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Joe Paterno and The Failure of Our Idols

Rob Carr, Getty Images

The allegations of child rape and molestation conducted by a former Penn State University football coach and what now looks like a cover up by school officials is one of the many examples of human depravity that occurs daily in our world.

While many people are outraged by this tragedy of indifference to defending those who cannot defend themselves is another tragedy. The second tragedy I speak of is the denial of those people who are defending Joe Paterno and his not reporting the allegations to the police.

Most of these people don’t know Paterno personally. Most know him as the clean cut, upright man who has coached the Nittany Lions since the Lyndon Johnson presidency. He was an icon who was a hero to many people in the north and eastern United States. He was a hero. He was their idol.

The problem with idols, however is that they will let us down sooner or later.

This is where we people leave logic at the door. They see a man who they have respected for most of their life and when they have a great moral failing of this magnitude they either become devastated or go into denial.

I don’t blame them.

If someone I respected had this great of a failing, I would want to get on their side. I would give them a benefit of the doubt, but the scale of this and the evidence is too much.

Ted Kluck, an author, blogger, and writer who has written for ESPN: The Magazine and Christianity Today has an thoughtful and poignant blog post on the scandal.

Kluck writes,

“Whenever something like this happens, it’s an occasion to put aside rooting interests and genuinely feel grieved for all of the people involved.  But two, I’m reminded of something that we say a lot but I think rarely internalize and actually live:  The idea that nothing good is possible apart from Christ.  As proud and hopeful as Penn State football made us feel over the years, this story is an occasion to be reminded that Christ is our only comfort, and our only source of joy.   It’s a chance to be reminded that God gives football and God, sometimes, in his sovereignty, takes it away.

And I think it’s an occasion to question our own tendency toward hero-worship.   If we say that we worship the author and perfector of our faith, why then do we have an almost insatiable and semi-embarrassing drive to create heroes in other walks of life?”

I couldn’t agree more.

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