Lots of people are jumping on Mike McQueary’s case about witnessing a sordid scene in the shower next to the locker room but not doing anything about it, either at the time or at some point during the following nine years. After having read a variety of opinions, I have mixed feelings myself. McQueary’s stock has been devalued by this Turkey, but not as much as it has by some others.
First of all, put yourself in McQuery’s position when he went to the locker room with a pair of new sneakers. He was thinking that he would drop off the shoes and pick up some recruiting videos to review at home. He heard rhythmic slapping sounds coming from the shower. He stuck his head in there and witnessed a child rape in progress. What would you do? Would you be petrified by the scene in front of you? Would you yell Banzai and attack Sandusky? Would you be capable of thinking? If so, and you were seeking a job at Penn State, would you not find yourself in a very complicated position? Would you risk your job and reveal yourself to Sandusky, who was still a powerful man at Penn State? Would you run in and kick the shit out of him? Have you ever fought with a naked man? I couldn’t conceive of it. McQueary was between a rock and a hard place (no pun intended). If he got involved, Sandusky could claim that McQueary was part of it. Who knows what a crazed sex fiend would do? If you are going to fight a crazy man, you’re going to have to be prepared to fight to the death. Crazy people know no bounds, and they don’t cry “uncle”. McQueary decided to take the high road by reporting the incident to his superiors (which means Paterno), after consulting with his dad. His “fight or flight” mechanism told him to flee. For that, some are branding him as a coward. Even after this scandal fades into obscurity, McQueary will have to live with himself, second guessing whether he did the right thing.
I say, give him the benefit of the doubt on the instantaneous reaction. You just don’t know how you would react until you’re in that situation yourself. I’m hearing from all kinds of people saying they would have jumped in there and beat the shit out of Sandusky, but again, until they’re actually in McQueary’s situation, it’s just talk. There are plenty of other things to be concerned with beyond the satisfaction of vigilante justice. The victim would be even more traumatized watching two guys, one naked, beating the shit out of each other.
Once the shock wore off, though, I think McQueary should have yelled “STOP!” and he should have told Sandusky to let the kid go. He could have taken the kid to the police. If Sandusky wanted to stop him, then that’s the time for fighting, but words could have obviated the need for that. After all, McQueary had seen what he had seen, and the boy could bear witness. The jig should have been up for Sandusky, if only McQueary had gone to the cops that night, with or without the kid. Instead, he called his father, who advised him to tell Paterno. McQueary should have been his own man and listened to his heart. To hell with the job he was seeking.
The next morning, he visited Paterno at home. Just how much of the scene he related to Paterno is controversial. Paterno has since said that he wasn’t aware of the very specific details in McQueary’s testimony to the grand jury. No doubt, Paterno was also taken aback and had to take some time to think about it before he called Tim Curley, asking him to come to his house on Sunday morning to discuss an urgent matter. Meanwhile, he sent McQueary on his way and, presumably, that was the end of McQueary’s involvement.
What we don’t know is whether Joe told McQueary to keep his mouth shut. Apparently, McQueary did keep his mouth shut, so let’s assume that it did come from Paterno. In McQueary’s position, what do you do? Remember, he’s a student with no experience in real life situations. (Academe is not real life, but he didn’t know that, either.) If your coach, teacher, and mentor tells you to shut up, you shut the hell up. Joe and Dad were the two authority figures who had McQueary’s unconditional respect; if Dad said let Joe handle it his way, McQueary would have done that. If Joe said to shut up about it, he would have done that. And in the back of his mind, he still wanted that job. Listen to the voices of authority and you can’t go wrong, his inexperienced, naive brain must have been telling him.
When a week and a half transpired before Curley saw McQueary in his office, he should have been getting antsy about the whole thing. He would have known it if anyone from the administration had contacted the police, as he was the only eyewitness. There was nothing but silence. If I were McQueary, I would not have sat back and waited patiently for someone to do something. The moment it became clear that this thing was being pushed to the back burner, as universities tend to do with bad image material, I would have contacted someone. I’m not sure whom. It would have been whoever I thought could bring about closure the quickest.
At that point, McQueary was like John Dean in the Watergate scandal 37 years ago. Do you speak up, get fired like Dean, and then write a book to gain closure for yourself, or do you do what you’re told by the president, like the rest of the president’s men?
It had to become clear to McQueary that this incident was in the process of being covered up at the highest levels, particularly after he met with Curley. That had to leave him with the personal dilemma of disobeying direct orders and destroying his future with Penn State or considering the alleged victim and potentially hundreds of other victims in the future. Not such an easy decision when your coach, mentor, and teacher, along with the Athletic Director and Vice President of Finance and Business Affairs, presumably operating under the authority of the University President, enjoins you from talking outside the ivy covered walls. Any way you slice it, McQueary was going to be put in the middle, a very uncomfortable position for a 25 year-old attempting to build the foundation of a career. He couldn’t anonymously go to the police without losing his job, because he was the eyewitness. Have any of you ever been part of something illegal by association with an employer and were specifically forbidden to talk about it? Being a whistle blower yields almost no rewards, but one hell of a lot of grief.
After enough time passed and the lump under the rug was trampled down, McQueary went on with life as usual. It was really too late to suddenly report the matter to the police without being nailed for being part of the cover-up conspiracy. He was an assistant coach on the payroll, and his bosses had an even stronger stranglehold over him.
Should McQueary have gone to the police? Morally, he absolutely should have when he saw that no one else would. Unfortunately, he trusted dishonest men to do the honest and moral thing. He’ll be paying for his indecision and for allowing himself to be talked out of reporting the incident for the rest of his life, every time he looks in the mirror. The scars will run deep. Unfortunately, for the alleged victims, the scars are deeper and festering, but there is nothing McQueary can do now to assuage that. In fact, McQueary’s fate is entirely in the hands of others at this time. If they want to make him the fall guy, they will. One way or another, this will haunt him, and that is enough for me.