family will remember five years from now?
  10. When did you struggle with your thought life and how did you respond?
  11. What did you do for exercise this past week?
  12. What did you do for relaxation?
  13. Is your weight up or down?  How much?
  14. Did your total indebtedness grow or shrink?  Why?
  15. What percentage of your income did you give away outside your family?
  16. Whom did you encourage?
  17. With whom did you share your faith?
  18. What were your emotional highs and lows?
  19. What decisions or problems are weighing on you right now?
  20. What are you praying for God to do?

See the news reports in the Washington Post (10 November 2011) by Tracee Hamilton and Dave Sheinin. PRINT PDF

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