Last night, Joe Paterno was fired. The termination is part of the fallout of a sexual abuse scandal that has overwhelmed the Penn State community.
Almost immediately, Penn State students took to the streets and caused a riot that was disappointing and embarrassing. It also shows how sports are an idol in America.
The scandal began Saturday when former defensive coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested and charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse of at least eight boys he met through his The Second Mile foundation, which is a charity geared towards helping underprivileged children. Two school officials have been charged with perjury for their failure to allegedly properly report the case when informed. Penn State president Graham Spainer was also fired for his involvement in the scandal.
The entire scandal is heartbreaking. For years, children were allegedly harmed by a man they trusted. When officials learned of the situation they did the bare minimum and nothing more. It is a sad story when leaders are more concerned with protecting their position and programs than protecting the lives of innocent children.
National consensus has been that Paterno could not continue as head coach. His presence would be a distraction to the school. For all the good that Paterno had done at Penn State, he failed in upholding his moral obligation to protecting children. That cannot be overlooked. This is a moral obligation that well have as humans to protect children.
Paterno’s lack of involvement in protecting children will be a lasting scar on an otherwise historic career.
In his career, Paterno was held in high regard by the Penn State community. He had become, sadly, god-like by students, fans, and alums. They believed he could do no wrong. Sadly, this god-like stature that Penn State held Paterno to prevents some, not all, to hold Paterno accountable for his actions in this scandal.
Paterno’s god-like stature was on display last night. The Penn State student body refused to take a rational look at Paterno’s involvement when they rioted throughout the streets of State College. In an utterly disappointing scene, students overturned vans, vandalized streets, and showed their anger at the termination of “their coach.” The New York Times quoted a student who said that the riot was their way of showing their anger. There are better ways of showing anger than causing damage and causing riots.
Students decided to put football above the lives of children. That is a sad commentary on all of us.
What the Penn State scandal and the riot shows is how idols keep us from putting life in a proper perspective. Idols are like blinders and prevent us from seeing things fully. They are things we worship. Anything can be an idol, but for so many it is sports. They take up our time, our attention, and our energies. When our team loses, we get upset for days. When our team wins, we act as though we are the kings of the world.
When our coach is fired for moral failings, we try to blame others for their failings while not seeing the failings of the person we worship.
Last night, Penn State students responded to their idol of football.The students who rioted showed more anger at a coach being fired than the inexcusable allegations involving an adult sexually assaulting a child. That point cannot be missed.
This firing was not about Paterno’s career or a football program. The firing was about making people accountable for their actions. Paterno had to be held accountable for his inability, as a human, to protect children. We all must be held accountable for our actions. No one is outside of being held accountable for the decisions they make.
This is a learning experience for all of us. Maybe we should all ask ourselves this question: How do we view sports? It is not wrong to like sports, don’t get me wrong. Sports are a great hobby for me. But, do we allow sports to overwhelm our lives to where it clouds our judgment. For that matter, is there anything that is in our lives that can cloud our judgment? These are serious questions for all of us to ask.
It is not easy to remove our idols, but our lives will be more fuller when we can eliminate worship of false gods and focus on worship toward the True God.
My hope is that the students will see the fullness of this scandal. It will take men and women in State College acting as leaders and leading all involved to a higher standard of accountability. The first steps were made last night in firing Paterno and Spainer. It is a difficult road, but it is a road that all must travel.