Most people simply do not care about crimes against children

For all the outrage about the Penn State scandal, the facts are that these sorts of things happen all the time and very little is ever done. In fact, this would hardly be news if it didn’t involve someone famous. If the victims had been female, People would wonder if they wanted the sexual contact. If the suspects were female, people would call the victims “lucky.” The bottom line is that most people really do not care that much about crimes committed against children. Society expects children to grow up rough and grow up quick. Little protection is offered. Perhaps this is why people seem to think that the success of the football program brings something to bear in the Penn State scandal. That leads me to the next lesson.

Our idols distort our values

Many people are quick to rush to the defense of Joe Paterno and the Penn State football program simply because Paterno is a sports legend. That kind of logic suggests that it is ok to allow children to be abused if you win football games. Any reasonable person would dismiss such a conclusion as ludicrous. Yet, at this very moment, people are defending Paterno and the program. Sports have become such an idol for many that logic gets twisted beyond recognition and the most repugnant conclusions are reached. The idol becomes the standard by which morals are evaluated. Consider for a moment how different things would be if this scandal were taking place within the Penn State math department rather than the athletic program. Would anyone say, “but he was a good professor!” Granted, football is not the only idol that has this power. Fame does as well. Michael Jackson is remembered fondly for his music. The fact is, when something becomes an idol, whatever that is becomes the rationale for right and wrong.

Doing things right is not always the same as the right thing to do

Who is to blame in the Penn State scandal? Are the trustees wrong for firing Joe Paterno even though he did what he was legally obligated to do? Joe Paterno has had much to say about leadership so it is fair to evaluate his actions in this case as more than just a bystander. He was a leader. In fact, given his tenure and his prestige, it is probably safe to say that he was the most powerful leader on campus. In case you are not familiar with the case, lets get the facts straight. (By the way, you can read the facts for yourself in the 23 page grand jury report here. BE WARNED: IT IS GRAPHIC!) Joe Paterno is not accused of molesting children. He is not accused of seeing a child molested. He is accused of knowing that the molestation was taking place and doing very little about it. How did he know? Most of the attention right now is focused on the fact that a graduate assistant (Mike McQueary) did see Jerry Sandusky in the act of raping a ten year old boy, told his father about it, and then went to the home of Joe Paterno and told him about it. At that point, Paterno reported it to other officials at the school. Those officials are currently under investigation for failure to notify authorities and for lying about their knowledge to the grand jury. However, the story is much more complicated. Jerry Sandusky essentially confessed to sexual contact with a child several years prior to this incident. The police knew it, Penn State officials knew it, and it is very hard to imagine that Joe Paterno did not know it. Yet, he fulfilled his legal obligation with a phone call. He did things right, but did he do the right thing?

No. The law is set up to keep you from doing the wrong thing. It does not make you do the right thing. The right thing for Paterno, McQueary, the school officials, and every other person who had knowledge of these events, to do was to stop the abuse from happening. The most obvious is McQueary. If you walk into a shower room and see a grown man raping a child, you intervene! Likewise, if you are one of the most powerful leaders of a major university and you know that a pedophile is working for you and using your facilities to entice and abuse children, you do whatever it takes to stop it. Joe did things right, but he did not do the right thing. He admits as much when he says, “In hindsight, I should have done more.” That statement leads me to another lesson to learn.

When you are the leader, hindsight isn’t always good enough

That is a tough one. Everyone makes mistakes. Good leaders learn from their mistakes and become better leaders. How then can it be said that hindsight is not always good enough for a leader? Hindsight doesn’t change anything. Hindsight does not restore these children. Hindsight does not remove the shame of an entire university. It simply is not good enough.

How then can a leader make mistakes and still be good enough? Err on the side of right, not easy. If a leader makes a mistake, let it be that he was too passionate about what was right. Let that mistake be that he was too defensive of those who could not defend themselves. Let his mistakes be that he cared too much, butted in too much, and did what was right at the expense of his own popularity. If a leader makes those kind of mistakes, then his hindsight will serve just fine.

One person is not at fault. Many are. Including you, when you don’t intervene in abuse

This is probably the most important thing that can be learned from this case. In the Penn State scandal, many people are to blame. Yes, that includes Joe Paterno, but it also includes a lot more. However, before long, the talk of Penn State will fade. The outrage will settle down. College football will continue. Likewise, the abuse of children will continue. In fact, it will continue in places much nearer to most people than the Penn State locker room. The Bible calls on Christians to take care of widows and orphans. One pastor I know said that the gospel compels followers of the Christ to stand up for those who have no voice. We must defend those who cannot defend themselves. It is good to be angry that someone like Joe Paterno knew of this abuse and did nothing. Just remember, abuse is occurring near you. Are you the one doing nothing?