Penn State Sexual Abuse Scandal: How Not to Walk Like Mike McQueary


Here’s the thing about sexual violence. Once you work in it, once you know how the system works, and once you have 1/10 of an idea just how dark, and terrible, and unjust it is — you can never go back to NOT knowing. You can never return to the land of, “Gosh, that’s terrible.” You become a permanent resident of, “It’s OUR responsible to know exactly what to do if someone we know is raped or we witness an act of violence.”

So, you can imagine the degree to which I had a near heart attack today when I heard about the breaking story of Penn State’s sexual abuse scandal.

If you haven’t heard, read up and yes, it is that bad. And it’s gonna get worse.
Trigger warning, the excerpts of the Grand Jury report are dark and disturbing in every possible way.

I spent a lot of time on Twitter, reading the latest updates, minute by minute. The cancelled presser. The bold op-ed on an entire front page of a Pennsylvania newspaper calling for Penn State President Spanier and head coach Joe Paterno’s resignation. The two officials who stepped down because they’ll likely be charged with perjury. And, of course, Jerry Sandusky, the rapist himself. As of just now, I read about 12 more people have come forward saying they were sexually abused in some way. That brings the number to 20 survivors.

There are so many angles to approach this clusterf*ck. The entire thing is a trainwreck of biblical proportion. The grotesque nature of the crimes. The people who KNEW. What was at stake. The choices that were made. Sports culture. An ivy league name. College football’s most winningest coach.

It seems like everyone’s got a detail they just can’t get over, and I’m not excluded.

My hang up isn’t on JoePa, Sandusky, Spanier, or any of those fools who would actually call themselves men and/or fathers who cared about NOTHING but the potential scandal and fallout and decided to sweep it under the rug. My hang-up is on the 28 year old graduate assistant who walked away from a 10 year old boy being raped by a grown man. He walked away, also saying that he believed both Sandusky and the boy saw him. I do not even want to imagine what that 10 year old kid was thinking as McQueary walked away and called his father.

“He was distraught.”
“He saw something horrifying.”
“He didn’t know what to do.”

I wonder if his reaction would be different if, say, he looked up and saw Sandusky beating this same kid with a bat. I would bet that he would’ve screamed bloody hell and tried to wrestle him to the ground. But because of the vile, sexual, and evil nature of what was taking place, he was stunned. But not stunned enough to not call his own father to figure out what he should do. May I offer his age again: he was 28 at the time.

If I sound judgmental, it’s because I am. Even if you’re stunned to paralysis, after about 10 minutes, once you realize you just witnessed a child rape, how do you NOT call the police? Or have some kind of thought resembling, “God, I hope that kid’s alright.”

I think my favorite response on Twitter was something like, “As a 104lb grandmother, there’s no way I wouldn’t have done everything to get that kid safe.” But a former football player, someone who had been bred to fearlessly throw himself in the path of other beastly men with brute strength to get a first down, a grown man, sees an act of sexual violence upon a child, and…what? That’s too scary to confront? And at NO point since 2002 did McQueary ever think the police should’ve been notified? Or any of those officials?

Is sexual violence so removed from the consciences of male athletes and coaches that when it does happen, there’s no tool available in their system to dismantle the situation? But something tells me that rape and sport culture, especially football, are not strangers. What are we teaching young men? In college culture, if a woman is raped, she was either asking for it or lying. If it’s a child, walk away.

If there’s one thing I know about college football, coming from a Buckeye fan who married into a family who schedules weddings around college football games, there’s no such thing as doing the minimum. Staff and athletes have mantras of honor, excellence, and going beyond, teamwork, brotherhood, achievement. Strength. No pain. Give it your all.

But when in the face of sexual violence, when the opportunity to save a young child comes, Mike McQueary walked away and made a call for help. The problem is, McQueary LEFT. He left. And the call of help was to help himself deal with what he saw and figure out what to do while that boy was left alone with a monster.

So, Mike McQueary, even if you never broke any law, even if everyone says you tried to do the right thing, even if Penn State somehow redeems itself in many many years from now, even if Spanier, Paterno, and others find ways to save face, there is one person that matters in this story and there’s no way to hide from your memory. For all the years of studying routes and back-up plans, defense and offense, for all the lifetimes spent studying plays, recovering fumbles, and coming back from adversity, you have to live with this basic truth for the rest of your life: you left that boy to deal with his nightmare alone.

  1. #1 by AOM on November 10, 2011 - 10:18 pm

    becca, what the heck are you talking about when you say, “grad students at penn state don’t have much power”? You’re telling me McQueary didn’t have the power to push that old man off the kid and carry him out of there? He’s a huge former football player, Sandusky is a small old man. I understand the Milgram experiments and even I won’t say that I wouldn’t comply with authority in those experiments, but if the authority figures told me to sit back while a child was raped? –yeah, that’s where even I would draw the line.

    Mike McQueary is a failure of a man and his father is a failure as a parent. If my son EVER calls me to ask me what to do after he sees a child being raped, I will know I failed as a parent.

  2. #2 by Cheryl on November 10, 2011 - 2:07 pm

    Thank you! Finally someone said it! There is no way – no way – I would have ever WALKED AWAY. When a child is being brutally raped and you do nothing, that speaks to your character. Dress if up any way you like BUT McQueary should not be coaching any where – period. These other guys, Paterno, Spanier, et al are secondary, tertiary. When you see a crime report it. When you see a child – a 10 year old child – being anally raped …seriously do I have to draw you a picture? Report it. Don’t think about it. DO SOMETHING. Hears the funny thing the fact that McQueary did nothing to save his career is the very thing that ended it.

  3. #3 by Clinton James on November 10, 2011 - 12:26 pm

    Clinton James :

    The definition for a thesis is “A statement or theory that is put forward as a premise to be maintained or proved: “can you support your thesis?” Mike McCreary is a graduate student that had to write a master’s thesis in order to be admitted into the Penn State Master’s Program. This so-called thesis is something that Mr. McCreary truly believed, as a hypothesis, in nature that could be proved by his own belief. I’m sure this thesis was very in depth, had a foundation, and was incomprehensible by anyone else.
    The definition for child abuse, child molestation, or child rape does not need a thesis, understanding, or proof once witnessed. It is hard to wrestle with, mentally, by the normal citizen in any culture. To stop this sort of predation it takes a community to raise a child and it takes a community to stop pedophiles. This type of cooperation begins with a single person and that person was Mike McCreary.
    It is hard that an intelligent masters student whom had been educated enough to establish a thesis fails to understand something that is not only moral duty but moral responsibility. It is hard for me to understand why a good man [McCreary] left that kid during that night to his own cruelty. I consider all of these men who supported this incident, simple cowards. McCreary is at the epicenter of all of these deserters. In combat, he would have been shot.

  4. #4 by Andi on November 9, 2011 - 11:18 pm

    I’ve been wondering about McCreary myself. Thanks for posting – I completely agree.

  5. #5 by becca on November 9, 2011 - 5:01 pm

    Fundamentally, I agree with you. Though I gotta say, it hits painfully close to home. And it might be worth noting that grad students at penn state don’t have much power. It’s a bit like asking a private to report the war crime of a general.
    Besides, there’s all those psychology experiments with authority figures and electric shocks… I really hope

    Plus, there’s plenty of disgusting culpability to go around.
    Why didn’t Mike’s dad call the cops? Why didn’t the cops find enough evidence on the EARLIER allegation against Sandusky, and prevent the incident the grad assistant saw from happening? Where was Sandusky’s family in all this?

    But frankly, the culpability that worries me most is the one you and I share. How are we complicit in this culture? What does it mean to be a football fan? If you make football profitable for the universities are you supporting violence (much like making fashionable clothing profitable for companies supports sweatshops- it’s not really intrinsic to the part you like, but you can’t truly responsible and ignore the connection)? Or is it even worse than that- what if it’s more than football being one arena where people who have enough status can get away with appalling abuses… What if it’s that by glorifying the most brutal things these athletes do- by constantly praising and reinforcing their strength and aggression and ‘manliness’- we are creating the monsters?

  6. #6 by Eric on November 9, 2011 - 1:57 pm

    Thank you for this post. I have been thinking this since I heard the details, and I appreciate someone else saying what the media is choosing to ignore for the sake of news that will sell.

(will not be published)