Monday, November 14, 2011

The Man In the Middle

Warning: This post is about the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State. There may be information here that you find offensive to read. You have been notified!
This is about Mike McQueary, the unfortunate man who had the poor timing of looking into a shower in 2002 and seeing a horrific thing. The focus in the whole Penn State mess has been Joe Paterno, or Sandusky, or even the 10 year old child. These people do require our attention. But as I’ve read various articles and opinions on it, my mind has turned to McQueary, the witness. He didn’t ask for this, but he witnessed, first hand, a most despicable, immoral, illegal act.

And he’s stuck in the middle. Many say he did not do enough. Many say he did way too much. Tell me this:  how can one man be vilified for not immediately beating Sandusky to a pulp right there in the locker room, and still need protective custody because of the bit of intervention he did do? Regardless of what he’d done, he’d still be in tons of trouble.

This is what I’m reading about McQueary from one side: "How does McQueary, a 28-year-old grad student, look in the showers of a facility and see a grown man raping a 10-year-old child and not instinctively grab a baseball bat and not protect this child? How does he live with himself?" This is asked by an attorney. Here’s another outraged American, who puts us in the position of the child, being abused. If you’re a child, in that situation, what are you hoping for? “You’re hoping that someone comes to your rescue.  And he does. Some 6’4” 280 pound guy turns the corner and you see him and he sees you, and he walks away, and hope turns to despair.” He condemns McQueary and much of the rest of the Penn State academic family for having a “deficiency of love.” And he may be right. If that boy’s father had walked by, instead of a stranger, Mr. Sandusky might well have been beaten to a pulp on the spot.

I’ve been a teacher. Teachers know all about reporting. We work with kids. If you get even a whiff that a child is being abused in anyway, you’d better report it; you could be prosecuted if you don’t. It’s so, so hard! Can you imagine: a troubled kid in your class with a history of failure, dysfunction and lying, one day hints to you that his parent/care-giver is somehow abusing him. You know this parent; you’ve met him/her at meetings, talked on the phone. You’re horrified that you must now report this to your administration, and perhaps slander an innocent person, because an unstable kid said something to you.

(I know this wasn’t McQueary’s dilemma; he saw the abuse himself.)

So, you gulp hard, pray about it, think about it, and then go to your administrator. You feel horrible, but you must do it. You imagine yourself in that other adult’s place – what if he’s innocent? You squirm in the principal’s office, tell him what the student has told you, and then you leave.

You’ve done your duty, and believe me, it was hard enough. You don’t call the police and send them to the kid’s home. The thought never crosses your mind. It’s your boss’s duty to take the complaint further.

This is what McQueary did. He took it to his boss.  As a matter of fact, he made sure that he also told another adult (his father), and he ensured that the information was given to the boss’s boss, an athletic head and a university administrator. He had every reason to believe that they would certainly take care of the matter. Of course, they didn’t. They dropped the ball.

Until you’ve been in this situation, you might not know how extremely hard it is to take that complaint up the scale, all the way up, to the police. In this, case, McQueary should have done so, since he witnessed it first hand, and since he apparently knew that Sandusky was not arrested for the act. But for those of you out there outraged, claiming that you would have behaved differently, you need to imagine yourself in such a situation. It is such a huge relief just to pass the information on one time, much less twice. The weight of it is so enormous that you are desperate to transfer it to someone else’s shoulders, desperate to believe that they will now do what must be done. And the lower you are on the totum pole (a grad student, for instance), the more desperate you feel for someone else to hold the time bomb you’ve been handed.

McQueary now needs police protection from all the Penn State people who would like to harm him, because his eventual report has brought shame on the football program and ousted Paterno. No, friends. Those men brought shame on themselves. It’s easy now to see Sandusky as little better than pond scum, but in 2002, I imagine he could have ruined McQueary’s career. Did Sandusky have departmental protection? Sure he did. McQueary was no fool to be wary.

I’m not talking about what’s right and wrong. That stuff is clear enough. I’m talking about the arrogance of some Americans who think they would have behaved differently, and who feel justified in berating McQueary for his faint-hearted attempt at justice. The violent, aggressive response to him now should show us all that he was up against a formidable opponent, when he challenged the Penn State football program in any way. He certainly did not do enough, but we should be cautious when we claim that we would have done more.

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