In Defense of Mike McQueary
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?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.
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.
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.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 freeze or make the wrong decisions. We acquiesce through our silence.
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.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.
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.
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.