We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way…
~ Isaiah 53:6
Joe Carter, in his article “Thoughts on the Penn State Scandal” at First Things, collects words from several other writers who have tried to make sense of the moral failures that have brought Paterno’s house down at Penn State. At the heart of the public firestorm around this scandal is a disbelief at how big coach Mike McQueary could witness “an old man sodomizing a little boy” and somehow turn around and walk away, leaving that child to be thrown into hell. Sandusky is the accused abuser, whose behavior, if verified, has been horrific and reprehensible. But people are equally up in arms about McQueary’s reaction to seeing evil done, and just turning away from it.
What makes a man who sees a child being abused and used turn and walk away, closing his mind and mouth to what he knows is happening?
Carter makes a great observation when he points out that just because a man appears masculine, he is not necessarily so:
But the fascination with football and the Cult of the Coach is a problematic sign of the degeneracy of modern manhood. Young men today are absolutely desperate for masculine role models. Too often the only example they have is a football coach. In many cases, the coaches are also decent, moral men. But the values of the playing field are not always sufficient for forming character. Joe Paterno, Mike McQueary, and Jerry Sandusky have proved that being a good coach and being a man of character are not always the same thing.
What he does suggest here is that for any man to be sufficiently manly, character development is necessary, and character is not necessary the product of hanging around with our tribes, whether they are our teammates, members of our squad on the field, co-managers with us in the office, or frat brothers from the college days. We certainly develop some of our identity based on the people we hang around with and the groups we join, but who we become morally is not simply handed to us based on the club we join. And just because we join a club that is regarded positively in the public eye doesn’t mean it is without it’s own private problems. Clubs, communities, and tribes- like people- have public and private faces and personas. Groupthink is amoral on its own.
A coach may develop great traditions and a powerful culture at his school, but neither of those promise that his program is morally fit. Moral development is a product of attention, focus, gut checks, and heart checks, initiated by leaders within the program who recognize that character conditioning is a crucial ingredient in the shaping of excellence. And success on the court or the field is certainly the main goal of any sports program. But again, if success comes with a disregard of morality and integrity, what has that program really won?
A man’s character is a product of the view of the world he buys into. And ultimately, he alone decides what things in life he will be driven by, and what things in life will drive him. What is clear to me, though, is that if you want to be a person of substance and quality- if you want to be a man who lives in love- you must have character.
What is suggested in Carter’s article, and supported by the quotes he includes within it, is that a man of character both recognizes evil, and tries to deal with it. McQueary, and the other Penn State coaches, are being lambasted as cowards because they didn’t do what it is assumed a man should do, confronting their problem: he must step up, speak out, and save a child from harm.