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In Defense of Mike McQueary

I've been sitting on this idea for a few days, because even I found it absurd at first. I guess that one too many times of hearing 'why didn't he stop it?' finally pushed me over the edge.

Before March 1, 2002, Mike McQueary knew Jerry Sandusky very well. He grew up with Jerry's kids, played high school football with them, and likely visited the Sandusky home on many occasions. He went to Penn State and sat through countless team meetings with Jerry, and considered him a leader who was practically as important as Joe Paterno in terms of teaching the game of football. He worked with Jerry on probably a daily basis for two years in his role as a Graduate assistant, and considered Jerry a role model for his own career path. He saw Jerry as a humanitarian who walked away from a spectacularly successful coaching career to devote his life to helping children achieve a better life. By any reasonable measure, Mike McQueary would have had nothing but respect and admiration for the man. He likely had a relationship with Jerry that was closer than what many men of 28 years have with their own fathers.

Then one night Mike McQueary had a sizable portion of his life shattered. Without recounting the graphic details contained in the Grand Jury's summary, I'll just say that he saw one of the most heinous acts a person can commit. It was bad enough to even witness such a thing - the janitor who had found himself in a similar situation a couple of years before had become physically ill, and considered it to be worse than anything he had seen in his time deployed in a war zone - that I probably wouldn't find much fault in Mike if he had done what he did next even without any personal connection to Jerry Sandusky.

The fact that he had such a personal connection to the person performing an act of pure evil right in front of him had to make it difficult, if not impossible, for his brain to even process what he was seeing. I'm not a trained psychologist by any stretch, but I've read the definition of the term 'Cognitive Dissonance' and I can't imagine a clearer example of a situation that would cause a disconnect between our paradigms and our observations. This was a mentor, a father of friends, a highly respected member of the community, and he was performing an action so incredibly vile that most people have a hard time imagining anyone doing anything of the sort. Mike likely had flashes of every time he had ever visited the Sandusky home throughout his childhood, questioning whether he had ever seen anything like this happen before. He may have immediately questioned whether his friends, Sandusky's own children, had ever been subjected to such a thing. He may have even questioned why the child wasn't pleading for help - in the words of the mother of Victim #1: "He was like, 'Well, I didn't know what to do … you just can't tell Jerry no.'"

That Mike McQueary even had the presence of mind to remember any details of the situation is outstanding to me. He then proceeded to call the most trusted person in his life - his father - probably more to compose himself than to seek advice. Mike's father, likely knowing the University policies on what employees are to do in the case of witnessing a crime, advised Mike to notify the person immediately above him in the chain of command. Any conjecture that Mike's father advised him to leave the building without ensuring the safety of the child is inflammatory and, frankly, immaterial - the Attorney General determined that Mike had acted appropriately in this case when others who were notified later on have been charged with failure to report a crime. We know from the Grand Jury's summary what happened over the next few days - that Mike was involved as the report of what he had seen was communicated up the chain of command to the highest levels of University administration. He met with Gary Schultz, who - whether Mike had known it going in to the conversation or not - was likely introduced as the man in charge of University Park Police Services. Mike gave his account of the incident to what he understood, both by University policy and Pennsylvania law, to be the proper authorities. He was not concerned with tarnishing the reputation of a man who had recently been such a respected mentor and colleague. Mike McQueary, as much as he may have wanted to completely forget what he had seen, was willing and able to give a report that potentially would ruin the lives of people very close to him.

To all the sports writers, ESPN talking heads, radio callers, and anyone else who questions why such a physically fit man was unable to forcibly end the rape of a child I ask you: what would you do if you witnessed your own father performing such an act? This is the part that I considered absurd up until recently - I was afraid of eliciting nothing but vitriol from the person being asked the question - and exactly why the question needs to be put forth so harshly. Most people aren't even capable of envisioning someone they respect performing an act of pure evil. To consider a person of high esteem as actually being the lowest example of humanity literally turns your worldview on its head. Despite having his entire picture of what it means to be a respected member of the community called into question, Mike McQueary was still able to remember and convey what he had witnessed, and I applaud him for it.

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