THE HIGH PRICE OF INACTION

Neal Pollard

Penn State students nearly rioted overnight, protesting the firing of legendary head football coach, Joe Paterno.  “Joe Pa” had been the symbol of class and integrity, caring for his players and winning big every year.  Just this season, the 84-year-old passed Eddie Robinson as the winningest coach in Division One history, with 409 wins in his 46th season.

But, in 2002, a graduate assistant reported to Paterno that he witnessed a former coach, Jerry Sandusky, committing unspeakable, reprehensible crimes against a young minor on college grounds. Paterno reported it to a school official, but did not go to the police. Sandusky was allowed to maintain a strong presence on campus for another decade!  Along the way, high school coaches, maintenance staff, and other boys who were in the charity for wayward youths started by Sandusky, reported either assaults or suspicious behavior. But, no legal or punitive actions occurred until last week!  The number of boys whose lives have been permanently traumatized is still unclear.

Paterno was not the only one guilty of inaction. The number of bystanders who said and did nothing is staggering.  Now, heads are rolling, including the university’s president and this revered head football coach.  Having this ignominy for a legacy, Paterno lamented, “It is one of the great sorrows of my life.  I wish I had done more” (espn.com, “Joe Paterno’s Penn State Legacy”).

Physically, it is hard to think of a more heinous crime than those against the innocent.  It is an illustration of the high price of inaction!  How bad is it to be aware of danger, of immorality, of that which is unacceptable to God, but say nothing?

I fear that too many pulpits, even in the Lord’s church, are woefully silent when it comes to warning about sin–whether doctrinal, ethical, or moral matters.  Some men will not overtly teach error, but you will never hear them preach and warn about those “difficult subjects.”  How many elderships have failed to lead the church in disciplining the erring or standing up for God’s Word?  How many times have we failed to act on behalf of our Savior, at work, at school, at social functions, and the like?

A world, by and large, is heading toward eternal punishment (cf. Mat. 7:13-14).  We know this is true!  We know the worth of every soul to God (Jn. 3:16).  Will we stand by and say and do nothing?  Do not be guilty of doing nothing!

3 thoughts on “THE HIGH PRICE OF INACTION

  1. I agree with the general premise that inaction can be dangerous to self and others. History has shown this more times than we can count. Perhaps Paterno should have gone to the police. Who knows?

    However, according to the law at that time Paterno was required to report what he was told to his superiors which he did. His superiors were responsible for investigating the allegations and then notifying the authorities if true. All Paterno was given was an unsubstantiated, unproven allegation. Had he gone to the police and the allegation turned out to be false, he would have been liable for slander, defamation of character, etc. He followed the law exactly and was ultimately fired for it.

    It is my opinion (feel free to disagree) that Paterno is as much a victim here as anyone. As someone who works at a college, I can tell you that there are set policies to follow for almost every circumstance and going beyond those policies never works out well for the person regardless of his motivations or the nature of the situation.

    1. Good thoughts and perspective, Brian. It can be easy to armchair QB this one. I would have hoped he might have felt a moral obligation to side-step usual protocol given the heinous nature of the allegations, but your point about lack of substantiation and proof bear a further look. It is a litigious society. Thanks for the insight.

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