Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mike McQueary failed test of manhood

Mike McQueary, now the wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator for the Penn State football team, is the unnamed graduate assistant in the "Victim 2" part of the Grand Jury presentment of the Jerry Sandusky case. McQueary was 28 years old in 2001 when, planning only to pick up some recruiting tapes and place a pair of shoes in his locker in the Lasch football building on a quiet March night, he stumbled upon retired coach Jerry Sandusky raping a boy in the shower room. How did the surprised McQueary react? The Grand Jury presentment is damning:
He saw a naked boy, Victim 2, 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 Victim 2 and Sandusky saw him. The graduate assistant left immediately, distraught.
Mike McQueary was instantly challenged to be an honorable man and stop the rape. He reacted as a selfish coward and fled, instead. What did the child victim feel when he watched a grown man abandon him to rape rather than try to save him?

McQueary called his father, John, after he ran from the shower room. His father told him to leave the athletic facility and go home. The father is damned, too, if his son still had time to intervene, but the presentment doesn't provide a timeline. It's possible McQueary's chance to make a difference was lost by the time he called his father. Even assuming the opportunity to intervene was lost, it's nonetheless chilling that neither father nor son chose to call the police. Mike and John McQueary waited until the following day to act, and only then to talk to Joe Paterno.

Craven. Pathetic. Disgusting.

I can't be self-righteous about McQueary's failure because I've also failed the test of manhood. In my case, the test was a gang-up bullying of a classmate by classmates in a classroom on a day the teacher was absent. It started off as light teasing but it became something darker. I stayed in my seat and put my head down because I felt too weak to stand up to the bullies and was afraid I would become grouped with the victim if I intervened. To my continuing shame, I acted like a scared, self-preserving prey animal that day rather than a man. The bullying was finally stopped by a classmate who left the room to summon a teacher. Poignantly, the classmate who did something was socially awkward and disrespected, yet he was the only one of us who acted on the spot and in the moment. He proved himself to be a better man than I.

What does it mean to be a man? I define manhood by the Army values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, Personal Courage. Mike McQueary failed at least five of the values when he abandoned the boy to Sandusky's rape. With my fearful decision to go along to get along, I failed all seven values. Would I have taken a personal risk if I had tried to stop the bullying? Yes. Would McQueary have taken a personal risk if he had tried to stop the rape? Yes. In the real world, men suffer to earn their honor. The essence of manhood is the challenge to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.

All that said, I am confident I would have reacted differently than McQueary. There is a limit to the stopping power of insecurity when a 10-year-old child is being raped in front of you. I can only wish for McQueary what I hope for myself: a chance for redemption, the awareness to recognize the test, and the character to pass it as an honorable man. Mike McQueary just has a much higher bar for redemption than I do.

Of course, the whole Sandusky controversy reaches beyond McQueary's failure of manhood on the spot and in the moment. The Penn State leaders who declined to notify law enforcement in 2001 may have protected Sandusky despite knowing of the 1998 criminal investigation and possibly other incidents. (Read this detailed summary.) After the 2001 incident, leaders at Penn State, including McQueary as he progressed from graduate assistant to assistant coach, and possibly The Second Mile apparently stood passive despite knowing Sandusky continued to interact with young boys. If Penn State leaders in 2001 responded to McQueary's eyewitness report in the context of past incidents, then they may have felt compelled to cover up past cover-ups as much as the new crime, reminiscent of traitors who are blackmailed into deeper espionage than they first intended. Jerry Sandusky founded The Second Mile in 1977, coached at Penn State until 1999, and stayed affiliated with the university until he was arrested last week . . . how much has he done that was covered up by university leaders?

Joe Paterno's motto was "Success with Honor" and the public believed he led Penn State football, indeed the university, virtuously. I have in mind a future post about the spectacular disillusionments of the last few years and the higher standard of responsibility versus accountability.


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