It is difficult as a sports fan to respond to the events surrounding Penn. State’s football program. To ask the obvious questions, “How could this happen?” “How could no one have reported the accusations?” “How could university employees who profess to care about the students in their charge go on with their lives without a care for children being abused?” The rabbis long ago understood how. They understood how people’s priorities could get so screwed up, so skewed.
They saw the answer in the story of the Tower of Babel.
The rabbis say that what was wrong with the building of the Tower of Babel was not that people had the same language or that they were “on the same page” so to speak, but that building the Tower became more important than the lives of the workers. We find in Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer 24 that, "If a person were to fall and die, no one would notice him; but if even a single brick were to fall, they would sit and cry, 'Woe unto us, for when will another brick be brought up in its stead'!"
When we are united in common cause, speaking a common language, acting as one, things can be wonderful! We can truly accomplish amazing things. Yet when the cause becomes an idol, a tower, and we lose sight of what is important, our common cause can easily lead us astray. At Penn State, for some there, not for all, for some in the football program, not for all, the Tower had become all important. “If a child were to be harmed, no one would notice him; but should a coach fall and potentially harm the Tower? Woe unto us!!!”
And so we have it, “Woe unto us that misfortune could threaten the idol, the Tower of Football!” It wasn’t about the people. It was about the Tower. The Tower has fallen and the common language, the common support for the long storied football program has ended in chaos, confounded speech, a scattering to the winds.
It will take time, but Penn State will recover. The children harmed because the Tower of Football became all important never will.