In the wake of child sexual assault charges against one of the former defensive coordinators for Penn State University's football team, and the subsequent firing of both head coach Joe Paterno and the university's president, the team's chaplain will have his work cut out for him as he consoles players, coaches and school administrators who are trying to cope with all that has transpired in the last few days.
The Rev. Tim McGill serves as Penn State's campus director for Athletes In Action, an organization which uses sports as a medium to reach people with the message of Jesus Christ, and has been the unofficial chaplain of the Nittany Lions football team for the last 31 years. He says he is making himself available to speak with school administrators, coaches and athletes who may be struggling with feelings of shock and confusion.
"The players are numb, at least on the football team,” McGill told The Christian Post in an interview on Thursday. “They're shocked ... I think there's just a real numbness and uncertainty to what's next.”
McGill thinks the players need some time to process their emotions and find some sense of normality in their day-to-day lives, especially considering major changes have come quickly and unexpectedly lately.
The results of a grand jury investigation of former Penn State football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky suggest he used his position as the founder of The Second Mile, a foster home designed to help troubled boys, to choose the victims whom he allegedly sexually assaulted. The grand jury report mentions eight different boys who may have been victims of sexual crimes over the course of 15 years. Another person has since approached authorities, saying he was also a victim.
Sandusky was arrested on Nov. 5 and was arraigned on 40 criminal counts before being released on $100,000 bail.
McGill says he personally knows Sandusky, whose daughter served as a babysitter to McGill's children. He also says he was a mentor to E.J. Sandusky, Jerry's son, who was a Penn State football player and an active participant in Bible studies and Christian ministries while on campus.
“Jerry is a different personality type,” he said. “He just kind of lit up the room. He was funny and very sophisticated, classy ... nice ... I think that's what's so shocking.”
McGill told a story of a neighbor he once had, who gave him an uneasy feeling and was later revealed to be a pedophile. McGill said he never had those uneasy feelings about Sandusky, though, and when he first heard about the sexual assault investigation over a year ago he thought it was just someone “stirring up dirt” about Sandusky.
There was “nothing that would indicate, even give us a clue, that there was something going on,” he said.
Joe Paterno, who has been the head football coach at Penn State for the last 46 years, was fired over the issue amid accusations that he and other school officials failed to take enough action after learning of the alleged abuse. A report from The Associated Press indicates that Sandusky had an office on campus and was seen exercising on campus as recently as a week ago.
PSU students, outraged by the decision to fire Paterno instead of letting him coach through the end of the season, rioted Wednesday night, and were filmed flipping a news van onto its side. McGill says many students are upset because they followed Paterno with “blind allegiance.” He suggested that many Penn State students see Paterno as a father or grandfather figure at the university, and believe the action taken against him was unjust.
"I think for the nonbeliever it's just the sobering reality that no man is perfect. Any one of us, if we're not careful, can stumble, and we all do it in different ways," he said.
He later added, “Only Christ is worthy of our allegiance."
McGill also pointed out that Sandusky is innocent until proven guilty, but wasn't happy with the reports of how the administration handled the situation over the years.
"If these things are true, that for 10 years people in the administration knew about this and did nothing, and allowed Jerry to come on campus ... what does that say about our institution? I expect more from our leaders,” he said.
Still, he hopes everyone will be quick to listen, slow to speak and fair in passing judgment on this issue for the sake of everyone involved, including Sandusky, his family and the alleged victims.
"As shocking as this is, our God is ... still in control. He still reigns. He still rules. We can trust in that, trust in the fact that He's still a good God," he commented.