As a Penn State alumnus, I’ve mulled this issue over in my head for over a week, but think that the time has finally come to say something. For those who just arrived from Mars, former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky has been arrested on 40 counts of child sexual assault, including homosexual rape, of young boys he recruited through his charity, Second Chance, going back to at least since the early 1990’s. According to the grand jury summary, there’s quite a bit of evidence including at least two independent eyewitnesses. Sandusky has been investigated in the past for the similar charges, the first time in 1998.
In addition to Sandusky finally being arrested and charged for child sexual assault, Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president for finance and business Gary Schultz were arrested on perjury charges. They are accused of lying to the grand jury about their actions after being informed of the homosexual rape of a young boy. University president Graham Spanier resigned in disgrace. The university’s board of trustees fired iconic Penn State football coach Joe Paterno for his lame response after the rape was reported directly to him by an eyewitness.
First let me observe that this scandal isn’t ultimately about Penn State, coach Joe Paterno, or the state or future of Penn State football. Ultimately it’s about the victims of a homosexual child predator. Justice must be done for the victims. These victims must receive the support that they need to heal. They should be everyone’s primary concern. Instead, the perversion has been compounded by the bullying of one of the victims for bringing these heinous crimes to light, in turn bringing about Joe Paterno’s demise. How could this happen in a supposedly civilized society? What could be more important than the welfare of our children? One high school’s students apparently think that Penn State football is more important than 40 counts of sexual assault, including homosexual rape, against children.
In order to understand the politics of this scandal, one has to understand that Joe Paterno, or JoPa as we called him, practically owned Penn State. JoPa started coaching at Penn State in 1966 (pdf file). Think about that for a second – 1966. JoPa isn’t just a coach, he’s an icon. His football program brought in millions of dollars in revenue to the university EVERY YEAR for decades! Football at Penn State isn’t a pastime or even an obsession. Penn State football is a religion complete with idols and the worship thereof. One columnist for the Daily Collegian, the student-run daily newspaper at the school, said that Joe Paterno IS Penn State (my emphasis). Students literally rioted after they learned that JoPa was fired. Other schools have long and storied football traditions that engender nonsensical loyalty and devotion, but at Penn State, football isn’t a tradition, it’s a religion of the highest order. Whatever JoPa wanted, JoPa got without hesitation.
One more data point on JoPa. Paterno has always pushed the myth of the “scholar athlete. Back when Michigan State was being sanctioned for recruiting irregularities, JoPa publicly declared that sort of thing didn’t happen at Penn State because he emphasized “the scholar athlete”. In his defense, Penn State did have an above average number of athletes who actually graduated, but that doesn’t mean PSU had a clean slate. Far from it.
Every religion has its heretics, and I stand as one relative to the Penn State worship of JoPa. I rebelled against the religion of hypocrisy even as an undergraduate back in the ’70s. Lists of preferred courses and sympathetic instructors were quietly published for football players. Shortly after the Michigan State NCAA suspension, I personally witnessed about eight PSU football players driving to practice in identical, brand new Thunderbirds. Did they all go shopping together at Ford equivalent of Walmart together? I don’t think so. Perhaps Thunderbirds were the official car of the Penn State scholar athlete.
The religion of hypocrisy cast a strong spell. Players accused of assaults and sexual assaults were routinely given a pass. Don’t take my word for it, read about it from the woman recently in charge of student discipline, Vicky Triponey. JoPa preferred giving his players extra laps or cleanup duty for criminal behavior rather than jail time. Bad publicity and possible lost games were anathema to JoPa. Triponey resigned rather than live under the thumb of JoPa. At least one senior Penn State official had the courage to do the right thing.
The Holy Spirit warned God’s people about idols many times. My favorite is in Isaiah Chapter 44:
All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.
The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”
They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”
(Isaiah 44:9-20 ESV)
Like those who worshiped ancient idols of iron and wood, those who worship football coaches, college sports programs, or even charismatic church leaders venerate a worthless thing. Men inevitably fail. Inevitably. We’re all sinners who fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). God alone stands worthy of our worship (Exodus 20:3). He commands us to worship no one else (Exodus 20:4-6). Those are the first two Commandments in case you missed that tidbit.
A particularly sad aspect of idolatry is that virtually all false gods require abominable sacrifices. The ancient Ammonites sacrificed their children in flames to the false god Molech. Our one and true God specifically forbid such sacrifices (Lev. 18:10, 21; 20:1-5).
Somewhere around 2,500 years later, it appears that those in charge of Penn State’s football program, overall sports program, and the university itself were apparently willing to sacrifice young boys to a homosexual predator in order to preserve their precious programs from any hint of scandal. The Penn State leadership apparently permitted Sandusky to skate time and again while he used PSU’s name, reputation, football team, and facilities to perpetrate sexual assaults including homosexual rape on young boys who trusted him – children sacrificed to the false god of Penn State football. The chief priest, Joe Paterno, apparently averted his eyes from the sacrifices.
It’s said that three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead. The Bible assures us that our sin will find us out (Numbers 32:23). Few evil secrets stay hidden forever. Worse, though, than evil deeds coming to public light as the Sandusky scandal now has, is that we commit all of our sins before the face of God who sees everything (Psalm 139). Whether Sandusky who allegedly sexually abused young boys, or Curley, Schultz, Spanier, Paterno, or whoever else turned a blind eye to Sandusky’s activities after they were reported to them, ever spend a day in jail, they will face a final judgment before our perfectly just and holy God. God is an eyewitness to all that we think, do, and say.
We must pray for all those involved, especially the sexual assault victims. God will not judge lightly those who sacrifice children to Molech, either directly or in the guise of Penn State football.