Sunday, December 18, 2011

In Defense of Mike McQueary

I went to Harrisburg last week, specifically to hear the testimony of Mike McQueary about what he saw and what he did the night of March 1, 2002 and what he did after that.

Based on his own testimony, McQueary watched a young boy being raped by Jerry Sandusky and did nothing to stop it, other than to establish eye contact with the victim and the rapist. He then left the locker room, leaving the boy in the custody of the man who'd he just seen assauting him.

What I think and how I feel about that, I believe I have made quite clear. I hope I did so again in today's print column.

I subsequently found a provocative column by former Inquirer columnist Tom Ferrick, "In Defense of Mike McQueary."

Let's go through it. Ferrick writes:
Am I the only person in America who is not surprised or outraged by how Penn State assistant Mike McQueary reacted after he witnessed Jerry Sandusky allegedly raping a 10-year-old boy in the showers at the school in the now notorious 2002 incident?

Apparently I am, judging from the vitriol hurled at McQueary. His name may become synonymous with coward, as in he "He pulled a McQueary," and certainly to Penn State fanatics he will be forever seen as a Benedict Arnold for bringing down Joe Paterno.
Let's stop right here. The vitriol being hurled at McQueary is not being thrown for his bringing down Joe Paterno. It's being thrown because he left a 10-year-old boy in the hands of a rapist. Instead of helping him, he fled. That is what has so many people expressing contempt for McQueary.

But according to Ferrick our contempt is misplaced.
I wish McQueary had used his cell to call campus police minutes after he witnessed what he saw.
I'm sure Ferrick "wishes" McQueary had done more than "call campus police minutes after he witnessed what he saw." I'm sure he'd agree that it would have been even better for him to have actively helped the boy, not minutes after the assault was over, but the second he saw what was going on.
But, I can also see why he would have been frightened, conflicted and confused. A kind of paralysis can set in these moments. We like to think we can make sound moral judgments in a crisis, but often we fail. The speed with which the moment arrives outruns our capacity to process it.

We freeze or make the wrong decisions. We acquiesce through our silence.
Of course, people fail, become conflicted and confused, sometimes paralyzed... that's where character comes in. It is at these moments (and they don't present themselves often) that a man's true character is revealed.
We like to glamorize our own lives and see ourselves as heroes who would not hesitate to fight against wrongdoing. In reality, most of us are wimps. We don't want to get in trouble. We don't want to upset the folks at the top, partly because that's human nature, partly out of fear.

Acts of heroism are, to a degree, exceptions to the Darwinian instinct for survival. Heroes get the ink (and the epic poems) for falling on their swords, we get to live.
But none of that was at stake here. McQueary's life wasn't in danger if he'd intervened. He's 6-foot-four, 220 pounds, a football player, fully-clothed confronting a naked old man in a shower. How much courage does that really take? All he really had to do was yell at Sandusky to get away from the kid. Believe me he would have, guilty and ashamed. Then McQueary could have taken custody of the kid himself and gotten him to a police station or a hospital.

McQueary didn't say or do anything to rescue that child, a little boy in immediate and ongoing danger.

If Ferrick says that a lot of people would have done the same - that is, nothing - well, maybe he's right. But that's to their shame, not McQueary's defense. Heroism wasn't required in this situation, simply living up to one's duty as a grownup was.

No doubt, if McQueary had done the right thing and knocked Sandusky on his ass and rescued the kid, he'd have been considered a "hero." But he wouldn't have been one. Heroism requires action above and beyond the call of duty. Helping that kid at that moment was his duty, his obligation as an adult, and McQueary failed to live up to it. And in so doing, he revealed his character. Others might have failed too. Tom Ferrick might have failed. I might have failed. But if I did, I should be reviled and held in contempt. Ferrick too.

For all the examples of human wimpishness that Ferrick uses to justify his excusing of McQueary, they pale in comparison to turning your back on a child, a child in danger, a child being assaulted.

What kind of man watches a kid being raped right in front of him and doesn't anything to stop it? According to Ferrick, just your average American.

Is he right? I don't think so. God, I hope not.

UPDATE: Dr. Jonathan Dranov, trusted McQueary family friend who went to the home of McQueary's father and spoke with Mike McQueary that night, gives a very different version of what Mike McQueary claims to have seen that night.

If Mike McQueary told Dranov that he didn't any sexual activity that night - and he really didn't - then he lied to the grand jury. But then, at least, he didn't witness the boy being raped and then leave him there.

Either way, McQueary's actions are appalling. He goes from being someone who failed in his duty to protect and help a little boy, to being a perjurer.


Blogger Bob Bohne said...

Can't wait for Jake's rebuttal.

December 18, 2011 at 4:36 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Transgressions are a two way street. What goes around comes around. See ya.

December 18, 2011 at 10:10 PM 
Blogger jake said...

Glad to oblige, Bob.

McQueary's testimony in the prelim appeared to be consistent with his grand jury testimony. He further clarified that he was not explicit in his description to Coach Joe Paterno, which makes all the sanctimonious blowhards look pretty stupid.

All in all, there was nothing we learned Friday that changes any of my fundamental criticisms of the media lynch mob. JoePa has been wrongly vilified and the rush to judgment in the court of public opinion risks denying both the defendants and their victims their rights to due process.

Gil writes an opinion column, which requires him to take a position; the more provocative the better. General news reporters should stick to the facts, and law enforcement shouldn't be interjecting their opinions either.

I'm still seeing too many deep thinkers trying to one-up each other's faux outrage. To reiterate, you can't stop evil by destroying things that are good.

December 19, 2011 at 11:34 AM 
Blogger Bob Bohne said...

Jake - I understand your point, however you write "JoePa has been wrongly vilified." Maybe, maybe not.

December 19, 2011 at 2:55 PM 
Blogger Bob Bohne said...

Jake - If we find out that Paterno knew for years that Sanduski was molesting children & he looked the other way, would the vilifiation be justified?

December 19, 2011 at 3:24 PM 
Blogger jake said...

If Coach Paterno is charged with a crime, tried, and convicted, then he will deserve the loss of public confidence he will undoubtedly receive.
Idle speculation, unsubstantiated rumors and media gossip are never proof of anything, except perhaps the sad cynicism of our society. Forty years of "Success with Honor" deserves more credit than JoePa is being given.

December 19, 2011 at 6:40 PM 
Blogger Bob Bohne said...

Jake - You write "If Coach Paterno is charged with a crime, tried, and convicted, then he will deserve the loss of public confidence he will undoubtedly receive." Only under those circumstances? Aside from legal obligations, don't we, as adults have a moral and ethical obligation to take action if we suspect a child is being molested? Regardless of wether or not Paterno commited a crime, if Paterno put the interests of Penn State before the interests of the victims, he deserves to be vilified.

December 19, 2011 at 9:39 PM 
Blogger jake said...


Who decides that Coach Paterno "put the interests of Penn State before the victims"?
You? the media lynch mob? the moral relativists of the faculty? Absent due process, there can be no legitimate determination.

The simple fact is that there can be no justice for some when there is no justice for all.
JoePa has positively affected the lives of generations of Pennsylvania families.
Maybe we are better served by honestly judging a man who has benefited more young people in a week than the rest of us could in a year.

December 19, 2011 at 11:21 PM 
Blogger Bob Bohne said...

Jake - Why aren't you making that same argument for Sanduski? He hasn't been proven guilty. You want to tell us about all of the wonderful things he's done for kids? You make Paterno sound like Ghandi. This is a guy who's good at winning a game. And he's made a ton of money being good at winning. But come on! Enough of the hero worship. I'm willing to give this guy the benefit of the doubt, but if in the end we find out that Paterno swept this under the rug, I believe most people will share my opinion. With the exception of you.

December 20, 2011 at 12:16 AM 
Anonymous Bursch said...

Jake - If we find out that Paterno knew for years that Sanduski was molesting children & he looked the other way, would the vilifiation be justified?

January 7, 2013 at 2:51 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am still in shock that Mike McQueary ran home to his father for advice and now is crying the blues. How many tears did the young child shed all these years? He shed them for a much better reason than Mike has. No reason in the whole world, nothing, will ever be right for leaving the child. After seeing Sandusky afterwards should have been a warning sign that nothing was done. I am shocked, disgusted and ashamed. If a 6' heavy man can't save a child, who will? Yech....

August 27, 2013 at 11:48 PM 

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