Mike McQueary and Me

 

Do you know what you would do, in Mike McQueary's place? Are you sure?

I have defended Mike McQueary, the graduate student assistant coach who, according to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s report, witnessed Jerry Sandusky raping a young boy in the Penn State showers in 2002 and told Joe Paterno, to this extent: he took the crucial step of reporting the incident to the coach, his boss as a graduate student assistant coach, and that took courage. Because of Paterno’s reputation as a moral and ethical exemplar, the young man had no reason to believe that Paterno would not do all the right things, from confronting Sandusky to finding the boy to alerting the police. (As we now know, Paterno did none of these.)

Even so, he had to believe he was in a career jeopardizing situation. Sandusky was a Penn State football legend, though retired, and presumably had Paterno’s loyalty. Would being the messenger that created liability and public relations problems for his boss’s beloved football program make McQueary a pariah even if it resulted in Sandusky’s arrest? That scenario is not uncommon, unfortunately.

That is why, when a commenter wrote that McQueary was more culpable for Penn State’s inaction than Paterno, I disagreed strenuously, and I still do. Paterno had power, given his iconic status, perhaps the ultimate power. If he had insisted that Sandusky be confronted, removed, and reported to police, it would have happened, and would have happened completely within his natural sphere of influence. For McQueary, however, to track the university’s response and independently take action to stop Sandusky would require exemplary valor. I wish he had done it. But he had placed his faith in Joe Paterno, and at Penn State, that should be a sure bet.

I think it is easy for any of us to conclude that in Joe Paterno’s place, we would not have allowed Sandusky to continue preying on young boys. What would we do in Mike McQueary’s position, however…putting aside the action of physically intervening in the rape itself? There is a reason why the first thing he did was to go home and call his dad for advice. He never, never considered what he would do in such a situation, because never, in his wildest dreams, did he imaging such a crisis occurring.

Never underestimate the difficulty of making the right ethical decision in an unexpected crisis.

I also sympathize with McQueary, because I had my own Mike McQueary moment years ago.

I was 35, and had been out of work for 8 months, looking hard. Nothing much else was going right in my life either, but a good job would do a lot to turn things around, and I found one when I had a terrific interview with the acting Executive Director of a large trade foundation. He created a new position tailored to my experience and interests. He would be my direct supervisor, and we hit it off immediately.

Then, after only a week on the job, his secretary came into my office and closed the door. I was her only hope, she said; my boss (and hers) was beloved—and powerful— in the association, and nobody else would help her. He had been harassing her, she said, pushing hard for her to sleep with him. She liked him…he was over 60, with an invalid wife, and she felt sorry for him…but she didn’t want to submit, and the pressure was driving her crazy. If it didn’t stop, she said, she might just quit, and as a single mother, she really needed the job.

She wanted me to report her dilemma to the general counsel, my boss’s best friend on staff, on her behalf, to see if he would take the initiative and address the problem without her having to take official action.
And I did. The general counsel made it clear to me that she would have to file a complaint herself for him to take action, and “he didn’t advise it.” He said he would keep our conversation confidential, but that nothing was going to happen. I told her about the meeting, and she quit a few weeks later.

In four years, a major sexual harassment scandal involving my boss broke out, and he was fired and ruined. Apparently, in the interim, he had harassed more than a dozen female employees, and had sex with more than a few. I ultimately had to testify against him, and he never spoke to me after that.
My dilemma those many years ago had much in common with McQueary’s plight. I was fearful about my own job security, and was in a precarious state professionally. Being aligned against my patron and supervisor, who, like Paterno, was regarded as the dean of the staff, was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to help the young woman who had come to me for help, but I also felt that it was unfair that I, as a brand new hire, suddenly was being made responsible for solving an association personnel problem not of my making. I took action, but not enough action.

And I was wrong. I had an ethical duty to follow up when it became clear that the general counsel wasn’t going to act. I needed to make sure, to the best of my ability, that the woman who had come to me for help, and future potential victims of my boss, my friend, a workplace predator, were protected, and it was clear, or should have been, that if I didn’t do anything about it, nobody would.

It was a lesson that I vowed to remember: when fate puts you in the situation where you are the one person who can right a wrong, the fact that it wasn’t your fault is irrelevant, and is no excuse for not fixing the problem. The likely disruption to my job and danger to my career? Too bad. I had to make sure that the serial harasser stopped hurting people. Instead, I allowed myself to rationalize that I had done all I was obligated to do.

Just like Mike McQueary.

 

93 thoughts on “Mike McQueary and Me

  1. McQueary is neither a Good nor Bad Samaritan, but one who delayed his response. Lawyers have recognized for years nuances in how people respond when witnessing crimes against others, and delayed or passive responding is more common than heroic intervention. Intervening factors, such as shock, panic, and misplaced loyalty, among other things, do effect people’s decision-making abilities in the moment. McQueary seems to have made a measured decision, after a day’s reflection and consultation with others, (at least his father, and, though we do not know for certain, possibly an attorney,) and at that point reported the matter in the way state law and university policy prescribed. That he had moral obligations to do more presumes that he would immediately and without hesitation have either : 1. physically intervened to stop the assault (no law in this country creates such a clearly defined duty), or 2. Would have reported his witness of events to the police. (Which police department by the way? The University police, who had already shut down the 1998 investigation of Sandusky? Who had investigational jurisdiction over a crime on campus property? Did McQueary? Was he thinking about potential relationships Sandusky, Paterno, and others may have had, real or perceived, with law enforcement officials? Was he thinking about the unsolved disappearance 6 years prior of the first DA who tried to bring a criminal abuse claim against Sandusky? We don’t know, and really, none of us should presume we do.)
    What is so interesting about the responses in the media and blogosphere, is that all of us like think we would act heroically. Perhaps everyone would do so, without hesitation. What a wonderful world that would be. But I wonder though how many of us actually would. It is easy to think so strongly of oneself from the comfort of one’s couch, with the luxury of reflecting without experiencing the actual moment of crisis. In reality, the decision making process in our brains and spirits, if you believe in that aspect of personality, is much messier. Instances of bystander’s allowing murders and gang rapes are well documented in American society in recent decades. The hesitation to act has precedent in society, and is well represented in the sometimes contradictory jumble of statutory and case law promoting duty to report/rescue obligations. So, is it possible that there are two levels of response occurring here-the response of Mr McQueary and his superiors at Penn State, (in which everyone seems agrees the ball was dropped-when, by whom, and the degree of moral and legal culpability, remains to be seen), and the response of the crowd, represented by the many media and blog commentaries, as well as the water-cooler variety comments at workplaces and homes. I am interested in why such a critical mass of people believe they would act heroically in a given circumstance, when there is precious little evidence to support this idea save for how mightily one thinks of oneself. Or, is it that the effect of the crowd is such that we simply excuse ourselves in the moment, and by berating the apparent weakness in another, feel that much more secure in our own rather fantastical notions that we would fulfill the ideal norm without fail. Group think works in many ways-it was apparently present in the failure to act on the part of officials at Penn St, and it seems to me quite loudly present in what I find to be painful and disingenuous self-assertions of the “crowd” in the media, and on the blogs.

      • Its nice to see some folks out there whom offer an opinion that is much more closer to reality as opposed to the “superhero” world others appear to be living in. The fact is nobody can be certain of how they would react if placed in the same situation.While many seem to be sure they would have rose to the occasion, this opinion is far to easy to provide 9 years and hundreds of miles removed from said situation. Pun intended here, this is not the time to Monday morning quarterback the actions of McQueary. At the end of the day Sandusky is the criminal (allegedly).
        Beyond the horrid and despicable acts that have been alleged amid this scandal is an underlying issue that I haven’t heard many people discuss. That is that what has been illustrated by the deliberate negligence of so many officials throughout the university is that the culture of college sports became larger then the protection of innocent children.

    • I don’t think anyone here would consider themselves a hero for intervening, simply a person doing the obvious thing- stopping another grown man from hurting that child. In fact, McQueary was in all likelyhood much better equipped than the average person in that situation. He was a large, well-conditioned athlete, a former quarterback in a nationally ranked college program. He had for years been trained to react and to act in moments of great physical and emotional stress. This was not a man that, as a player, stood back and watched things happen. He called the shots, both on the field and off. It sems that his lack of action could only come from the desire to save himself at the expense of that (and every other) child victim.

      • Note: Ginger has been banned from the comments board, both because of persistent obnoxious conduct, but also because she gave me a fake e-mail address, which is an intentional rules breach, and unethical. Not because her point of view is wedged in fantasy land, although it is.

  2. Some life lessons don’t come cheap. My mistake in my “MIke McQueary situation” was nowhere near as bad. I really should stop beating myself up about it. But in a way, it proves I have a conscience. Plus, it has made me stronger in much more difficult situations. One thing that interests me in today’s society is the number of celebrities and athletes that go on USO tours and not actually serve their country like many did before VietNam. Of course Rocky Bleier and Roger Staubach did. Then recently, Pat Tilman. Where I am going with this is – How many people actually stood by and did nothing during other situations like wars, natural disasters, the 9-11 tragedy, domestic terrorism etc. They didn’t want to leave their comfortable lives, didn’t want to get involved, or didn’t want to make any sort of sacrifice. How many people in New york got involved in the tragedy on 9-11? Are they criminals for not rushing to the scene of a brutal international crime? How many did what they could to avoid the draft…deferments, consciencious objection, or run to Canada? Are they criminals for not wanting to get involved? This is a much broader scale but the ones that did what they could in these situations are heroes because they didn’t stand by. How many people that have said that Mike deserves to be indicted for his lack of inaction have actually went on with their lives and let others do the clean up, rescuing, protecting the innocent or fighting. I think before you condemn Mike, you should look in the mirror and think about the lives you might have helped or saved even if it was on a a boader scale like war.

  3. Hi Beth…I’m going to use your post to launch a contest for the most outrageous, uncivil, obnoxious and unjustified comment on this post…and there will be bonus points for stupidity, which is good news for you. If you actually read the post, which I doubt, you should have been able to discern that I was not comparing sexual harassment to child rape, but comparing two circumstances in which an employee is made aware of serious misconduct in a setting where there are powerful motivations to discourage reporting it. But don’t let little nuances like reading comprehension get in the way of your completely misunderstanding a clear post, or resorting to insults rather than coherent argument. You’re in a contest!
    And I’ll give you a bonus if you can find a single word in the post that suggests that I wouldn’t physically intervene in McQueary’s place, though, of course, there is no way for me to be certain what I would do. I hope I would do the right thing. Unfortunately, ethical conduct is not always easy. It is especially hard, by the way, for uncivil, presumptuous boobs.

    Good luck!

  4. Quite frankly we can never have a reasonable discussion of the ethics involved in this issue until everyone climbs down off their sanctimonious high horses. I’ve been disgusted with the media coverage of the Penn State scandal because everyone comes off as ethical saints. If everyone was as high minded, idealistic and heroic as they come across this week then why is our society crumbling around us? Hmm…I guess the real 1% are the ‘ethically challenged’?

  5. According to this site , Gary Schultz had oversight over the university police department, and had heard about the accusation against Sandusky from the athletic director Curley. This means that the university police knew of the accusations by McQueary.

  6. That is why, when a commenter wrote that McQueary was more culpable for Penn State’s inaction than Paterno, I disagreed strenuously, and I still do. Paterno had power, given his iconic status, perhaps the ultimate power. If he had insisted that Sandusky be confronted, removed, and reported to police, it would have happened, and would have happened completely within his natural sphere of influence.

    Now let us examine this from Joe Paterno’s perspective.

    Here, he was faced with an accusation that a colleague committed child rape. It is easy to believe that the “other” would commit this act of nithinghood; it is much more difficult to believe that someone you know (whom you have not previously suspected of this type of conduct) committing child rape. Couple this with the fact that similar accusations against Sandusky were brought before the district attorney, who had declined to prosecute, and that most of society presumes those accused of child rape guilty until proven innocent, and it would be easier to believe that McQueary was slandering Sandusky.

    To his credit, Paterno did not immediately accuse McQueary of slander nor demanded that he be removed from the grad assistant program. He reported the incident to the athletic director. (As it turns out, the athletic director mentioned this to a person who had oversight over the university police, which effectively means that the incident was reported to the police by the athletic director.)

    Where Paterno specifically failed was to fail to ask if McQueary had reported the truth to the police. And he later hired McQueary ( or at least approved of McQueary’s hiring) without knowing or despite knowing that McQueary had not filed a police report, meaning the university hired someone who either failed to report a sex crime that he witnessed or committed a vicious slander.

    • Slander? Michael, I don’t know where you’re getting this. Reporting the TRUTH about Sandusky to Paterno had to seem risky to McQueary—why would he ever report falsely? Why would Paterno suspect that? It is far, far, FAR more likely that Paterno suspected Sandusky was doing this already—there were too many other red flags. And McQueary was already an employee. “To his credit, Paterno did not immediately accuse McQueary of slander nor demanded that he be removed from the grad assistant program.” To his credit? That would have been insane.

      A person in McQueary’s position could and should have reported to the police (or campus police), but telling Paterno was legally sufficient and 100% of anyone connected with Penn State would have bet their left arm that it was just as good as telling the police, because Joe would do the right thing. The “Joe didn’t believe McQueary” theory makes no sense…if that were true, then Joe wouldn’t report it to HIS supervisor. And why would McQueary lie?

      You’re trying too hard. Occam’s Razor applies.

      • It is far, far, FAR more likely that Paterno suspected Sandusky was doing this already—there were too many other red flags.

        What were these other red flags? A prior accusation which was presented to the district attorney who declined to prosecute.

        Why would Paterno suspect that?

        Because “it would be easier to believe that McQueary was slandering Sandusky”

        telling Paterno was legally sufficient

        That is where you are wrong. If that is true, why was it not sufficient for Paterno to tell his boss?

        The “Joe didn’t believe McQueary” theory makes no sense…if that were true, then Joe wouldn’t report it to HIS supervisor. And why would McQueary lie?

        I merely stated that it would be easier to believe that “it would be easier to believe that McQueary was slandering Sandusky” than “it is much more difficult to believe that someone you know (whom you have not previously suspected of this type of conduct) committing child rape”. I never implied Paterno continued to believe this.

        • 1. Who wouldn’t suspect that? The guy has been investigated once for child molesting and has a kids foundation, with kids around all the the time.
          2.”That is where you are wrong. If that is true, why was it not sufficient for Paterno to tell his boss?” It WAS legally sufficient! That’s why Paterno hasn’t been arrested. It was just outrageously irresponsible.
          3. That’s just not true. As I’ve written elsewhere, Paterno is 84 years old—he knows something about life. It is a lot easier to believe that an employee who has already been investigated once for child molesting allegations IS a child molester than it is to believe that a young employee would make a false accusation that couldn’t benefit him in any way whatsoever, and if false, could only be disastrous. The false accusation idea makes no sense, and I say again, if Paterno thought it was false, he wouldn’t have reported it at all.

      • “Reporting the TRUTH about Sandusky to Paterno had to seem risky to McQueary—why would he ever report falsely?”

        A plausible reason for McQueary to water down the story he gave to Paterno: By leaving the scene of the rape and not reporting it for many hours, McQueary exposed himself to charges of abandoning the child during the rape. If McQueary downgrades the story to “horsing around” he covers his butt in two ways: If the victim (who got a good look at McQueary) ever fingers McQueary as the witness who ran away, McQueary can point out he reported it to Paterno. But because he watered down the story he won’t be charged or reproached for cowardice and accessory to rape. When McQueary is called to testify to the grand jury he could have been motivated to tell the truth because he didn’t know how much the grand jury already knew. He didn’t know if the victim had come forward with a detailed account. He didn’t know if the grand jury had other evidence that a brutal rape had taken place. So consistent with this theory, McQueary tells the grand jury the unvarnished truth he watered down when reporting to Paterno and the administrators. Once McQueary has so testified he instantly becomes the star witness for the prosecution. Putting victims on the witness stand during a trial is a risky and brutalizing business – something to be avoided. But an eye witness is powerful ammunition indeed. Even if part of McQueary’s statement is suspicious – the part about fully reporting the heinousness of Sandusky’s crime to Paterno et al – the prosecutors are compelled to vigorously defend ALL of McQueary’s grand jury testimony lest his credibility come into question.

        • 1. According to his sworn testimony, he didn’t water down the account–he told Paterno it was rape.
          2. What charges? There is no legal obligation to stay at the scene of any crime if you are mot a participant. Where does you “abandoning a rape” charge appear?
          3. The easiest way to avoid the criticism was not to say anything to anyone.

          • “1. According to his sworn testimony, he didn’t water down the account–he told Paterno it was rape.”
            Right. I posted a theory for why McQueary might lie to the grand jury about what he told Paterno.
            “2. What charges? There is no legal obligation to stay at the scene of any crime if you are mot a participant. Where does you “abandoning a rape” charge appear?”
            Sorry. I’m not a legal expert. I thought perhaps “misprision of felony” might apply here.
            “3. The easiest way to avoid the criticism was not to say anything to anyone.”
            Except that the victim saw McQueary witness the crime and walk away.

            • 1. Which is a theory. Lying to the grand jury is a bad idea: ask Barry Bonds. The presumption should be that a witness tells the truth. Sure: he could have lied.
              2.Nothing to apologize for…lawyer are the ones who need to apologize. But misprison in the US requires active concealment, not merely failure to report.
              3..a) I think the victim was busy. b) There is no reason to think the victim knew who McQueary was. c).There is no reason to believe, just because McQueary saw the rape, the victim saw McQueary. I would assume the opposite. Presumably Sandusky would have stopped if HE saw McQueary, don’t you think?.

              • “1. Which is a theory. Lying to the grand jury is a bad idea: ask Barry Bonds. The presumption should be that a witness tells the truth. Sure: he could have lied.”

                Okay, I accept the presumption for ANY grand jury witness. Four people testified to the grand jury about what McQueary reported. Three of them essentially agree. One of them profoundly disagrees. Who is more likely lying: the three or the one?

                “3..a) I think the victim was busy. b) There is no reason to think the victim knew who McQueary was.”

                But he could have picked out McQueary later.

                “c).There is no reason to believe, just because McQueary saw the rape, the victim saw McQueary. I would assume the opposite. Presumably Sandusky would have stopped if HE saw McQueary, don’t you think?.”

                In the grand jury presentment, McQueary testified that both the child and Sandusky saw him.

                • 1. Truth isn’t a democracy.
                  2. “Could” have, perhaps. Eye witnesses who have nothing to do but watch botch ID’s routinely. People being raped? My guess is that they are somewhat less accurate.
                  3. All McQueary can testify to is that they appeared to be looking at him. Whether they saw him or not, only they know.

  7. It’s not a “fact,” and it is facile and naive to say so. How exactly did not acting immediately “self-serve his interests”? If you are saying that non-ethical considerations entered into his confused thoughts at the time—considerations that had to do with possible consequences to himself—sure they did, as they do for every one of us in 99% of our decisions in our lives.

    The more bland statements like this I read, the more the term “Armchair Hero” comes to mind. Sure is easy to declare that what someone else did under stress was unforgivable and that you would behave perfectly, with dispatch and valor. Prove it.

  8. Not reporting to police about child abuse is the worse thing one can do… especially if Mcquiery testifies that was sure about it, he was mature enough to realize that he should have reported to police about it not to his father… further more he did nothing when he saw that it was not properly investigated by Penn State…He is fully responsible for his action no less than the person who abused children

  9. I am shocked at your “strenuously” comment. Just because something happened to you does not entitle anyone who had personally witnessed the abuse of a young child. Nothing in this whole world would ever allow anyone to not be blamed. I don’t care if he would be a whistle blower or his career would be jeoparized. I am appalled. He personally had seen Sandusky in the years after he saw him with a child and he should have known that nothing happened. It takes courage to stand up for what is right in this world no matter the outcome. If we all remember this, the world would be a better place for children, your children, my children and the world’s children. I “strenuously” state this, nothing should come in the way of saving children, NOTHING! Our lives will be enriched knowing that we sacrificed ourselves for a child!

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