When Icons Fall

Just moments after stepping off the bus, entering the door, and dropping her jacket on the floor, my six-year-old daughter asks, "Dad, why was Joe Paterno fired?"

We immediately glance at one another, and my husband pauses to find the best response.  When he speaks, each word is slow and deliberate.  "Well, he was fired because he didn't make the best possible choices."

In her innocence, she seems fully satisfied with this simple answer.  She continues toward the family room, flopping herself over the arm of the couch unaffectedly.

For me and for thousands of others, however, it's been impossible not to think about the tragic scandal at Penn State.  This unfolding coverage isn't something that we can turn off with a click of a remote; it's where we live. 

This morning while walking to my campus office, I choked back tears over how the unspeakable actions committed by one man, Jerry Sandusky, coupled with the inaction (or incomplete action) of other men -- a university president, an athletic director, an administrator, an assistant coach, a head coach, a janitor -- has uncorked such a groundswell of pain.  I choked back tears over the misguided rioting, as if physical destruction could actually restore lost innocence, repair wounded hearts, or redeem tarnished reputations.  It cannot, and it's foolish to think that it could.

While my hope is that justice will be served, I recognize that there never will be any winners in this story.  I follow the media coverage with mounting weariness and sorrow, yet I seem unable to draw back from the reports.  Everyone weighs in with their thoughts, working to process the many questions that currently have no answers, if they ever will.

How could something like this have happened, and how could it have been silenced?  How could people who have done so much good -- people who appeared to be so good -- make such poor choices?  How could icons fall?

Amidst the anger, confusion, and overwhelming sadness, these are questions that are being asked right now.  They're valid questions.  But the question I'm asking is this: Why are we so surprised that this could have happen?  Why would we think that the prestige of an excellent university would intrinsically be enough to save anyone from misjudgement or wrongdoing?  Why couldn't icons fall?

It is easy to point fingers and say that different actions ought to have been taken.  And, I'd agree wholeheartedly; different actions should have been taken.  In fact, I have to believe that those involved in this scandal are wishing in hindsight that different actions had been taken, yearning that they personally could go back to take them and undo the misery that has transpired.

Regardless of their individual level of culpability, which eventually will be determined as the investigation continues, these men were not infallible.  We cannot act as if they were.

But neither can we mount a high horse of moral superiority and act as if we are infallible.  While we ought to be heartbroken and disgusted at the horrible reports of molestation, we cannot automatically assume that we would have handled things perfectly had we been in a similar situation, even if we certainly hope that we would have.

The truth of the matter is that over the course of my life I've made several poor judgments -- some due to sheer ignorance and others due to a lack of wisdom.  Those poor judgments have yielded regrettable mistakes.

Even more unsettling is that I've been presented with opportunities to do right where I've remained inactive.  Or, when I've had opportunities to do wrong, and against my better judgment I've headed straight toward them.  You might argue, But your wrongdoings can't be on the same level as some other people's wrongdoings.

And perhaps, you're right.  But that's not the point.  The point is that we all sometimes make terrible choices unintentionally, and even worse, we all sometimes make them willfully.  The point is that the propensity for wrongdoing is the battle of the human condition.  Romans 3:23 expresses it better:  "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."

We all have sinned.  Every single one of us.  We've all done the wrong that we shouldn't have, and we've all neglected to do the right that we should have.

Does this make sin excusable?  Because everyone does it, does that make us exempt from the penalty of it?  Not at all.

It makes us equally in need of a Savior as the next person, whether that next person is an icon or not.

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  1. What a terrific post. Hopefully the legacy Joe worked so hard and long on will continue to thrive and not be completely tarnished.

  2. Great meaty post, Robin. And I highly recommend this one to you: http://www.outofmyallegedmind.com/2011/11/keeping-secrets.html

  3. Hi Robin,
    Brandee left a link to your blog over at my place, and I'm so glad she did. Thank you for this. I echo so much of what you said. Blessings to you.

  4. I've read this through several times, Robin. Bravo on incredibly well thought-out words. I have to sift through my own disappointment in Joe, but it does remind me of something my Dad told me when I started dating Doug.

    He said that I needed to remember that Doug would let me down. He reminded me that he's let me down. The only person we can count on to not ever let us down, ever, is Jesus.

  5. Very well said, Robin. Excellent and so true!

  6. Robin, I so appreciate your blog today. We have all fallen short of the "Glory of God" and there is not one of us who hasn't thought if it would have been me in the chain of command, I would hope that I would do the right thing and call the police. Believe me, Norm and I had to do that many years ago and turn in a pedophile, was it easy, no way, but light always has to outsine darkness. As Christians we are the light and the salt of the earth, and we are called to tell the truth and if that puts us on the hot seat with others than so be it, but sometimes being on the hot seat isn't bad if your saving just one childs life. Thanks again Robin, as always I enjoy reading your blog.

  7. I love this. I'm Catholic and when it came to light about the priest molesting little kids and the cover ups by the bishops, everyone was feeling this same way. Being religious didn't save them from their error just as being in a prestigious position didn't save these people. Like you said, we all make really bad choices sometimes and we all need God to dig ourselves back out.

  8. Saw your comment on Jon Acuff's site. I confess that it has been tempting for me to view the scandal from the perspective of moral superiority. Thank you for making me remember that I have no right to do so.


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