Back in November when the nightmares of countless children became a news story for millions of us, I wrote the following piece: The Penn State Story - It Really Is All About Football.
Yesterday, Louis Freeh released a report on his investigation into the role of Joe Paterno and other leaders of Penn State University in Jerry Sandusky’s years long sexual abuse of children, some of which occurred on the campus of Penn State. In summary, the 260+ page report charged the leaders of PSU closed their eyes as tight as they could when they heard and saw the abuses happening to young boys at the hands of one of their own, and then did the best they could to convince each other it was just a bad dream. When they all opened their eyes and realized they weren’t in a dream, but smack dab in the middle of real life torture and terror for dozens of young boys, they began plotting and scheming a way to save their own reputations. Today the world seems to be trying to determine how that plan ends.
I was listening to sports talk radio this morning, flipping across several different stations, and the conversation on all of them was whether or not Penn State should take down the statue of Joe Paterno that stands outside of their college football stadium. My first thought was no. They should not take down that statue. They should instead strategically insert several sticks of dynamite and blow it into a thousand pieces of fallen legend stones. The rubble should be left to forever symbolize the broken lives of children that will never stand as tall and whole as that iconic statue stood.
Something felt wrong about my idea, though. I wasn’t sure what. In working through my thoughts, I began to wonder more about the idea of erecting statues at all more than taking them down.
I mean at some point in time a group of people decided that Joe Paterno had accomplished some things in life that were worth a statue. I’m not sure what all of those things were, but they met their statue erecting standards. Now today, another group, maybe even a completely different group, will have to decide whether or not the findings of Paterno’s involvement in the Penn State abuse case undo accomplishments that were once deemed worthy of a statue. Even though those accomplishments are still very real.
If they indeed decide to take the statue down, they will in a sense be saying that our accomplishments in life expire when our mistakes reach a level of heinous that the general public just can’t stomach. Maybe that’s fair. They will have to concede that when they stood the statue of a great man outside of their football stadium, they wrongly predicted that he would always be great. And maybe that’s a mistake any of us could make.
When I finished thinking the whole statue thing through, I couldn’t conclude where I stood on the leave it or topple it question, other than I’m glad my opinion has no bearing on it at all. But I did decide I’m not a fan of erecting statues of people. Or naming buildings and roads and our first born after them. God warns us over and over in the bible about judging others, and I’m not so sure the idea of statues wasn’t behind a lot of those warnings. Maybe he doesn’t want us judging people because, well, we’re really not very good at it.