Game Day Reflections on Sandusky Case

Posted by tom | Nov 19, 2011

If you follow me on Facebook, you'll know that I've shared a lot of thoughts on the current situation at State College. This is an attempt to collate the material (with some editing) in one place. More thoughts brewing. Future posts will focus on particular topics, e.g.,

  • Legacy, subject of my most recent Emerging Scholars Network Blog post Finding Calcutta: What is my Legacy? (11/17/2011).
  • The confusion of "post-Christians" when attempting to define good and evil AND address the mixed presence of good and evil.
  • What's the cost of truthtelling and how do we discern what is true?


Mayor Ravenstahl calls for Franco Harris to quit as Pittsburgh Promise board chairman: Another hard to read announcement. Praying for the board's decision. Comments after I hear news of the board's decision. Note: Saleem Ghubril, founder of the Pittsburgh Project, is now the executive director of Pittsburgh Promise. Some of my friends from 'da Burgh will remember several retreats and urban plunges which were in partnership with Pittsburgh Project. Several friends and acquaintances are still on staff. Theresa and I love receiving their updates. Keep them coming :)


Bob Costas' interview of Sandusky: Hard to listen to (


Lots on Penn State in the Lancaster Sunday News. I appreciated the two front page articles: a fascinating historical piece Take-charge guy Paterno didn't take charge, by Bill Fisher (retired sports editor of the Sunday News) and Symbolism and drama at Penn State (Mike Gross).


The Devil and Joe Paterno (Ross Douthat. NY Times. 11/13/2011). A strong Op-Ed by an outspoken NY Times columnist rooted in the Roman Catholic Church. He concludes "No higher cause can trump that obligation — not a church, and certainly not a football program. And not even a lifetime of heroism can make up for leaving a single child alone, abandoned to evil, weeping in the dark." I concur with some of my friends who found the article "over the top." Further consideration has led to thoughts regarding the general public's need to have icons of good and evil, especially in a post-Christian era which has difficulty for dealing with the mixture of the two not only in their icons, but also within their very selves.

Waiting to hear more of the story, in particular as to whether Paterno is a scapegoat for what one friend describes as "what seems to be widespread administrative malfeasance." With the lens on the microcosm of Penn State, I think a lot will come out about the complexities of politics/actions in higher education (education, campus life, sports, community relations, community service/volunteerism, etc). Some of these revelations will expose flawed and sinful human nature applicable across communities, structures, and workplaces. One piece is the administrative circling of wagons, but applied earlier by the athletic department.

I pray the justice system will sort through the issues well. In addition to healing and truth-telling, I hope the process and final decision will focus public attention to helpful understandings of the true stories AND a foundation for decisions in which loving neighbor is rooted in the love of God. That is a love of God comprised of the whole person (head, heart, and hands) with accountability in the community -- a truth I have been reminded regarding my own life, ministry, and family.

Note: Maybe the power struggle involving the board of trustees (with the heavy hand of a US Steel approach to management?), the previous president, and Paterno will come out . . . I have the suspicion that Sandusky doesn't become head coach and retires (1999) because of these concerns (1994 - ?), leaving Paterno looking for a successor he has raised up through the system . . .

For those wary of Douthat's perspective, he does write in the piece, "I believe that Joe Paterno is a good man. I believe Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated, the brilliant sportswriter who is working on a Paterno biography, when he writes that Paterno has “lived a profoundly decent life” and “improved the lives of countless people” with his efforts and example.""

Further comment: "With great influence/power comes much responsibility." I firmly agree that one incident does not define a legacy. I hope it comes out that Paterno knew very little and what he did know wouldn't have caused him to press concerns further than he did. In addition, I hope it comes out that Sandusky did very little and the programs/systems in place (at PSU and in The Second Mile, his children's charity) encouraged appropriate behavior (even protected some/many). But corruption in "Success with Honor" and programs recognized by "The Thousand Points of Light" makes it difficult not to approach those who appear to be seeing to bless others with cynicism :( I pray The Second Mile was not started by Sandusky to give him opportunities such as we read in the Grand Jury Investigation. Our sensitivity to these concerns as a society has increased immensely over the past several years and it is difficult to compare how cases such as these were addressed 10 - 20 years ago.


Mixed emotions regarding the choice to go ahead with the Penn State game. But a campus/program has to take a next step forward. The time of silence before the game was a good step forward. All of football, including NFL today, could take away the lesson that it's NOT all about the game & we should respect (even encourage) our opponent. Will the time of silence carry over to the next game or any other games? Is it possible to challenge the complex layers of the competitive sports industry -- which has gained an unquestioned ability to form identity in towns, campuses, major cities, regions, & even a whole country? 

One friend shared that on the Internet radio (Lion), almost every commercial break was for abused kids and another encouraged some of the attention to be used to address abortion, the "acceptable" child abuse. Interestingly, on the Tuesday after the game we had some guests from Clinica Pro Vita in Romania at the ministry with which labor at Penn State Hershey. They were visiting the area and connected with us through Susquehanna Valley Pregnancy Services. Sandusky was barely mentioned in comparison to the work of Clinica Pro Vita and our speaker's consideration of "A Call to Simplicity." All three concerns remain in my prayers and consideration of next steps in the call to care for/steward "the temple of the Lord."


A lot has been written on and spoken about the unfolding situation at Penn State (State College). As time allows, I commend to you two campus ministry pieces which I have particularly appreciated:

  1. "Penn State: Rage, Remorse, and Redemption." InterVarsity blog post by Andrew King, InterVarsity staff, Thank-you Andrew. 
  2. "A deficiency of Love." Audio of a presentation by Penn State CRU's Tim Henderson,

May you also be led to prayer (for God's grace, healing, & justice in State College), tears, self-examination, mourning, and by God's grace healing. Praying for each and every one of us to be overflowing with God's love each and every place God guides us on campus, in the community, and beyond. May we find the love of Christ compelling us to be little Christ (as part of the larger Body of Christ) with our head, heart, and hands -- even when faced with tough "game day decisions" in the midst of a complex power structure. 

Join me in praying for God's love, grace, healing, and justice to be fully present at State College on "game day" before/after "kick-off" for the last home game.


A thread in the breaking story includes the responsibility of a grad assistant in a complex power structure. Pray for justice & healing. Aspiring Coach, in Middle of College’s Scandal (NY Times). Comment: A friend questioned whether McQueary is the one who should be fired, not Paterno. Still thinking about this one. I assume McQueary's inaction stemmed from fear and a lack of foundation to "take the hit" in the larger system, i.e., end of academic/career relationship with Penn State caused by public and/or private conflict. I wouldn't be surprised if "upper management" trusted Sandusky and didn't believe "gossip." Maybe these actions are an aspect of Sandusky's life which developed (and/or had opportunity for expression) later in life and wasn't part of his younger years. In addition, my impression is that child sexual abuse (especially in low income situations) wasn't given as much attention even a few years ago. Campuses and campus programs (from academic departments to administrators to student life to sports programs) desire to control communication (internal and external). Hiring "insiders" who come up through the system helps bond and create identity, but there is a temptation to form a "club" which protects one-another "to the end." This issue has been receiving investigation for some time. 

I found JoPa's statement telling, "This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more." Maybe JoPa had fear and a lack of foundation to "take the hit" which would discredit his years of investment in not only a well developed football program (and his possible successor, maybe this is a factor in why JoPa stayed so long and Sandusky did not succeed him), but the Penn State campus in general. 

Each and every day followers of Christ face little tests as to whether we will live lives more or less like Christ. Little tests and years of response leave a legacy. With great power (or how about "influence") comes great responsibility. Let us step onto campus (and/or workplace) today living as little Christs by the Spirit, filled with the fruit of the Spirit, and warring against the flesh (Galatians 5:13-25) with accountability before God the Father, the Word of God, and the people of God. Join me in praying for God's grace, healing, and justice to be fully present at State College.

Paterno Is Finished at Penn State, and President Is Out (NY Times). Comment: Is the President's departure a footnote? I don't think so. Spanier said in a statement, “This university is a large and complex institution, and although I have always acted honorably and in the best interest of the university, the buck stops here. . . . In this situation, I believe it is in the best interest of the university to give my successor a clear path to resolve the issues before us.”

How much do sports define your campus and/or "collegiate life" in general? Should Penn State Cancel Its Season? - Room for Debate (NY Times).

If you were in a position of campus authority at Penn State (e.g., professor, administrator, trustee, student leader), how would you respond to the situation as it has unfolded? Lots of articles to draw from, but I particularly appreciate


Wow! Last night I talk with my Dad about the epic power struggle at hand. Even more afoot than I thought. More thoughts after morning responsibilities.


The Molester Next Door. Comment: Some thoughts beyond the controversy at PSU, involving the "bigger picture" & parents. Would have been a fitting place to mention "the elephant in the room," i.e., "sin and brokenness." Must come back to that topic. . . .

11/8/2011, 11/7/2011

With Sex-Abuse Scandal, Crises Are Multiplying at Penn State. Comment: My first impulse is to write a post on the issues of maintaining a pristine campus image and sports play a major role on many campuses. Instead I'm turning to prayer for justice and healing not just for the specific people involved at PSU, but for the many incidents which have been unheard. Join me in yearning for, crying out for, and living lives aligned with the new heavens and new earth . . . pray for discernment as to whether I should post and if so what.

More on the concerns related to Penn State's football program.


Penn State probably wished there was a Saturday game to off-set the momentum of "off-field" "offensive" (or should I say "defensive") concerns related to Jerry Sandusky, PSU in Harsh Spotlight (Lancaster On-line). How does one discern the truth? I'm particularly struck by 1. what a mixed bag the media is in bringing the concerns to our attention & trying to share the facts in relationship to the "big picture." 2. how institutions in higher education wrestle w/complex issues/people across decades.

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