Sometimes an event or affair seems to crystallize the spirit of an age. The Dreyfus affair became a symbol of the soul sickness of pre-World War II Europe. The naked injustice struck contemporary commentators as obvious, but still the injustice was seen, lamented and ultimately condone. Even after his conviction was overturned, Alfred Dreyfus was a broken man.
So what does the Sandusky affair reveal about our soul sickness? Jerry Sandusky was the former successful Penn State defensive coach who just was convicted of child molestation. In review, coach Sandusky used his privilege and power to start a non-profit to help at risk (code word for poor) kids. He really used it to help himself to the kids. Throughout his second career as a philanthropist/pedophile he was caught a few times and his success and power shielded him, most notably in the early 2000s when a graduate assistant found him in the showers with a 10-year old boy. He informed his higher ups, including legendary coach Joe Paterno, Papa Joe and the administration. The only action taken was to revoke Sandusky’s rights to use the campus. He was left free to continue to abuse children. After the story finally broke last year and Penn State fired all those involved in the earlier coverup, including Paterno, finally there was an moral outrage. Yet, again the outrage revealed something of out soul sickness.
The outrage was directed to the board that fired Paterno for not allowing him to finish the season with dignity after a long career winning football games for Nittany Lions. Sandusky’s boys, as they came to be known, were not factored in the moral equation. Papa Joe won games, national championships and this success was not properly honored. That was the community’s outrage. In a society that values winners and devalues any whiff of poverty, the boys became the price of success.
The verdict has come in the trail. Papa Joe passed away due to a heart attack. Sandusky has been found guilty and will remain in prison for the rest of his life. A new coach will try to return PSU to success on the grid iron. The community of Happy Valley will put this behind them and try to forget. Even today there are twice as many stories about the damage to Papa Joe’s legacy than Sandusky’s victims. Coach Paterno is held up as a tragedy, while the boys are but prop pieces in the drama. Jesus weeps.
What lessons can we draw about our spirit that success in a game can be valued over the children of the poor? Such is the soul sickness of our age.