Uplifting Story: The Counter to the Penn State Scandal

A horrid child-abuse scandal is unfolding at Penn State University, where people’s integrity, care of vulnerable children, and betrayal of privilege all are at issue. Today I offer a counter-point: a short, 5-minute speech by Michigan State University’s quarterback, where he speaks about privilege and responsibility. In these times, his words are uplifting and worth listening to. I have been a fan of Kirk Cousins, MSU’s quarterback, long before I heard about and then listed to his speech, where he had been given the huge honor to kick-off the Big Ten annual conference. There, he spoke before his follow Big Ten football players and coaches, among others. His speech drew widespread media attention and plaudits. He received an extended standing ovation. Here’s why – and why I urge you to watch this short video: Kirk Cousins at Big 10 Luncheon.

In his speech, Kirk Cousins did not obsess about himself, his football exploits or serve as mere cheerleader for the Big Ten. Instead, he stood tall before all his peers and coaches from throughout the Big Ten and laid down a marker. Remember, Kirk Cousins is all of 23 years old.

He said that playing big-time college football is a ‘privilege’ because of the platform big-time football provides. He and his fellow players are treated to playing on television – a life-long dream many have held since their childhood; that kids seek them out for autographs; that they are granted opportunities to speak to young kids; and that they have the unique opportunity to come together as players to achieve something that none of them could achieve on their own. In short, each player holds a special place that is afforded to them.

But Kirk Cousins then makes this point: “But it is here in this place of privilege that danger lies.”

He asserts that this danger can lead to a sense of entitlement: “The notion that I deserve to be treated special because I am privileged.” For Kirk Cousins, it’s just the opposite. He believes deeply that such privilege leads to a ‘responsibility’ – in fact, it leads to holding a greater responsibility because of the nature of the privilege and an athlete’s standing in society.

For instance, he believes college football players hold a special responsibility to children. He talks simply, and thus with a beautiful eloquence, about how players can set a standard for how to treat others – that they can embody what it means to be a person of integrity - that they can show young people that excellence in the classroom is a worthy pursuit. He says that players can demonstrate that it is more important to do what is right, than what feels right.

At the end of his talk, with wisdom beyond his years, he remarks: “While I believe that we as players do not deserve the platform we’ve been given, we have it nonetheless. It comes with the territory of being a college football player in the Big Ten.” He then offers this, “May we as players have the wisdom to handle this privilege, and the courage to fulfill the responsibility we’ve been given.”

Perhaps folks at Penn State will watch the Kirk Cousins speech once more and remind themselves of their own privilege and responsibility to others; and they will hear the call to step forward and do what is right. Meantime, may the rest of us, in our own daily lives, listen to Kirk Cousins words, and let them be a reminder of the innate goodness in people, and that we must be vigilant in our response to the forces that weigh upon us each day.