The problem with ordinary gods

From USA Today:

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – They gathered around the bronze statue of their former football coach shortly after the news spread Sunday morning. Less than a mile away from Beaver Stadium, Joe Paterno died at Mount Nittany Medical Center at the age of 85.

I went back and forth about whether to write about the passing of Penn State coach and football legend Joe Paterno. In an era of pay for play college football scandals, Joe Paterno demanded and received more from his players. There is no shortage of praise and admiration for this man who loved the game and loved his players. He did so many things right.

“I wish I had done more.”
– Joe Paterno (in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal)

“This is a sad day! Our family, Dottie and I would like to convey our deepest sympathy to Sue and her family. Nobody did more for the academic reputation of Penn State than Joe Paterno. He maintained a high standard in a very difficult profession. Joe preached toughness, hard work and clean competition. Most importantly, he had the courage to practice what he preached. Nobody will be able to take away the memories we all shared of a great man, his family, and all the wonderful people who were a part of his life.”
– Jerry Sandusky (in a statement released by his lawyer)

A bitterly ironic statement coming from the man whose actions and Paterno’s subsequent inaction lead to a sizable black mark on a bigger than life legacy.

In State College, PA football is a religion and Joe Paterno was their god.

But the problem with ordinary gods is that they are fallible. Ordinary gods must make difficult decisions. And sometimes they choose badly.

After 62 years of coaching, serving as a much beloved, respected role model, the last 11 weeks of Paterno’s life were filled with physical and emotional challenges.

“I just can’t help but think he died of a broken heart.”
– Mike Millen, former Penn State player

Many will say that nothing will take away from Paterno’s legacy. But for me, some mistakes are bigger than others. Much bigger. I mourn the loss of a great coach, and my heart aches when I think about the shame and regret that must have shadowed his final days.

If Joe Paterno was the man that his legions of fans believed him to be, I can’t help but wonder if the cancer that ate away at his lungs was miniscule in comparison to the one which crept into his heart on that fateful day in 2002 when he chose not stand up for the least of these.

We fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.

Beyond reputation, beyond glory, there is great honor in doing what is right.

We serve a just and merciful God. I pray for Coach Paterno’s family. May he finally rest in peace.

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