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On Intellectual and Moral Honesty

I am not a biblical scholar.  I’ve read some verses, try to be a good Christian, etc.  One of my favorite parts of the Bible is not judging, lest ye be judged.  It is an admonishment against being a hypocrite.  It is, perhaps, one of the most valuable lessons in the Word.  That said, the society in which we live seems to breed hypocrisy.  It is prevalent in our media, our culture and our politics.  Unless we, as a society, have the intellectual and moral honesty to confront and combat it, it will surely end our society.

What brings this to mind is the scandal surrounding the Penn State Football team and its former coach, Joe Paterno (It feels weird even typing former coach and Joe Paterno together).  Since the days of LBJ, Paterno lead the Nittany Lions on the field and Penn State University off of it.  He took a football program, which no one cared about, and transformed it into a perennial powerhouse.  In so doing, he took an agricultural university and transformed it into a world renowned research university.  During his tenure, roughly 84% of his players graduated in 4 years, which is unheard of in major college football.  His former players, to a person, often say that he was a father or grandfather figure to them.  It is clear that Paterno was, overwhelmingly, a profoundly positive influence on the young men he coached and the university he served.

However, there was also the negative side to Paterno.  At Penn State, it was Joe’s way, or no way.  The many athletic directors, trustees and university presidents that served during Paterno’s tenure were but figure head leaders, who subjected themselves to the whims of the football coach.  These individuals allowed Paterno his excesses because he brought in hundreds of millions of dollars, annually, to the university.  Paterno single-handedly made Penn State a brand name in the same vein as Notre Dame, Duke and other NCAA powerhouse schools.  For that, the university board of trustees ceded absolute power over the university to a football coach.

Paterno’s absolute power and the corruption it ultimately fostered allowed a depraved, repugnant sexual predator to terrorize dozens of young boys, murdering their innocence.  The insularity of Penn State allowed those who should have done something to save those children, including the university administration, the athletic director and Paterno himself, to simply turn a blind eye to the horrors that were occurring within their program.  In the end, a good man was brought down by his own moral failing.  In attempting to protect his university, he burned it down.  That is the yoke Joe Paterno must carry for the rest of his days on this planet.

After Paterno was fired, ESPN broadcast images of students rioting on campus.  The inebriated college students turned over a news van, threw rocks and turned one of the most stunningly beautiful college campuses in America into Occupy State College.  It is ironic that the students, in an attempt to support the football coach, participated in behavior that the coach himself would not support.

Over the next several weeks/months, more information will come out and many will try to castigate the Penn State community and, to a large extent, such castigation will be justified.  That said, this is not a Penn State problem, in so much as it is an American problem.  The reaction would have been the same at Duke had this happened to the Basketball team and Coach K.  The reaction was largely the same when Bill Clinton violated an intern with a cigar.  We, as people, have an amazing ability to gloss over the misdeeds of people who are on “our side.” 

We, as people, are the hypocrites the Bible admonishes us not to become.  What’s worse, we do so for reasons of sports, entertainment, politics.  Too many people are willing to sacrifice morality for winning.  If this does not change, it will be what destroys us. 

There is right and there is wrong.  There is just and there is injust.  There is moral and there is immoral.  There is good and there is evil.  We must have the intellectual and moral honesty to call each by their name, even when its “our guy.”  That lesson was brought home for me this week, when a good man’s awful lapse in judgment destroyed six decades of good works.  So, in an effort to hold myself more accountable, I state unequivocally that, despite all of his great works and dedication to Penn State University, Joe Paterno deserved to be fired immediately.  I pray for the victims and their families.  Let justice be done to all who are responsible.  If that includes a man I have admired since childhood, so be it.  There are things more important than football, entertainment and politics.  The most important thing is my soul and I will not sell it by looking the other way when one of “my guys” does something wrong.

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