How you can miss the one danger Joe Paterno failed to avoid

The large garage doors closed with a crash at Beaver Stadium in State College, PA and concealed the bronze statue of Joe Paterno for the final time. Removing the statue from view, and ultimately disposing of it somehow, ironically came about because things long hidden had finally been exposed.

In happier times at Happy Valley, Paterno had been an icon, not just in football, but in life. It was always said, “Penn State does things the right way.” Their uniforms remained stylistically static harkening back to an olden time of football and values. Players names were not emblazoned on the back of their jerseys. You were to play for the good of the team and the pride of being a Nittany Lion.

That was Joe Paterno’s reputation. But according to the recently released report on the actions of PSU and the football program covering up the atrocious crimes committed by former coach Jerry Sandusky, that reputation was a surface disguise, masking the reality underneath.

While we may all look at what happened at Penn State and shudder at the complete lack of decency displayed by men of authority who covered up crimes against children to protect themselves, we should also be wary that we can fall into the same trap that led Paterno and others into this moral black hole.

The one root of their actions is something that you or I can easily find ourselves engaging in and even defending. It’s something we may do on a daily basis. Joe Paterno legacy and the image of Penn State have been forever tarnished, if not destroyed, by obsessing over a reputation, while ignoring character.

The Joe Paterno statue prior to its removal from the Penn State campus.
Photo from Deviantart.com by PeteCz

Think about the choices you make in life, are they more geared toward protecting or establishing your reputation in the eyes of others or building a godly character that no human eyes can see.

Do you work harder when you know your boss is looking and go back to playing on your computer when they walk away? Was that Facebook status Bible verse posted after time spent with God in His word or after time spent arguing with your spouse?

It can be so easy to subtly switch from pursuing a godly character to chasing a good reputation. We even make theological sounding excuses for it. I need people to think well of me, so they’ll think well of Christ or It’ll help my witness for them to see me doing these good things.

This world has enough hypocrites. To some extent, all of us are hypocritical. We say we want things a certain way, but we fail to live up to those standards. The area where we become separated is how we respond to that failure.

The truly hypocritical are the ones who refuse to acknowledge their own hypocrisy. They have no sense of transparency and demand that you ignore what you can clearly see – they’re not perfect.

You and I are in danger of following Paterno’s footsteps when we clearly behave differently than we speak, but we refuse to admit to that fact and force others to lie about it to us. Football players need coaches, not cheerleaders, to improve, yet Paterno seemed to only have an unwavering group of yes-men around him.

Those enablers ignore our faults, which only leads to those faults growing deeper and more destructive. They help us polish our reputation, all the while our character withers away. We become a beautifully decorated egg, with a rotten inside waiting to spill out at the first crack.

Eventually, reputation will follow character. Some may get away with fooling the crowds for awhile. Others may toil away with good works in obscurity. The time will come when what is underneath will come to light. Focus your efforts on your character, not your reputation. You cannot truly control the latter, anyway, but you can build the former.

Here are some ways to escape the trap that befell Paterno:

• Make sure your hidden actions match your public words
• Focus on doing good deeds without anyone knowing
• Have people to hold you accountable, unafraid to tell you when you mess up
• Seek to discover and judge others on their character, not their reputation
• Accept criticism gracefully and prayerfully, especially when it comes from someone close
• Don’t ask how will this look to others, ask how it will affect who you are

Who God knows us to be, our character, has to be of more value than who others think we are, our reputation. If that is the case, we will never find ourselves in the type of situation Paterno was in prior to his death.

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About Author

Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.