• Aileen Price

The Jerry Sandusky Case: A Cautionary Tale for Leaders


Within the Church, I've had the opportunity to experience different environments and different leadership styles. I'm all about diversity and variety. In our Biblical characters, we see variety in the persons God used to unfold His plan. That's refreshing!  One issue we cannot ignore is when leadership tolerates inappropriate behavior. I've been looking for a way to say these things, and this morning I saw a haunting article regarding the aftermath of  the Jerry Sandusky case that shows what happens on a macro scale when leadership doesn't follow through with the right thing (http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/jerry-sandusky-case-three-ex-penn-state-officials-get-jail-n767676).


As a Nittany Lion, this case will never cease to disturb me. Attending Penn State was life-changing.  I can't believe that my beautiful campus, a place where I felt very safe, was the backdrop to horrors. I was on campus from the fall of 1998 to the spring of 2003 while these things were happening. I can't believe that I may have walked past that area of campus where the abuse took place, probably wrapped up in my own agenda, oblivious to the crimes. Beyond the crimes themselves, I'm shocked by the leadership and the decisions that have come back to bite the institution in its backside.


Let me tell you about my experiences with former President Graham Spanier.  I found former President Spanier to be a personable, student-friendly leader. I had a few interactions with him over the years. He had a tradition to make waffles for the freshman. There would be an evening (or two) on the weekend when he would set up nighttime waffle making in the freshman dining hall. I also saw him mingling with students and shooting the breeze with us at the HUB (the Hetzel Union Building), which was literally the hub on campus. One day, my study group and I were preparing a presentation for that coming Monday.  He came over and asked us what we were doing. He said he spoke French. I said, "Nous preparons un debat pour lundi," (translation: We're preparing a debate for Monday). He was struggling. He only caught the word Monday, and mispronounced it "loon-dee". What a cool guy, right? I've been under leaders who are not personable in the least. He had no obligation to mingle with students during his free time. I perceived that he was enjoying himself, and I was enjoying speaking French (kind of) with the University President. Now, he's serving time because he made the wrong decision(s) regarding Jerry Sandusky.


There's only one story I can tell you about Joe Paterno, and it's not even mine. My friend, Jenny, was rushing across a campus street, and she nearly got run over. She looked at the driver, and it was Joe Paterno! On Penn State's main campus, I don't know who's worse: pedestrians or drivers! When I was a pedestrian, I couldn't stand drivers. When I was a driver, I was at war with pedestrians. It's kind of a free-for-all.  Paterno was a legend on campus. He was well-loved. Here's what Judge John Boccabella said about his role in the Sandusky case, "[Paterno] could have made that phone call without so much as getting his hands dirty. Why he didn't is beyond me."  This quote is the impetus for this article.


Friends, I've been thinking that sometimes we have to get our hands dirty to do the right thing. Judge Boccabella said that in the Sandusky case, Paterno just needed to make a call to place a report. This case sparks outrage since sexual abuse is serious, and the sexual abuse of a minor is a heinous crime. We can point out to the shoulda, woulda, coulda of Penn State officials. I ask you: what are you tolerating?  The sexual abuse of minors is not the only case that requires immediate action. Perhaps those "little things" that you are letting slide could derail your teams and your ministry.


If we're honest about our faith and our calling, our God cares about the little things. Little things can corrode the structure of what you're trying to build. It would be a shame for the thing you've overlooked to become your downfall in the future. You owe it to yourself, your ministry, your teams, and, yes, even God, to stay on top of what's in your hand for this season.  People who are doing inappropriate things need correction and rebuke. If you don't engage appropriately with dysfunction, it will invariably affect others. Take a hint from Penn State.  Look at how much has been tainted. I couldn't believe that era when Penn State's wins were stripped away. The players won the game. Joe Paterno wasn't running up and down the field scoring touchdowns; it was the players! The players didn't abuse the children; Sandusky did. There was a steep price to pay to make restitution. This was totally avoidable.


Think about your players, your team members and volunteers, who work tirelessly to make your vision happen. You owe them your loyalty the same way they offer it to you. You should never abuse your people's loyalty by subjecting them to situations that cause dysfunction.  On the contrary, you are responsible for the health of your organization.  Let's consider the people who have the courage to alert you of an important issue. At Penn State, Mike McQueary, an assistant coach, reported he witnessed Sandusky molesting a child to Paterno. For the last several years, McQueary has struggled to find a job, even being turned down by Rite Aid (http://www.pennlive.com/news/2017/03/mike_mcqueary.html). In 2016, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that McQueary almost landed another coaching job, but the athletic director considered him a "controversial person" (http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/psu/2016/11/06/Fallout-from-Penn-State-scandal-upended-assistant-coach-s-life-sandusky/stories/201611040207) . The day before he was scheduled to move for his new job, it was over.


I've been a "controversial person" as have others; and I'm sure we won't be the last. It's better to value the people who speak to you honestly than to remain in the illusion of a comfort zone. There are folks who would much rather smile in the leader's face, pretending everything is okay, while complaining privately. When the moment of truth arrives, they don't say what they need to say to the person to whom they need to say it; it's disloyal.  You are neither omniscient nor omnipresent, and it takes the input of a team to keep you informed of things that could be problematic down the road.


If you don't know how to handle something, find resources.  Some resources include Christian coaches trained in conflict resolution. There's a ministry within the Assemblies of God Penndel District to navigate conflict situations within churches; it's called Bridge Builders (https://penndel.org/bridgebuilders). You may consult mentors or experts who handle conflict situations for the sake of health. Not being good with conflict and/or confrontation isn't an excuse. Rather, arm yourself with the tools you need to succeed. Cast aside pride or the shame of having a struggle. It's truly in your best interest to align yourself with allies.  For better or for worse, handling problems and conflict is part of the job description.


In the Sandusky case, more Penn State officials have been sentenced to prison. The article by Penn Live lists the "new normal" for these former big wigs (http://www.pennlive.com/news/2017/07/paying_the_price_former_penn_s.html). Remember, that you and I, too, have a judge. We're going to have to face Him one day. Take heed to be faithful in the little things!


"If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things,

you won't be honest with greater responsibilities." Luke 16:10 NLT

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