Worshiping false Gods: Joe Paterno and Penn State football

Lay preacher and writer-in-residence at SSW Greg Garrett writes of “Joe Paterno, Football, and False Gods” on Patheos.

Garnett states the findings of the Special Investigative Counsel, which includes the statement “…the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims….” He then looks at reactions to the report, and the controversy around whether or not to remove a statue of Paterno:

On ESPN Radio, Corey Giger, a guest on Colin Cowherd’s “The Herd” show, spoke of the “cult-like worship” of Joe Paterno, the saintly “Joepa,” and called him a false god, which indeed, he and Penn State football were (and for many, still are).

The Hebrew Testament proscriptions against false gods often strike us these days as ridiculous and archaic. We don’t worship statues or graven images, do we?

But the fact of the matter-as suggested by what has led to the controversy over the Paterno statue-is that we often chase after false gods, try to find our meaning, our community, in places where the true God is not.

Garnett considers why Paterno seemed worthy of adulation, and yet why this scandal forever defines him:

Joe Paterno spoke throughout his career of winning with honor, of living a life of integrity, of the importance of education, of giving back to the institutions that you love, of hard work.

Those who worshiped at the altar of Paterno believed they had found a place where they were called to something higher, where they in their love and allegiance joined others, just as passionate, where they themselves were somehow better and finer for their worship.

And now what they have is this, a legacy forever stained by the suggestion that Mr. Paterno was not simply duped by a trusted friend, did not even simply stand aside and let evil continue, but was complicit in a criminal cover up. The Freeh report concludes that Mr. Paterno worked actively to preserve his reputation, the reputation of his football program, and the reputation of his school by closing the door on closer investigation of Mr. Sandusky. As Bob Costas put it, “He was among those who enabled Sandusky, not only to let him get away with what he had already done, but to continue to victimize other children.”

Someone on CNN asked the other day if it’s fair to characterize someone based on their worst mistake; I’ve preached on the fact that it seems unfair to Doubting Thomas to name him for a moment of weakness. But this is different: Mr. Paterno preached one thing, and lived another, and it is for this hypocrisy that he deserves to be condemned.

Instead of the sense of justice and compassion he evinced in his Penn State commencement speech, Mr. Paterno permitted those who were weaker and less fortunate to be victimized so he could maintain his position.

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