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FIRST-PERSON: When football becomes a god

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — The report from former FBI Director Louis Freeh regarding the Penn State scandal is both shocking and sickening. Our hearts break for the victims and our anger burns against those who knowingly put children in the path of devastating danger.

The report shows that key leaders at Penn State, including former head coach Joe Paterno and former president Graham Spanier, intentionally covered up allegations that Jerry Sandusky was sexually abusing young boys. Their deep-seated commitment to protect their sacred football program put children at risk. They literally allowed a monster to prey on children rather than potentially tarnish the football program which provided them their identity and worth.

Questions abound: What were they thinking? How could they possibly sleep at night? How did they justify the horrific decision to shrug off the safety of children?

Seventeenth-century scientist and Christian author Blaise Pascal wrote, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.” For these men, football was their religion. And they were filled with conviction that the renown of their sacred football program was worth more than the safety and dignity of children. Their religion led to evil. For these men, football was clearly the god that needed to be served above all else. Football was the god that was worthy of sacrifice, even if innocent children became the unwilling sacrifices.

With a hypocritical self-righteous indignation, Spanier once had an agent disgraced and barred from the university because he paid for a graduate’s suit before a bowl game. Yet as he was “protecting the integrity of the program” through this disciplinary action, he was simultaneously allowing Sandusky to roam as a predator.

By insisting on moral excellence on such issues in the football program, he continually removed the speck from the eyes of others while his own eye was filled with a massive plank. How could these men live with themselves? One of the first things learned in Psychology 101 is that “everyone’s behavior makes sense to them.” When Penn State football and their personal reputation were the gods to be served, the choice to cover up wickedness was acceptable simply for the sake of their religion and the worship of their gods. Depravity was on full display.

When anything other than God becomes our god, evil abounds. May God lead us to continual repentance of placing something other than Him on the throne of our lives. Because when we do so, not only do we destroy ourselves, we also destroy others.
Eric Geiger serves as vice president of the church resources division of LifeWay Christian Resources. Prior to joining LifeWay, Geiger served eight years as executive pastor of Christ Fellowship Miami. This first appeared at http://ericgeiger.com. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Eric Geiger