I’ve been a fan of Penn State and Joe Paterno ever since my cousin played football there in the mid-70′s. So I’m particularly grieved and saddened by the news that Jerry Sandusky, a long-time assistant coach, was sexually assaulting young boys over a period of many years.
I read the grand jury presentment last week–what those boys had to endure was awful, especially coming from a powerful male figure they trusted. I have a very dear friend who has suffered from sexual abuse, so I’ve seen how painful it can be.
Obviously, Jerry Sandusky is a sick man. And he will pay for his crimes. I don’t know this, but I suspect that what he did to those boys was done to him as a child. It doesn’t excuse his behavior by any means, but it may give us some context for it.
Sadly, Penn State officials, including Coach Paterno, knew of Sandusky’s actions, but nothing was ever done and Sandusky continued to enjoy access to Penn State facilities for years. It appears that the Penn State football brand was given higher value than the young victims who were suffering Sandusky’s abuse.
What happened at Penn State is terrible. Sexual assault. What appears to be a cover-up. And for sure there were misplaced priorities and a group of men who were morally weak and passive.
And yet, I hesitate to pile on and point my finger. Maybe what you and I have done doesn’t compare to what Sandusky did, but our sin was still heinous enough to put Jesus on a cross. If our sin was made public, we’d all be humiliated.
I would have been outraged had I witnessed Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy and I believe I would have taken action to stop him. But what if I wasn’t an actual eye-witness? What if I only learned about it later? Would I speak up? What if it was made clear I’d be risking my career? I want to believe I’d do the right thing, but I haven’t always done the right thing in the past. Have you?
Am I offering excuses or suggesting we go easy on Jerry Sandusky and the men who turned a blind eye to it all? No, there are consequences to our actions. The university president, Graham Spanier and Coach Paterno have already been fired. Others have already lost their jobs and been indicted. And if found guilty, Sandusky will likely spend the rest of his life in prison. As he should.
I believe anger, grief and disappointment are all appropriate emotions to feel in this situation, but for me, so are humility and compassion. I just know my own heart. I know where I’ve failed…and continue to. There are several reminders for me that come from this terrible situation…
- Sin devastates and destroys everything in its path. When I choose to live independently of God and ignore His ways–there are always consequences. Some are easily recognized and some are hidden…for a time. But make no mistake about it–I will eventually reap what I sow (Galatians 6:9).
- My only hope is to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. I do not have the power within myself to consistently do the right thing. I need God’s power. Romans 8 and Galatians 5 make this clear.
- We are all in desperate need of grace and forgiveness. From God and each other. The officials at Penn State need it. I do. You do. So does Jerry Sandusky. In John 8, we read:
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”