Friday, November 18, 2011

Mike McQueary - Coward, Scapegoat or Imperfect Hero?

Mike McQueary coaching from the sidelineImage via Wikipedia 
Let’s interrupt the written and verbal crucifixion of Mike McQueary, just for a couple of minutes.  (You can get back to it later, if you must.)

I admit, I’m one of the people who read the Grand Jury presentment and asked, Why the fuck didn’t this big, strong guy stop the rape of a young boy?  Why the fuck did he leave this child with the perv who was raping him to go call his daddy?  Eleven different colors of steam came out of my ears.

I became even more angry at Daddy John McQueary.  If my shell-shocked offspring called me with such a story, I would have said:
Hang up the phone, and go rescue the child.  Make sure he is safe, and don’t let him go.  He needs medical attention.  I’m on my way; I’ll call the cops and the ambulance from the car.
Then I started thinking... are we certain that Grand Jury presentment most of us read (or could only stand to read partway) contained all the details the man testified to?  Is it possible it left some things out, focusing more on the revolting actions of the perpetrator than on the witnesses?

Maybe, according to what McQueary is now emailing to a few people, he did do more, it simply wasn't contained in the report that was released.

Let's say, for purposes of argument, there is no more to the story.  He saw, he fled, he called his daddy.  He may not have had the balls to do more, back in 2002, but although he wasn’t a kid, he was young, and in a position of very little power or authority.  McQueary had the weight of his entire upbringing, his father, his hero Joe Paterno, and the Penn State machine, leaning on him.  In many ways, it sounds similar to being brought up in a cult.  It's not easy to shake off that mindset in a split second.

We can all sit safely behind our monitors and say, oh yes, *I* would have rescued the child and stood up to everyone (and like everyone else, I'd like to believe I would), but do we really know?

During my Little League volunteer days, there was a coach who’d been quietly told, due to his egregious verbal abuse of every player, and the formal complaints from every set of parents on the team, that he would not be given a team in the next season.  But the league officials decided, in light of the man’s twenty-plus years of volunteer service, to “kick him upstairs” and give him a position as president of one of the minor leagues.  Where he would be overseeing a large group of coaches (and children).

I am the only one who openly protested.  I will never forget, my knees knocking, standing up in a room with 100+ coaches and volunteers, mostly good ol’ boys, and speaking out against the man being placed in that position.  The people who agreed with me that Somebody Should Say Something... conveniently, they all had scheduling conflicts that prevented their attendance.  Or they sat, stared at their hands, and said nothing.  Later, many people privately whispered that I was right, that I showed courage, but no one was willing to stand up with me and openly say, “This is wrong.”  Not even fathers and mothers who had personally told me about the experience their sons had, who were present in the room.

I was the one blackballed from the league as a volunteer, because of my unforgivable act of “embarrassing” said coach.  Washing the league’s dirty laundry in public.  I’m not ashamed of what I did, but whenever I remember that experience, my heart beats faster, my lips get dry, and my hands shake.  The influence and weight of public or community disapproval cannot be overstated.

And this was just Little League.  (Literally.)

Today, with greater maturity and experience, I’d approach that particular situation differently, though I still would take a firm stand against anyone who abuses children.  Verbal and emotional abuse that gives kids stomachaches and nightmares and makes them hate playing a game they used to love, may not be as terrible as raping them in a shower or bed, but it's not something anyone should excuse, either.

Most of the people blasting McQueary are only imagining what they would have done in his shoes.  I’m sharing my dumb little story because I know how very intimidating it can be to be the ONLY one standing up and saying the Coach has no clothes.  (dark humor, I know.)

Unlike in the fairy tale, the town does not rally around or thank you.  Because your words make them feel terrible, they want to find somebody (certainly not themselves) to blame, to erase their own guilt.

Much is made of the fact that McQueary was 28.  Not a teenager.  I think that probably made it harder.   An 18 or 20-year-old might have charged right into that shower.  At 28, he was much more likely to be aware, “If I take action, it’s my word against all of Penn State.  Maybe even against my own family.  Even if I produce a bleeding, crying child, The Powers That Be might make the evidence disappear and accuse me of lying.  They might even turn it around and accuse me of molesting him.”

It could be, McQueary had a moment of shock and froze, and before he snapped out of it, Sandusky had already fled with the child.  It could be, he was aware of previous rumors about Sandusky and didn't believe them.  It could be, he was aware about previous rumors about Sandusky and wondered how many other times the man had been caught, and seemingly, nothing was done, and was trying to figure out what to do to make it stick, this time.

Obviously, we don’t know what was going through his mind, or all the details.  Perhaps, before we judge him too harshly, we should wait until he's free to tell us.

As soon as it was in his power, McQueary talked to those who had the power at Penn State to do something.  Paterno.  Curley.  Schultz (also at least nominally the head of campus police).  Given the following years of inaction on the part of PSU, McQueary must have become slowly, painfully aware of  what the "official" position on Sandusky was. (As long as he's not doing it here...)

How did the Grand Jury Investigation even know about the 2002 (alleged) rape in the shower anyway? They heard rumors on the Internet, but was there anyone who would confirm them?  According to the NY Times, it was McQueary who told the story to investigators about a year ago.

McQueary didn't have to talk to the investigators.  He could have told them, and the Grand Jury, “You know, come to think of it, it was just a little horseplay.  It freaked me out, but I think I overreacted.  I was so upset, and confused, I might have told them Y, but I really meant X.”  He could have closed ranks with Penn State, along with Curley and Moe and the other Stooges who testified that they didn’t hear of anything serious.  Preserved Joepa’s reputation.  Saved the Uni from the potential of countless dollars in liability.

IMO, it took a lot of courage for McQueary to tell the truth, knowing it would bring a huge shitstorm down on his head.  He knew that he might be trashing his entire career, and that many people - people he lives and works with, people he loves - might judge him as disloyal to the program by coming forward.  He did it anyway.  I'm nervous about taking an unpopular stand with this post, and what, some people on the Internet I don't even know might post a mean comment?

Ironically, McQueary probably has more people hating his guts now than Sandusky.  Sandusky still has a number of people who believe his story that he didn’t do anything wrong, despite his own telephoned interview with Bob Costas stating that he isn’t, [creepy pause] sexually attracted to young boys.

Whereas McQueary is now despised by Penn State and... pretty much everybody, for telling the ugly truth as he remembers it.  Penn State may be unable to fire him, because of whistleblower laws, but I bet they’d love to.

Sandusky may be #1 in hoping McQueary crumbles, retracts his testimony or suffers a nervous breakdown, between now and whenever this sickening mess goes to trial, but the Penn State machine can’t be far behind in hoping his testimony doesn’t hold up.

Maybe we should think twice about helping with Sandusky's defense.

Maybe we should back off the vitriol toward McQueary and direct our energies towards changing the cultural mindset that makes it so difficult for victims of sexual abuse to come forward.  It’s not fair, but I understand why some young men would fear their identifies might be disclosed, and forever branded as having “being Sanduskied.”  [Note: in a future post, I will write about the fact that although sexual molestation is a terrible thing, being a victim does not mean one's life is "ruined forever."]  Although I read that many are determined to testify, and others may be coming forward.  Good for them!

Anyone with information on this case or who alleges abuse may call the Office of Attorney General at 814-863-1053 or Pennsylvania State Police at 814-470-2238.

Absolutely it would be best to intervene IMMEDIATELY, physically if possible, when a child is being hurt.  Call 9-1-1, and make sure the child gets medical attention.  We should blow the whistle loudly when we first see something wrong.  And keep blowing it, if the people in charge don't appear to be taking action.

But what if, through human frailty, blackmail, or whatever reason, we don’t do the best thing at the time?  If we do what we think is right, perhaps assume "the authorities" are taking care of it?

What’s the second best thing?  To be forever silent, and cover up our mistake?  Pretend we didn’t know, see, or hear, after all?  Or is it better to come forward and speak up, however many years it takes?

McQueary's Grand Jury testimony as shown in the presentment does not paint him as a hero, granted. In hindsight, could he, should he have done more?  Probably.  Does that mean he deserves to be vilified for coming forward now?

I think we need to reconsider the message we're sending as a society.  If we direct so much criticism towards everyone who witnesses a crime and seemingly, fails to do the right thing at the time, why would anyone risk coming forward with his/her story at a later date?

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