Saturday, July 14, 2012

Penn State: A lesson on doing the right thing

I listen to a lot of talk radio while I am commuting back and forth to work each day. Since I like sports, I especially like to listen to ESPN radio.  The big topic this past week has been the Penn State investigation into the Jerry Sandusky situation. Now for those of you that don’t pay particular attention to the news you may not have heard about this, but Jerry Sandusky was recently tried and convicted for molesting young boys that were in his care. 

Now who is Jerry Sandusky? Well he was a very well respected football coach for the powerhouse Penn State football program which was led by Joe Paterno. Who is Joe Paterno? He is the NCAA Division 1 leader in victories for college football. A coach that led Penn State football program for over 40 years and by all outside appearances was a man of integrity and character. For those that follow college football Joe Paterno was Penn State. He was larger than life; elevated to a spot by society that very few people reach.

Jerry Sandusky was a long time well respected assistant coach for Penn State. A linebacker coach that helped Penn State gain the moniker of “Linebacker U” for the linebackers that it turned out.  Today, Jerry Sandusky is a felon after being convicted by a jury of his peers for molesting children, some on the campus of the university.  I am not going to spend much time on Jerry Sandusky except to say that what he did was despicable and gut wrenching and that he will have to answer for his sins just like the rest of us will some day. 

I do want to focus on another aspect of this story though that is starting to blow up in the media.  Penn State requested, and paid for, an investigation into how this abuse could have been happening since 1998 and not been discovered.  Penn State in an attempt to clear their name of any wrongdoing hired Louis Freeh, former director of the FBI, to lead this investigation.

This week that report was released and it has revealed that there was in fact quite a bit of knowledge of this abuse. Through emails, notes and other evidence it is clear that there was indeed a cover up, denial and a look the other way mentality.  From the President, to the Athletic Director, and even to Head Coach Joe Paterno himself, these men were aware that there was a problem and were in a position to do the right thing and didn’t do it.  Why? Why didn’t they help these innocent victims out?

That is what I want to focus on now because I believe there is a warning in all of this for everyone.  See if we are honest with ourselves all of us our susceptible to making the same types of decisions that Joe Paterno and the other leaders at Penn State made if we aren’t careful. Please don’t misunderstand me! I am not specifically talking about child molesting. I am talking about everyday decisions that we all face at times. Now maybe you’re saying I would never do that! Well, I hope you’re right and God Bless you if you are always capable of doing the right thing.  For most of us though we never set out to do the wrong thing. In fact, sometimes we don’t even realize at the time that the choices we make are the wrong ones. Keep in mind that this was a series of decisions over thirteen years that didn’t become public until last fall.  Doing the wrong thing doesn’t always lead to immediate consequences for our choices.   

For Joe Paterno his decisions and lack of action over the course of thirteen years severely tarnished and diminished everything he built over 40 plus years as a college football coach.  The greatest football coach in history is now being remembered for allowing a child molester to go unchecked in his program. For those outside of the Penn State football program his earthly legacy will be known more for this than for his coaching achievements.

So why didn’t they do the right thing?  One of the things that came out of this report that I think is telling is that there was concern about the negative impact this would have on the program.  There were two chances early on to do the right thing and stop the problem, once in 1998 and again in 2001, and the leadership didn’t take action. Why?   There were the factors of greed, the impact of money, of self preservation, of outright ignorance to seriousness of the situation.  Feel free to add your own adjectives to this list, but there wasn’t one single factor.

From the outside we look with disgust that these people could have acted this way. But, let me ask you; if you had a coworker, a good friend whose kids came to your house that you had worked with for 20 years, and you found out they were embezzling money from your employer, would you turn them in?  If your friend is cheating on every test that they take at school are you going to let the teacher know? If your brother or sister is shoplifting at the local department store what are you going to do?  When you cash your check at the bank and the teller gives you an extra twenty are you going to give it back?  Are we going to claim deductions on our taxes that we don’t really deserve?  

See we know what the right thing to do is because we’ve all been taught right from wrong.  The conflict comes when we begin to let the worldly things influence us.  As is the case of Penn State, longtime friendships clouded the water.  Instead of doing the right thing they looked the other way hoping it would go away.  Money and greed affected their judgment. Penn State makes millions of dollars per year from their football program and negative publicity might affect that.  All of these are poor reasons for not doing the right thing but that is what happened.  They made a choice to do the wrong thing instead of the right thing!

As Christians it should always be our desire to do the right thing. The Bible speaks to us about doing the right thing.  In James 4:17 he says, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”  That’s pretty straight forward; it’s a sin to do the wrong thing and sometimes doing nothing at all is in fact doing the wrong thing.  We tend to think of a sin as an act of commission, but in the case of Penn State we can see that it can be an act of omission too. 

There are other scriptures that deal with doing the right thing too:

Galatians 6:7-10, 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, 13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

H. Jackson Browne, once said that “Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.”  As Christians our character should resemble that of Christ more and more as we mature and pursue his ways regardless of whether someone is watching or not.  Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

That is our key to doing the right thing. If we walk in the light, and we pursue Christ and his ways, doing the right thing becomes a conscious choice for us as we follow Jesus. Right and wrong is like black and white but the world and Satan wants us to operate in the gray area.  For thirteen years Penn State made decisions in this gray area and many innocent children were hurt, legacies were changed and reputations tarnished.  As Christians we need to stay out of the gray area and begin doing the right thing all the time. God’s word gives us plenty of instruction on doing the right thing.  There may be an earthly price to pay at times for doing the right thing, but the reward in heaven will far exceed any difficulties we might experience here.

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