How do you put a value on winning at all costs?
This week, two cases in one state started setting the market price.
On Monday, the NCAA slammed Penn State University with a $60 million fine and crippling penalties to its once-proud football team.
A day later in Philadelphia, a jury took away at least three years of Monsignor William Lynn’s life.
Both the school and the longtime leader in the Catholic Diocese of Philadelphia were guilty of protecting sexual predators.
Lynn hid abusive priests. University leaders, including football coach Joe Paterno, protected veteran assistant and convicted child abuser Jerry Sandusky. Both did their jobs for so long and so well that the priests and Sandusky had time to abuse again.
To Sandusky, now jailed and awaiting his sentence, Penn State’s complicity must have felt like an invisibility cloak. He assaulted children in the team’s showers.
The Catholic Church has been mired in a worldwide abuse scandal for more than 25 years. Yet Lynn is the first U.S. church official to be convicted and jailed for a cover-up. The judge said Lynn repeatedly protected “monsters in clerical robes.”
Penn State, long known as a school that went about winning the right way, had its own monster – a monster of the locker room. It let him operate for almost 15 years.
Now, athletic, educational and religious cornerstones find themselves on the indefensible side of a choice between right and wrong.
And here lies our problem. The only way to make sense of what has happened is to assume that a moral church and moral coach never saw their decisions in moral terms.
Instead, they viewed it from a perspective synonymous with the sport that made Penn State so rich and proud.
Here, there was no choice. Winning – protecting status, wealth and reputation – was the only thing. Across the world, sports may be best described as our second religion. And in this country, football generates evangelical passions. God is everybody’s teammate. After victories, God regularly gets all the credit.
But God clearly wasn’t in the room when Paterno, a devout and lifelong Catholic, persuaded his university president not to tell police about Sandusky. Instead, Penn State told him to get help and not bring kids from his nonprofit back on campus.
In doing so, the school followed the church’s frequent strategy for handling abusive priests. Don’t say a word. Move them along.
Lynn actually prepared a list of some three dozen priests suspected of being abusers. His superior told him to shred it.
Instead the list ended up in the prosecution’s hand.
At his sentencing Lynn said he did his best. The judge said he fell far short.
“You knew full well what was right, Monsignor Lynn, but you chose wrong,” she told him.
Of course he did. He was playing to win. Abused children became someone else’s problem.
For more than a decade, a diocese, a school and a coach did what it took to protect what was theirs.
Now look at what they’ve lost.