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Good lessons from a despicable teacher

  • Lee Rubin is a former PSU football player who had Jerry Sandusky as his main coach
  • He says he struggles with the meaningful lessons he learned from a convicted felon
Good lessons from a despicable teacher
Lee Rubin

Editor's note: Lee Rubin is a former Penn State football player who worked closely with his coach, Jerry Sandusky, throughout his college football career. He is a professional speaker and author of "WIN: Simple Insights to Help You Win the Game of Life."

I learned a lot of valuable lessons from Jerry Sandusky. I used to be proud of that fact. And now, I don’t know what to do about it.

As the starting free safety from 1991-1993 and defensive captain of the Penn State football team during my senior year, I interacted closely with Jerry Sandusky. I was the guy who ran to the sideline during timeouts and between quarters to get direction from the then-famous, now infamous defensive coordinator. During the halftime break, he would analyze the first half and make the necessary defensive adjustments.

During one conversation, I asked Jerry if he recruited players based on his defensive philosophy or if he built his defensive scheme around the talent he recruited. His answer was "both." He continued that while it is important to establish and develop a scheme, there are times when your personnel demands that you make modifications to that structure. This wasn't just a football lesson. It was a lesson in leadership. 

I learned a lot from Jerry. At the time, he seemed the model of a man who had his priorities in order and maintained balance in life. Now he is a convicted felon. A man who violated the trust of so many people. None more than the children he abused.

Though the trial is over, I am left with a great deal of tension and inner conflict. I’ve gotten over the initial shock and disbelief of the charges. Now I’m faced with a more curious emotional challenge: What to do with all the good lessons that I learned from someone who was, amazingly and simultaneously, engaged in such evil acts.

To expect perfection from anyone is unrealistic. I’ve always known this. But to have to admit that many of the lessons that shaped me as a football player were taught to me by a person who committed such abhorrent crimes against the most innocent members of society shakes me to the very core.  

Why can’t I reject everything I learned from Jerry?
The positive lessons, principles, and philosophies that I learned from him are a part of me. Hard work. Teamwork. Persistence. But I wish that it wasn't he who had a part in my learning those lessons. I wish I could erase them from my being. That would make things so much easier.  Cleaner. 

Unfortunately, I can’t.

Life doesn’t work that way. Life -- and people -- is complicated. And what I’m beginning to learn is that the character of the teacher doesn’t make the lesson any less valid. Truth doesn’t care whose mouth speaks it.

I’m having a really hard time separating the message from the messenger. 

It is impossible to deny the things Jerry taught me. When I played for him, he embodied composure and balance. His strategic approach to the game was unparalleled. And in my post-football years, I carried many of those principles with me into my corporate positions.  

Currently, I am a professional speaker -- a teacher myself. Understanding the great responsibility that comes with this position, I am now even more motivated to live a life of integrity where my walk and my talk are one and the same.

As a man, I get to choose which lessons from my past I embrace. Sadly, I don’t get to choose who taught them to me.

My thoughts and prayers continue for the victims and their families.

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