On a Friday night in March of 2002, Mike McQueary, a 28-year-old former starting quarterback for the Penn State University football team, entered the locker room at the PSU football complex. At the time, McQueary was a “graduate assistant” – that is, someone at the bottom of the football coaching hierarchy, who was in effect auditioning to get a job as a full-fledged assistant on the PSU football staff. According to a grand jury report, this is what he saw:
As the graduate assistant entered the locker room doors, he was surprised to find the lights and the showers on. He then heard rhythmic, slapping sounds. He believed the sounds to be those of sexual activity. As the graduate assistant put his sneakers in his locker, he looked in the shower. He saw a naked boy … whose age he estimated to be ten years old, with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky. The graduate assistant was shocked but noticed that both [the victim] and Sandusky saw him. The graduate assistant left immediately, distraught.
“Sandusky” is Jerry Sandusky, who in 2002 was a 58-year-old icon of PSU football, second only to legendary coach Joe Paterno in prestige among former PSU players like McQueary. As PSU’s defensive coordinator, Sandusky had been Paterno’s right hand man and heir apparent, until his sudden and unexpected resignation in 1999, two years after McQueary had been the team’s starting quarterback and co-captain.
McQueary called his father, who told him he needed to tell Paterno about what he had seen. McQueary telephoned Paterno the next morning (Saturday) and visited him at his home. Paterno testified that McQueary seemed “very upset,” and that the next day (Sunday), Paterno called PSU athletic director Tim Curley to his home, and, according to Paterno’s grand jury testimony, told Curley that McQueary reported seeing Sandusky “fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy” in the football locker room showers.
Ten days later McQueary was called to a meeting with PSU Athletic Director Tim Curley and Senior Vice President for Finance Gary Schultz. McQueary testified that at this meeting he told these men that he had witnessed what he believed was Jerry Sandusky having anal sex with a young boy in the football locker room showers. Curley and Schultz told him they would look into it. Two weeks later, Curley told McQueary that Sandusky’s keys to the locker room had been taken away, and that the incident had been reported to The Second Mile, Sandusky’s charitable foundation for troubled young boys.
And that, apparently, is the last that Mike McQueary ever heard about the matter. (As a commenter points out, it seems no one at PSU, either at the time or in the years since, ever bothered to try to find out who the boy Sandusky was raping was, or what happened to him).
Now here is the detail that, among all the details in the Grand Jury’s extensive depiction of the morally depraved behavior of Sandusky, Curley, Schultz, Paterno, PSU president Graham Spanier, and McQueary, is perhaps the most shocking: Five years after this, in the spring of 2007, Sandusky was attending PSU football practices with his latest rape victim: a 12-year-old boy who he had met through a Second Mile camp conducted at PSU, and who he was in the process of, among other things, orally sodomizing.
At this point, McQueary was no longer a graduate assistant, as he had been promoted to an administrative assistant position on the football staff a few months after his meetings with Paterno, Curley and Schultz, and was made a full-fledged assistant coach the following year. So Mike McQueary and Joe Paterno were at the PSU football practices to which Jerry Sandusky was showing up with his latest child rape victim in tow. They saw him, there, with his latest victim. They could not have had any doubt, at that point, about what they were seeing.
Certain (pitifully inadequate) excuses can be are being proffered for Paterno’s behavior, then and now: he’s an old confused man, coming from a generation of men who were so intensely repressed about these sorts of matters that he didn’t really understand the gravity of what McQueary had told him, and after all he hadn’t actually seen Sandusky raping a ten-year-old boy. Etc.
As miserable as these attempts to minimize Paterno’s disgraceful conduct are, what can one say about McQueary’s? In 2002, McQueary was a powerful young athlete, just a couple of years removed from NFL training camps. It’s possible, I suppose, to make some sort of excuse, based on the effects of shock and disgust, for his behavior in that locker room, where instead of coming to the aid of a ten-year-old boy being raped by a 58-year-old man, he fled and called his father. A blog commenter:
I’m a five foot nothing middle aged woman and there’s no way I would have walked past that shower without dragging that child to safety. [Another commenter] compared it to the shock and fear that one feels when a gunman opens up on a crowd and argued that “none of us would be heroes” if we, too, caught sight of an old man buggering a ten year old boy.
My jaw just hit the floor . . .apparently he doesn’t know any normal people and normal parents. We are confronted every day by dangerous incidents involving children—when a kid gets hit on a soccer field or is injured while playing there are really zero adults who run away from the scene of the action or stand bewildered wondering who to notify.
A 28 year old graduate assistant former football player ought to have had the natural human kindness and good sense, the basic human decency, to have grabbed the rapist and secured the child and called an ambulance.
One would think. Football is a hyper-masculine world, within which it’s a common insult to use women’s genitalia as a synecdoche for insufficient toughness and bravery, but I’m quite confident the women I know best would have displayed far more sheer physical courage in a comparable situation than McQueary did – and that most certainly includes my 4’10” 100-pound Aragonese grandmother.
Leaving that aside, consider McQueary’s subsequent behavior. It appears that he in effect decided his nascent coaching career was more important than stopping Jerry Sandusky from not merely raping little boys, but from using the Penn State campus to gather his prey, and using Penn State football games and practices to “reward” his little victims. In other words, this is a case in which McQueary, in the years after he actually saw Sandusky raping a little boy, came face to face with Sandusky in the company of the little boys Sandusky was raping at the time – and he continued to nothing further about it. And not because his life or freedom or those of anyone close to him might be in danger, but because he knew that the coaching fraternity does not look well on taking things “outside the family.” (If this seems implausible, consider that Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski
implicitly criticized a Baylor assistant basketball coach for taping conversations with head coach Dave Bliss, after Bliss ordered the coach to participate in a scheme to falsely attribute a Baylor player’s murder to the player’s imaginary drug dealing, in order to conceal Bliss’s illicit payments to the player. The coach has since been blackballed from his former profession. Coach K, as he is worshipfully known in the sports media, recently hosted an ESPN special entitled Difference Makers: Life Lessons with Paterno and Krzyzewski).
The point of lingering over McQueary’s decision to value his potential for career advancement over stopping a serial child rapist from continuing to find and parade his victims in front of McQueary’s face isn’t that McQueary (along with the rest of the actors in this saga) is some sort of inexplicable moral monster. It would be nice to think so, but consider that his despicable behavior merely mirrors that of his head coach, his athletic director, and his university’s president, who all made, and continued for years to make, essentially the same decision to value their careers over stopping little boys from being raped by a man they had worked with for years, and who they allowed to continue to walk among them every day. The point of calling out McQueary’s physical and especially moral cowardice is to remind us how we are all capable of sinking so low, if we do not remind ourselves constantly, in whatever way is most useful for each of us, of the truth of Samuel Johnson’s remark that, “courage is reckoned the greatest of all virtues; because, unless a man has that virtue, he has no security for preserving any other.”