I’m deeply saddened by the developing story of abuse and cover-up at Penn State. There are so many angles to comment on, but I will reserve my comments around the fact that this abuse was covered up for so many years. As I read about the eight years of child abuse that people turned their back on, I asked myself the question, “why would someone turn their back on this?” There are several possibilities.
1. Fear. They were afraid of rocking the boat. They didn’t want to be whistle-blowers, or they thought that it was someone else’s responsibility. Instead of standing up, they were afraid of their own standing, so they did nothing. Perhaps this is why the AD and the vice president were held accountable. Instead of facing the dark reality of Sandusky’s actions, they covered it up out of fear that such notoriety would impact the school’s reputation (which it inevitably did anyway).
2. Functionality. Would the school have acted if it wasn’t the defensive coordinator? If it was the equipment manager? Someone of lesser stature and less skill? The reason I ask such a crass question is that we have placed a priority on skill over character. Punishments and consequences are less severe if the person has skill or some contribution that makes them functionally more essential. Look at what pro athletes get away with…politicians…musicians…high profile people… Sandusky’s own lawyer said, “[he] feels like, because of his reputation and background, it took a long time to reach this conclusion, and he’s been ready for it.” He said this in reference to the fact that these allegations had been brewing for three years. Three. Years. I imagine that it took so long because of his reputation in the community as well as his position at Penn State.
3. Selfishness. People turned their back on these kids in order to protect their own position or the reputation of a school/program that was their livelihood. It was easier to remain quiet and ignorant than to pursue justice and righteousness because it kept things safe for the individual.
As I think about these reasons and the myriad of other possibilities, I’m reminded that the light is a powerful thing, and that the truth, no matter how difficult and unpleasant will bring life (and preserve it). In this case, men were afraid of the light. They were afraid of the truth of evil deeds being exposed, and it hurt an untold number of people. Compounding the hurt is the observation that the leaders of this institution were either too afraid, too preoccupied, or too selfish to do the right thing. They refused to come into the light, and rather wanted to hide.
Isn’t that what we all do? How many conversations have we avoided or left just short instead of telling the truth? How many times have we looked the other way because it was just too inconvenient to get involved? How often do we excuse injustice or sin because of the functional worth of an individual? Granted, the things we turn our back on may not be the kind of gross immorality that the Penn State community is now discovering, but is our inactivity any less excusable? Can we honestly say that our ignorance and staying quiet isn’t harming anyone?
I look at the officials of Penn State and realize a sobering truth – I am just as capable of running from the light as they are, and the motivations run through me just as it does them. What then, is my hope? It must be that the Gospel calls me to come to the light, to face the reality of my own depravity and the depravity of the world around me, and find forgiveness. The Gospel gives me the assurance that the light though it may hurt at first, is the only place where life can be found. So instead of condemning this school, I choose to mourn – for the victims, the leaders who must be accountable, Sandusky. More than that, I choose to come to the light for the dark things that I have hidden and turned my back on. I choose to cling to a reality that’s rooted in the truth that “if we walk in the light as He is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)