Penn State’s beloved long-time winning coach, Joe Paterno was worshipped by many. He taught countless young men to excel on the football field, and pushed them to excel academically. He was a role model to many, and Penn State University took pride in being honorably linked to him. Paterno died shortly after Jerry Sandusky, one of his long-time assistant coaches was charged with sexual abuse of an unknown number of boys and young men on and off campus.
On Sunday, July 22, 2012, a crew removed the statue of Paterno from the football stadium. Many PSU fans and students believe it is the correct course of action, some opining that the statue will conjure up, not his victorious football legacy, but the legacy of many young people whose lives were destroyed, or at least, adversely affected by the actions of one of Paterno’s most trusted assistant coaches.
An investigation revealed that Paterno was told of the abuses, but chose to ignore the reports. As is often the case, the consequences of covering up or ignoring criminal or moral missteps are harsh. Paterno was not accused of sexually abusing young boys, but his choice of inaction made him complicit in the actions of the offender. The NCAA also retracted past football wins from PSU’s record, levied a $60 million fine, and rendered PSU ineligible for bowl games during the next four years.
Paterno died during the investigation. His reputation has been ruined. Were the penalties too harsh for a man who, as far as we know, never directly committed any crimes against youth? Too tough on a legendary sports program? That debate will continue well into the future.
Had ‘Joe Pa’, as he was known, been as loyal to the victims and to his responsibility to protect those trusted to his care as he was to a sleazy pedophile who used his power and authority to procure victims, Joe could have been viewed as a hero. Instead, he chose to cover up the problem.
His reputation and legacy are in tatters, with no way to repair them. The sexual abuse that took place will be attached to Paterno’s name from now on, and all of the good he may have done cannot wipe that away. Many people believe that good deeds can somehow diminish the bad things they do. Some try to apply that concept to salvation, believing that good deeds somehow make up for the sin in their lives.
God sent his Son to live perfectly, and to give his life to pay for our sins. We have no way of knowing whether Joe Pa repented of his sins and asked Christ into his life. But, there are often consequences that follow sin-including forgiven sin. Consequences such as a ruined reputation, family shame, and destruction of a good name and good will that have been built over a lifetime.
Sandusky’s consequences may include spending the remainder of his life in prison. Too harsh? I don’t think so. His victims may live in a type of emotional prison for life. He has caused untold pain and suffering for many families. He deserves whatever shame that is heaped upon him. We can only hope the shame and punishment will serve as a warning to others, as the Bible says, ”…You may be sure that your sin will find you out”.