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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

Are We Penn State

Submitted by on November 12, 2011 – 9:33 AM80 Comments

Then it took a week and a half before the graduate assistant was asked to tell his story to Curley and Gary Schultz, who oversaw the Penn State University police department. And then, the grand jury charges, the incident was buried and Sandusky was more or less allowed to maintain his office (though he was supposedly restricted from bringing any children into the building).

This is from one of Joe Posnanski’s’s recent blog entries on the Penn State contretemps. Joe Posnanski, in case you don’t know the name, is a “sportswriter,” but really he’s a writer straight ahead, a very good one who can probably make you care about whatever sport he’s addressing even if you thought you couldn’t. He also has a fun podcast, The Sports Poscast, on which Parks & Rec‘s Michael “Ken Tremendous” Schur frequently guests, but Posnanski hasn’t done many episodes lately because he went to State College, PA to write a book about Joe Paterno. Several times over the last few days, I wondered in passing how he would handle that, how he was doing, whether he was sitting on the edge of the bed and just kind of staring into his lap. I wondered how I would handle that, in his position, having to incorporate ongoing history into a planned biography.

I’ve also wondered how I would have handled the situation that confronted Mike McQueary. As John Scalzi put it in his full-stop excellent piece on the imbroglio, “But here’s the thing: that part of me? The part that understands these actions? That part of me is a fucking coward.” Sugar-free exactitude, that. I would love to tell you that, coming upon a grownup raping a child, in the act, I would grab the nearest heavy object and brandish it and yell at the grownup to get away, and stuff the child into some clothing and drive him to the nearest police precinct. I would love to tell you that; we would all love to tell ourselves that. Everyone’s cape flutters attractively in the breeze of the subjunctive.

What probably would happen instead is that I would back out of the room in horror. Flee, in fact, on tiptoe, to somewhere small and dark, to process the upside-down wrong thing I’d seen. I would murmur out loud over and over again, “Oh my God, holy shit, oh my God, holy shit, what do I do, what do I do, get a grip Sarah D.” and then I think I would force myself to go back to the shower and ask to speak to Sandusky privately, or dial 9-1-1 and then do it, or run to a sightline and spy while quietly dialing…I think I would do that, or something like that. It is not impossible that I would call my dad, though, I have to tell you, primarily because my dad is preternaturally unflappable and has put the brakes on myriad Sarah “NOT WITH A BANG BUT WITH THIS AIRPORT FLAT TIRE”-type tailspins of far less felonious and revolting origin. So, I get that part of it, that the first, visceral instinct is very possibly to go to a parent and say, I don’t want this information and I don’t know what to do with it, it’s too vile and huge, tell me what to do and I’ll go do that and then get extremely drunk.

Understand: getting it is not approving of it or excusing it. The fact that I suspect that, in the same situation, I would freeze in place instead of springing into action does not forgive McQueary for doing the same. (Nor is it me fishing for contradictions, by the way. “Oh, you’d never.” Well, I really hope you’re right and I really hope we never have to find out, and we’re just talking here.) And I get why he vapor-locked and called the old man because the old man has seen some shit and he knows some shit, but the next thing I would do…okay, it’s actually a list. The very next thing I would do is two belts of bourbon in quick succession, followed by the smoking of 76 cigarettes, and then I would go to a police station and walk up to the front desk and say, can I talk to a detective please like right now.

McQueary didn’t do that. Nobody did that. This is the one of the things I can’t get past. Let’s roll that Posnanski phrasing again:

Sandusky was more or less allowed to maintain his office (though he was supposedly restricted from bringing any children into the building).

In other words, you don’t have to rape kids at home…but you can’t stay here. We know you do it, but if we don’t see you do it, we won’t have to deal with it, and you can continue your reign of shame in your squalid little basement torture chamber, on your own property, where we can pretend it isn’t happening, and this is where it crosses the line, for me, between “acting cowardly, misguided, and selfish, but ultimately human” and “being a bad person.” I think, in that situation, I would do the wrong thing first, or do something right but in the wrong order, or do it too slowly — but I would do something, something, two minutes later, twenty minutes later, I would do something. From what I can tell from the grand-jury document, nobody at Penn State did anything. Not two minutes later, not twenty minutes later, not two years later.

I can’t get past that, I just can’t. Nobody calls the cops, even with an anonymous tip. (I suppose somebody may have. Reams of information surely exist that the public hasn’t seen. That said, if anyone even tried to curb Sandusky’s…activities, you’d think we’d have heard about it by now.) Nobody notifies the state agency for child services. Nobody noses around or drops hints at the charity. Nobody takes Sandusky aside and tells him to get help or else. Nobody does anything. …Wait: one detective “advises” Sandusky to stop taking showers with kids. “ADVISES.” And: “stop TAKING SHOWERS with kids.” Just stop showering with them? Doing weird shit in the wrestling room at a high school isn’t showering, so that’s fine, no need to report that? Grown men just don’t lie around gazing into the eyes of middle-schoolers on wrestling mats, people! Call a cop! Call a teacher! Call the fucking Green Hornet, whatever! You can’t not know this is deeply wrong, and you can’t just shrug, “…Gross,” and go home to the wife and the dog!

And this is the other thing I can’t get past: people knew. People had to know. A lot of people had to know. (Not all, please note. Not even most. Just a lot.) The number of people in the grand-jury presentment alone who had witnessed Sandusky, if not outright raping a child, being noticeably inappropriate or memorably WTF with a child? Sizable number. That suggests to me that the actual number of people who saw something off or weird and then went home and prayed they hadn’t, told themselves they’d misinterpreted the situation, and made sure never to look at Sandusky for more than four seconds in a row again after that so that they wouldn’t see anything else and have to report it, that number probably is much higher. I think people saw, and heard rumors, and knew, and deliberately tried not to know or see; I think when a predator is that prolific, and blatant, the information is out there. I think many more people knew much more than what’s in the grand-jury statement, and I think these people assumed or hoped that somebody else would report him, or that he’d just stop, which is not generally on the menu for sexual predators. And which they also knew. And I think Sandusky understood, correctly as it turns out for many years, that nobody would step in his way, and it emboldened him. I can’t prove it, that this is something that much of the community agreed not to know officially, and I haven’t done a good job articulating what I mean. But I can’t shake that feeling, that if just a couple of sophomores in the dorm late on a Tuesday night had started and given it a push, things might have turned out differently. Or just as horribly, but over with faster.

And I understand that you can’t roll into the cop shop with “I heard from my friend who’s friends with the Second Mile security guard that X,” or “I saw him holding hands with a kid at the mall and it seemed kind of Y.” But this went on for over a decade, that we know about. And this is not tax fraud. Children getting raped. I just…I can’t get past it, that sense that people had information that could have put a stop to it, and they didn’t use it because it would have been awkward. Or, even worse: they had they information, and they thought to themselves, “Well, everyone knows Sandusky is a bad toucher, so if you get crossed up with that it’s your own fault,” and they slept soundly. How did we get here, as a society?

You know what, who cares how we got here or how long we’ve overstayed. Let’s just leave while we still can, yeah? Let’s vow to do better by each other so we don’t have to come back to this place, ever. Let’s all of us, heroes and flawed creatures, Batmen and gutless wonders, my sisters in Melodramatic Daddy’s Girl Local No. 315, try to remember that not doing the perfect thing immediately is not an excuse to then do nothing permanently. Nobody knows what to do, basically, or how to do it; so stipulated. We don’t live in a script and it’s always complicated, but we can’t give up on ourselves for that, because it means giving up on each other, and look what happens. “It’s a hassle to save you, and you’re just not worth it” is not something a so-called First World society should say to children, because they’re never going to get past that.




  • Corina says:

    This is exactly the perspective I’ve been wanting to read because, honestly, a big part of me thinks my instinct, on seeing something that awful, might be that: back away, hide, cry, possibly vomit, berate myself for not taking a lead pipe to that man’s head, and then call my mommy. And my mom would tell me she loves me, and then tell me to get my ass to the police station with a supernatural quickness and not back down until someone with a gun and a badge and a lot more authority than I have did something.

    I understand, though obviously don’t approve, of cowardice in the moment. I understand seeing something so horrible that your best and highest instincts freeze up and prevent the best possible response from being your immediate one. I do not understand an institution-wide cover-up. I do not understand, once you have processed what you’ve seen, not going to the police.

    Take this out of the football context and WHO would think that the appropriate response to witnessing child rape is to inform your employer who also happens to be the child rapist’s former employer and very good friend? Those kids deserved so much better from their community.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Thank God you wrote this, Sars. I too have been wondering how loud, exactly, my better angels would have screamed in my ears when confronted with something this ghastly, and how much the roaring in said ears may have drowned them out.

    But really, the grossest thing of all? In a display of grossness so vast and deep you wonder if our species has any real cause to exist, anymore? How this collusion in secrecy around depravity was about football.

    I don’t mean to disparage the sport, players of the sport, fans of the sport, or those whose lives, financial and physical, are tied in myriad real ways to the sport. It’s the agreement we have in society to see college ball as this important, so important that a few raped, ruined young boys are not a small price to pay, but no price at all. We’ve converted people running with a ball into an actual religion; not a cult but a religion, complete with temple, priests, and child sacrifice.

    Perhaps our better angels have simply quit, thrown up their hands and said If you insist on being deaf and blind, if you’ve decided that’s your path to happiness, there’s nothing I can do.

  • Sarah says:

    So much this. The level of horror and shock could easily be paralyzing, but how could you live with yourself if all you did was tell the person above you in the food chain and you never heard from the police?

    Someone linked to a fascinating Men’s Health piece that discussed not only the differences in how men and women respond to abuse, but how groups of men and women respond, and it gave me some insight. Because my first instinct, like everyone else’s is “OMG, how did someone not call the police?!” And ultimately, I guess that’s how I end up. No matter what rabbit hole of “well, if x then y” I go down, I come back to “A child is being raped, I have to call the police.”

    I can’t read anything about the Penn State situation without crying at this point. I’m so angry at all of those adults for never doing anything, and allowing this to go on for so long. Horrible, hideous.

  • DocQ says:

    I also think that as this continues more is going to come out which makes clear that people HAD to know. An article just came out on MSNBC about how this situation has changed a high school football players decision to go to Penn State BUT what the headline and focus of the article should have been was the fact that Sandusky, JUST THIS PAST SPRING was RECRUITING for Penn State. No one recruits for Penn State, even in an unofficial capacity, without the great ‘Joe Pa’ knowing about it (or anyone else int hat system). So all the excuses of ‘if I had know more about it’ or ‘I wish I had done differently’ is utter bullshit. This past spring over half the witnesses had already testified at the grand jury and they still let Sandusky go hang around minors and recruit for Penn State? That right there rips a big gaping hole in plausible deniability. Gah! So. Disgusting.

  • Barb says:

    I feel just as you do, Sars, on all points. Horrified beyond belief; the abuse is awful, the hiding it? the ignoring? Pretending it didn’t happen or wasn’t REALLY important. Just as you think many people knew, I think a lot more people suspected, or had heard rumors. So, some people had knowledge, and a great many more had suspicions. For the totality of the official response to be “don’t take showers with kids” makes me embarrassed about the school, the leaders, the police.

    Not good enough. Not the actions, not the excuses.

  • Jane says:

    Agreeing madly with Jen S, especially on the religion thing; this has made me think of the Catholic Church scandals in its approach.

  • Thank you for this, Sars. I’ve also been wondering what I would have done in McQueary’s shoes in that moment. Cowardice in the moment is understandable and, like you said, that doesn’t make it excusable, exactly, but at least I can kind of get why he ran and called his dad and then called his superiors.

    But what I can’t wrap my head around is the idea that McQueary and the people he told kept this secret for nine years. Not for twenty minutes, not for twenty-four hours, for *nine years* — and they would have kept right on being silent if one of Sandusky’s other victims hadn’t reported him. McQueary and the people he told must have seen Sandusky around in the Penn State weight rooms (where Sandusky was still apparently allowed to work out — he just couldn’t bring kids there anymore). How does any even remotely decent human being not reach a point where you look at Sandusky and think, “I know what he did and he’s still walking around free and working with disadvantaged kids. I can’t live with myself another minute if I don’t tell the cops”?

    Like you said, how did we get here? And how can we leave here as quickly as possible?

  • Kay says:

    It’s interesting to note that Penn State is exempt from certain state laws governing public disclosure:

    So we may never know the whole truth of who knew what, when. Which really, really sucks.

  • Jaybird says:

    I respect your ability (anybody’s ability, at this point) to discuss this whole thing rationally, because no matter how many facts I get, no matter how much I reflect on what-ifs and why-didn’ts, all I can come up with is that I strongly want to see someone offed for DOING this to kids, and other people offed for letting it be done, and not one bit of that is right on MY part, but I feel that way anyway, and now I hate those people more for showing me just how much I could want to see someone dead. Yes, that is mean and wrong and I’m all sorry and whatnot. Somehow it just feels like the nonchalance is worse than the acts themselves.

    And let’s not get me started on the “WHAT? JoePa’s not gonna be here anymore! Just because a buncha kids got molested? Let’s riot and overturn some vans! RAAAHHH!” That deserves some beatdowns all by itself.

    Not actually a violent person over here. Apologies. Also not remotely a daddy’s girl, but perhaps “melodramatic” is not an overstatement.

  • Bobbe says:

    Do I think that the responsible adults — and others who knew — should have done something, anything, to stop this? Yes, I do. Am I shocked and surprised that they didn’t? Not really — I’m coming from a different place on this issue.

    I am a survivor of some pretty horrific child abuse. I was involved, one way or another, with covering up said abuse for nearly twenty nine years — as it was continuing to affect me, and then my younger siblings. How many people in our community knew there was something hinky going on in my family — who can know? I can only imagine that SOME of them did, but not one person stepped in to stop anything. Including me. For years. Just this past year, I finally called the authorities over and over– only to discover in a terrible irony that in fact, they can’t do anything in my home state unless the children involved are bruised or suicidal. I wrote a blog describing my family’s dynamics, and published it to facebook — I can only hope that over time, letting some sunshine in has helped my siblings left at home.

    I think it’s wonderful that there are so many people who cannot imagine hiding child abuse. But, by and large, these people have families and friends who would encourage them to come forward, and would be proud of them for doing something. They would not lose status, prestige, support, and love for coming forward. Most people who are in a position to come forward are looking at some pretty substantial costs — that’s why the abuser is willing to let them know about the abuse. When my mom learned that I had called the authorities, she hung up on me and I have not spoken to her since — and probably never will again. My family and friends from back home have by and large ostracized me. It’s ok, because I’m out and I’ve found a chosen family, but for someone without an alternate support system, the decision to come forward is very, very difficult.

    I’m not including JoePa himself in this of course — as top dog on campus, he wasn’t going to lose anything by pushing for an investigation, and it’s completely morally reprehensible that he didn’t.

    I hope this makes sense. When people say, “I really hope I wouldn’t have hidden the child abuse like that, that I’d have come forward” I can’t help but think — it wasn’t hypothetical for me, and coming forward wasn’t easy.

  • Louisa says:

    I know what you mean, Sars, because I am TERRIBLE in terrible situations. I have to psych myself up to do the right thing, because I’ll feel like shit if I don’t, and then once I do the right thing I STILL feel like shit. I hate myself either way.

    But even I know that I would have gone to the police.

  • Doriette says:

    Beautifully put, Sars. Thank you.

  • attica says:

    You’ve got to be right about ‘a lot’ of people knowing. Couldn’t be any other way. The fact that Sandusky never made the leap to any other institution or team; he was not recruited to the NFL, despite an impressive record at his job at a powerhouse like PS. So, it’s not unreasonable to deduce there was enough word out on the street to make him an unattractive candidae. Which goes to your point.

    It’s sick-making.

  • Another Elizabeth says:

    Thank you, Sars. I knew you’d have a good perspective.

    What’s scaring me is the rumor that Sandusky pimped out his victims to rich Penn State and Second Mile donors. It’s only a rumor at this point, but then there’s the DA who disappeared mysteriously in 2005, but made damn sure to destroy his laptop hard drive beforehand… I hope to god it’s not true, but I don’t like the odds.

    It definitely changes the narrative, though. On the one hand, it means that probably even more people knew something, simply because there was more going on; on the other hand, it stops being about Our National Obsession With Football, because what it’s really about is rich people willing to ruin you if you cross them.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Bobbe: I think it’s a different discussion when you’re talking about a (in your case, fellow) victim coming forward. Abusers have done very well for many centuries by setting up a dynamic where telling is not only costly, but also pointless — by making sure the victim thinks nobody would believe them, or care, and by picking victims for whom that’s more true. So I think we all have to be more aware of that and willing to come further across the bridge towards people who need our help.

    I also agree that there are “pretty substantial costs” for others/third parties in these situations. We could easily list the potential costs to McQueary. But: tough shit. Pay them. Compared to the costs paid by Victim #1…?

    Again, victims coming forward is a different algebra. Which you did not deserve to be doing. Eyewitnesses, on the other hand, need to suck it up.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    @Louisa, I’ve said it before–just because you didn’t FEEL good doesn’t mean you didn’t DO good.

    The complexity of human emotions, regardless of what Hallmark would have you believe, is such that there’s really no such thing as such a simplistic equation as “good deed = good feeling” and that’s all about it.

    Even as a little kid, when you were (presumably) dealing with ethical equations that were along the lines of sharing your cookies, and you did and the adult said proudly “Isn’t it nice to share?” and it really wasn’t that great, really, what you REALLY wanted was ALL the damn cookies, but… the fact that sharing was pressed into your wee psyche was still a good thing. Even if you look back twenty years later and really, really, wanted to Cookie Monster those Oreos up in front of God, your playdate, and everyone, the good was still done.

    When you have to deal with something as soul-searing as child rape, you may never feel “good” about it, in that thinking about the circumstances will always cause nausea, weeping, and rage. But doing the right thing will still be good, and still add to the store of good in that child’s life, and no matter how hard it is to remember later, knowing that will still be better then thinking back on how you did nothing.

  • HLM says:

    “Everyone’s cloak flutters attractively in the breeze of the subjunctive” is the kind of writing that’s kept me reading you for years, fellow graduate of Oh God Mom Dad Halp U.

    Part of what creeps me out about the Penn State student body’s reaction, or at least the highly visible rioting one, is that it they’re demonstrating the same reaction that McQueary and Paterno et al. are accused of: minimizing, dismissing, disregarding, because shit is uncomfortable. “Oh, I would call the cops, but it’s a Sunday, and I’m supposed to pick up Marie at the station, and but who knows maybe it wasn’t what it looked like and I’ll lose my job if I don’t show up at the game and aren’t the concerns of the university more than one guy’s word about what maaaaybe happened with that one kid, and well now I haven’t gone and it’s been three days and maybe the cops will think I had something to do with this, sooooo…turn in your locker-room keys, Joe S., and we’ll call it square.”

    I feel some pity for all the people who knew but allowed this to happen, who are now living with the glaring reality of knowing that when the test came, the real one, the one we all tell ourselves we would ace, they’ve failed, and that everyone, everywhere, knows that. That’s a hell of a thing to live with.

    But I hope that they understand that, however difficult it is for them now to look at their souls in the mirror, it was, and is, more painful to be those kids. Repentance and wearing of sack-cloth and ashes, while appropriate, will be nothing without some solid action.

  • amanda says:

    Yet again, you’ve taken my feelings about a situation and worded them more clearly and eloquently than I could ever have hoped to.

    In the course of my job, I’ve had to report people for hurting children a couple times, and in a couple different ways. And each time I’d think, “I CANNOT be the first person to have noticed this. Why has no one else stepped up?” Is it a hard situation to handle yourself in? GOD YES. Is there some self-doubt, some “maybe I misinterpreted X”? YES. But that doesn’t mean you don’t put on your grown-up pants and do what needs to be done.

  • Bria says:

    I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this mess this week. After reading the grand jury report (which, interestingly, was apparently filed under seal and was only publicly available because of a computer glitch?), I found myself compelled to reread Bill Zeller’s suicide letter. I wish the students and alums who are bitching about how unfairly JoePa has been treated would read it, too. Gutwrenching in its own right, it provides a particularly sobering context to both Sanduski’s horrible crimes and the cowards who spent a goddamn decade covering it up.

    I think the part of the grand jury report that broke my heart the hardest was McQueary’s belief that both Sanduski and victim #2 saw him. When I think about that boy seeing another adult come in, hoping upon hope that his nightmare might be over, and then….nothing, I cry.

  • Crass says:

    Unfortunately, this is only too common. It’s privilege – children are seen as property, not as people, and their suffering is not seen as significant. It’s wrong and broken.

  • Cij says:

    Thank you, Sars, for writing this.

    It makes me sick, though, that such things happen and that you have to write about this.

    I agree in your theory that it was probably a bit of an open secret among some people at the school. Unhappily, I guess that the prestige of the football program and school won out over helping the victims. Which is wrong on so many levels I can’t count them.

    In myself, while I don’t know exactly what I would have done in the moment, I know I would have gone to the police. But on the way there would be sobbing phone calls to my sister and best friends, getting sick, drinking a pint of vodka and screaming at the sky.

    In other words, I hope there are more of you and the people who post here than the McQuearys of the world who do as little as possible, and then look the other way.

  • LDA says:

    The fact that McQueary’s DAD never went to the police either, is pretty striking to me. Your son calls you, tells you he saw another adult raping a child, never, ever calls the cops and you don’t think “well, I have totally failed in my responsibilities as a parent to teach him right from wrong and I will just have to take it from here”?

    I mean, he never asked how the school handled it? He didn’t note the lack of scandal? He never realized his mistake in telling his son to talk to his boss?

    No, wait. He never cared about anything but his son’s career, just like his son. How nice for them that they were able to put all that nasty child raping aside. I bet the children couldn’t.

  • Rebecca says:

    I was so disturbed reading about this that I had trouble falling asleep. I had to limit my media consumption on this topic for a few days because it is so upsetting.

    I am so glad you posted this because like you I thought “What would I do?” I have decided to regard any thinking about this that I can tolerate doing, being a rehearsal for difficult decisions that I have to make. We are all constantly, in large and small ways, confronted by situations in which staying quiet and letting things move along is a very inviting choice – but we have to differentiate between “easiest” and “most ethical”.

    When the solution is “don’t bring more kids onto university property” it should be a major tip-off that “ethical” is not involved. That is a squinting, face-scrunched-up, “I don’t want to see it so don’t let me see it go away go away” course of action that is always tempting but never right. Note to self.

  • Deanna says:

    This would have broken my heart and made me feel sick regardless, but I can’t help but imagine “What if it had been my kid” (she’s made an appearance on TN, actually–a little baby dressed as a tomato for the 2009 Donors Choose) and someone had seen her in need of help and did nothing? Then come the tears. I admit to fearing that inner cowardice in the face of disaster and I hope I am NEVER in that situation, but if I ever am I hope the strength of “If it were someone else seeing my baby, I’d want them to help” would be enough for me to act.

    And I am hoping beyond hope that the rumors about Second Mile amounting to a child prostitution ring are just rumors.

  • Katharine says:

    Am I hallucinating? Was there not a prior police investigation into Sandusky’s actions? One which allegedly found nothing?

    That’s the question I ask myself — of the people who WERE close enough to know that this was going on, how many of them ALSO knew that the police had already been informed — and had apparently chosen to protect “their team” over the kids? That’s certainly what it looks like from up here.

    And in that case — what do you do? Where do you go? Who do you tell? If the authorities are colluding with the criminal, then one might deduce that even indulging in individual heroics might be more likely to get you punished than the criminal.

  • funtime42 says:

    At the very least you back away from the door and pull the fire alarm so you can get the kid out of there. I hope I would have smacked Sandusky upsode the head with a fire extinguisher or something, but if I had simply backed away and called either of my parents, they would have asked me what the hell I was doing on the phone with them when I should have been on the phone to the cops while sitting on the bastard’s chest.

    There are so many levels of failure here it is hard to know where to focus the anger and disgust.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Katharine, I believe the detective assigned to the 1998 investigation was told to close the case. I think there’s a timeline somewhere that mentions this…ah, here’s CNN’s. DA declined to file charges; uni police chief ordered the case closed:

  • Dukebdc says:

    “I feel some pity for all the people who knew but allowed this to happen, who are now living with the glaring reality of knowing that when the test came, the real one, the one we all tell ourselves we would ace, they’ve failed, and that everyone, everywhere, knows that. That’s a hell of a thing to live with.”

    This. It doesn’t matter if McQueary is ever charged in this case. He has to live with his actions. He has to look at his own young children, and imagine how it would feel to know someone saw them being abused, and said nothing. That’s a heavy burden, though it still doesn’t compare with what those boys endured.

    I came to the same conclusion, Sars. I might freeze and/or flee immediately upon seeing this scene. But I would hate myself so much 2 minutes later that I would HAVE TO DO SOMETHING. For the pure selfish reason that I would not want to live with what McQueary lives with every day. We all have 9-1-1 drilled into us as children for this very reason-when we are scared, in shock and feeling helpless we can still remember those three numbers that will summon help.

  • Jenn says:

    “I might freeze and/or flee immediately upon seeing this scene. But I would hate myself so much 2 minutes later that I would HAVE TO DO SOMETHING.”

    Yes, yes, yes. This exactly. No matter how you react at the time, no matter how hard it is to tell what happened, could you keep it quiet for so many years? I do feel some sympathy for the people who lived with the realization that something horrible happened and they didn’t do anything, but on the other hand…SOMETHING HORRIBLE HAPPENED AND YOU DIDN’T DO ANYTHING. How do you live with that for nine years? The horror you feel over doing nothing is miniscule compared to what the victims had to deal with.

    And I hate that people keep saying, “Oh, Paterno did what he was supposed to do and reported it to the people he was supposed to.” This shouldn’t be a CYA situation. You can’t do the minimum required and tell yourself everything’s okay. It’s not about you.

  • Angela says:

    Seriously, some of the pro-JoePa supporters act like “child molester” is on some frequency of whitle-blowing that only dogs can hear.

  • pomme de terre says:

    Well said, Sars. I would like to imagine I’d storm into the shower and break things up as well, and maybe I would do that not because I am brave, but because I am a blurter with a terrible poker face who can’t keep a secret and who’d just scream, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” if I saw my beloved mentor doing something unspeakable.

    I can also imagine seeing that, freaking out, driving home in a catatonic state, talking to my dad about it and reporting it the next day.

    I’m with McQueary up to that point, and maaaybe a few days or weeks afterwards, because I don’t know how long it takes the wheels of justice to turn. But if time passes and he’s still walking free and the Second Mile organization is still running, that’s when I don’t trust JoePa or Penn State athletics or anyone else any more. That’s when I go down to the police station — or the closest FBI bureau if the small-town cops are looking the other way on this, or the media if the authorities are really not hearing it — and pitch a fit until someone dealt with me.

    And if you want to be really extra cynical about McQueary: he was only added to the permanent coaching staff AFTER he had dirt on Sandusky, and by extension, Paterno.

  • Bridget says:

    @ Deanna: My overactive imagination is of no help here. I just keep seeing the faces of my boys, 6 and 11, wide-eyed, pale and wet, praying to be saved and watching a savior walk away. I don’t really believe in a god, but I do believe there is a special hell waiting for every single person–the police, the administrators, Joe Paterno, Mike McQueary and his father, who could have saved these boys and chose not to. Panic is understandable, disbelief is understandable, but these are children. You save them.

  • Jennifer says:

    I think I would have let out a loud damn scream upon seeing that.

    On the other hand, I am a 5’4 woman (which leads to the question of “why would I be in a football men’s locker room here,” but anyway…). How well would I be able to physically fucking stop this man from fucking a child? Would I be able to pull him off? Or would Sandusky have been able to beat me up or possibly kill me for trying to stop it? Would he have yanked his dick out and gone running after me if I went running?

    Oh, the joys of thinking out this question from the POV of a woman.

    Doesn’t really stop the judging of McQueary though, seeing as he seems to be a large strapping young fellow who probably didn’t have those worries the way that I would.

  • Kizz says:

    It’s McQueary over whom I’m most conflicted. He did wrong, no doubt. It started out imperfect and went downhill from there, aided by a boot to the ass from his idiot old man. However, his doing that wrong sort of proves that he’s exactly the kind of man that Paterno and his gang were looking to make. He is the poster boy for the program they spent 60 years, or however long, building. He grew up just like them.

    And a bunch of people think that they are just dandy folks and should be forgiven because they won a bunch of football games. I like my games as much as the next gal but that’s bullshit.

    Paterno’s no Coach Taylor, that’s for sure.

  • Angela says:

    “Not doing the perfect thing immediately is not an excuse to then do nothing permanently.”

    Perfectly said Sars.

  • Jennifer in Houston says:

    I truly hope that what I’m about to write does NOT come across as “I’m better than you” or “I know more than you” because I’m not and I don’t. I completely understand what Sars is saying and she puts it beautifully. (As per usual.) But a friend of mine and I were talking about this on Friday and we agreed that, had we been the ones to walk in on the rape, we would have been taken to jail as well, me for ripping his testicles off and forcing them down his throat, her for ripping his arm off and beating him with it. That might be an exaggeration, it might not, because we agreed that as the mothers of young boys, we would have pictured that disgusting, despicable, low-life hurting our own children, and we would have lost our minds.

    @Bridget, you put it perfectly.

  • Rebecca U says:

    As I have aged through advances in television, telephony and the invention of the internet, we as a people learned more and more about the people we see in the spotlight and that transparency is probably a good thing overall.

    The situations with Michael Jackson (suspected child abuse) Pete Rose and Michael Vick come immediately to mind as showing that perhaps we need to learn to separate the accomplishments from the person. However, you may be great in your field but you suck as a person and I simply can’t separate the two and for that I can never cheer for you again.

    As the mom of a 7 year old boy, I’m pretty now I would have done whatever I could in McQuery’s place, shrieking and fingernails come to mind, but as a 20-something, I don’t know, but I would have done something, I couldn’t hide that cause that’s what he did, he went along with others and HID it and that is despicable.

  • Rebecca U says:

    I did re-read my entry several times before submitting and I still feel it is unclear.

    I am in my 40s, hence the history of communication in my inital sentence. As a 40 something mother I think that fury would propel my insubstantial body towards an abuser in the act, but relecting back on the 20 something I was, I don’t know that she would have thrown herself screaming at him. I do know she could not have lived with herself if nothing had been done at some point. That’s the part of McQuery’s inaction that I can’t fathom.

  • JeniMull says:

    Beautifully put again, Sars.

  • MinglesMommy says:

    This is pretty much the exact conversation I’ve been having w/ a co-worker (or rather, she’s been having it with me, and I’ve been agreeing, because it’s all true).

    We all have to make a decision as to what action we’re going to take and whether we’re going to stand up and be responsible for whatever we do, or don’t do. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’d love to see that assistant coach, the one who initially talked to Patermo, get fired. Had he “manned up” (forgive the somewhat sexist phrasing – I’m annoyed at the moment and can’t think of a better term) this might have stopped years ago.

  • pomme de terre says:

    A few months back, when a bunch of celebrities signed that petition protesting Roman Polanski’s arrest, Chris Rock said the following and I think it you can sub out ‘Polanski’ for ‘Paterno’ and ‘movies’ for ‘football teams’: “This Polanski thing got me, man. What the hell? People are defending Roman Polanski because he made some good movies? Are you kidding me? He made good movies 30 years ago. Even Johnnie Cochran don’t have the nerve to go, ‘Well, did you see OJ play against New England?'”

  • Elisa says:

    Well said Sars. There really are no words to express my outrage. I don’t know how I could see something like that with my own eyes, shrug and walk away. I couldn’t. Especially knowing this man has access to A LOT of kids. As a teacher, I have had to report far lesser things than that. A sub offering my kids tickets to concerts and offering to take them to dinner. And my students are all betweem 16 and 18 (and he was hitting on male students – all of them could have probably punched this guy out, he was tiny) but at no point could I have simply shrugged and thought to myself “Oh well, he’s harmless. He’ll never actually have the chance to touch them.” Because what if he did? Even just once? I couldn’t live with that kind of guilt.

    Those kids turning over cars have their anger pointed in the wrong direction. I would like to see them outraged on behalf of the children who have lost a part of their souls forever. Who have been abused and told that that is what they deserve…or that is the price of friendship in the “Second Mile” organization. Kids who were looking for someone to guide them and instead found themselves being taken advantage of. Cannot fathom this ideology. Not acceptable.

  • Jaybird says:

    I finally did notice that I misspelled McQueary’s name. It only bothers me b/c I hate to misspell things.

  • JenV says:

    Oh, thank you, Sars! This is exactly what I’ve been thinking.

    If I walked in on something like that, I am not sure that I would have physically intervened. I am afraid of physical confrontation already, and on top of that I’m a not-very-strong female and I would probably have been scared of Sandusky getting violent in order to keep his secret. McQueary looks like a pretty strapping guy and does not have this excuse, though I would maybe give him a pass on that, just on the total shock of what he saw.

    That said, I don’t understand how anyone’s reaction upon witnessing an adult raping a child would not at a minimum include (after a short, completely forgivable, period of freaking the fuck out) calling 911 and screeching something to effect of “omigod please come now there is a man raping a kid omigod make somebody come RIGHT NOW AND MAKE HIM STOP.”

  • Turbonium says:

    You’re assuming that anyone believe McQuarrie. If someone tells me about a crime and I don’t believe them, am I required to report it?

    It’s entirely possible that nobody knew. Yes, I know, HOW COULD THEY POSSIBLY NOT KNOW?!?! It’s easy to not know things that are impossibly crazy. Like the thought that a man who started a children’s charity would actually have done it as a cover for pederasty. It’s crazy! How could that possibly be true? How could a man be so insane as to rape a ten-year-old boy in a public place, be seen by someone, and keep going? Impossible. McQuarrie must not have seen what he thought he saw.

    And yeah, there were rumors, and allegations, and people complaining. You don’t investigate further–because, after all, why would you have any reason to suspect him? People always say rotten things about authority figures, and this world’s decided that men are all potential rapists anyway, so we’ll throw the PC crowd a bone and tell Sandusky to stay away from kids when he’s where anyone can see him.

    And none of that is a specific decision to not know. It’s an attitude, a belief. Is it criminal to not tell the police about a crime you don’t believe happened?

  • Amy Newman says:

    Ahhh, Sars. In the late 1980s when I was just out of college and brand new to a job in human resources, I arrived at the office to learn that the husband of one of our coworkers had raped the disabled child of another coworker the night before. What I knew because of the health insurance claims that had passed my desk, and only one other person in the company knew — was the rapist had AIDs. I sat at my desk gasping for breath like a guppy out of water, thinking, “I can’t say anything because there are federal and state laws against breaking medical confidentiality, I will lose my job and get sued and this is a very small town and I’ll never get another job!”

    While I dithered and fretted, the only other coworker who knew the whole story marched down to the mother of the child, walked her around the block, explained the situation, and told her to get her child the medical care she needed.

    I’ve never forgotten the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I realized I was a coward and I had failed that child and that mother. I’m ashamed as I type this still, a quarter of a century later. Obviously, in hindsight, my brave coworker was older than I was, more confident, and more sophisticated. But I learned, in that instant, that I could have bounced back from a small setback in my “career” if I had acted, but I and others could never recover from my not having acted. It is very freeing to learn that lesson, and I’m lucky I learned it so young, because I have never stepped away from conflict since.

    Perhaps the pony in this pile of shit at Penn State is that we, as a society, may take this moment to learn the lesson to give ourselves permission to take action in the future if we find ourselves witness to a horrific situation.

  • Kristen B says:

    “… try to remember that not doing the perfect thing immediately is not an excuse to then do nothing permanently.”

    Beautifully said.

    I was talking to a co-worker about McQueary today, and recounted my experiences at college. That how I perceived my professors as a 40 year old who returned to finish her degree was vastly different from how I saw them my first time around. When I was in my early 20’s, professors were parental authority figures, never to be questioned. I was meek and timid, and the slightest negative feedback could send me reeling. However, when I returned at 40 to finally finish that degree, I had a far different perspective: my professors were now my age, and I saw them more as peers than parents. I asked a lot of questions, actively sought out feedback, and got straight A’s as a result. Those 15 years spent away from school and in the workplace gave me some much needed distance from those all-knowing, all-powerful professors of the past.

    Which brings me back to McQueary. Yes, he’s a big, strapping, boy; ex-quarterback and all that. But, he was a graduate student. He hadn’t yet left school. He didn’t yet have that outsider’s perspective. Not only that, he was at a school where his coach was seen as a living legend, who had (at that point) been coaching 52 years, possibly longer than McQueary’s dad had been alive (I’m guessing). So, yeah, I totally get backing out of the room, going to an office, and calling Dad to talk it over. “Dad, I just saw one of my former coaches raping a young boy. What do I do?”

    It’s the next part I’ll never get. Papa McQueary didn’t say, “Son, hang up, and call the police. IMMEDIATELY.” He didn’t even say, “Son, I’ll call the police. If he tries to leave, follow him until the police arrive.” Nope, dear old dad, who was supposed to be older and wiser and have the life perspective to teach him that coaches and professors were only human, after all, merely said: “Come to my house and let’s talk about it.” And after their talk merely advised his son to tell Coach.

    To his credit, McQueary finally did tell Coach. But to his eternal damnation, he did nothing else. Nothing at all. And proceeded to not only keep his silence, but to take a job and become a part of the institution which he knew to be so crooked.

    So it seems appropriate to end my post with the same words with which it began: “… try to remember that not doing the perfect thing immediately is not an excuse to then do nothing permanently.”

    Amen. And Amen.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    And yeah, there were rumors, and allegations, and people complaining. You don’t investigate further–because, after all, why would you have any reason to suspect him?

    Because of…the rumors, and allegations, and people complaining. I’m not being purposefully obtuse; I understand what you’re saying. It doesn’t apply here. This was not an isolated incident; this was a pattern of behavior, and not just in retrospect. It was known to police in the late ’90s, and the fact that that behavior was known to police MUST have been known to Paterno, Curley, et al., and at THAT point, if a graduate assistant comes to you, clearly shaken, and tells you he saw the guy having sex with A CHILD in the shower, it’s not new information. It’s confirmation of what you must already suspect, and if you really don’t believe anything happened at that point…I don’t even know what.

    I agree that it’s “an attitude, a belief.” I fail to see how that makes anyone less culpable. A miasma of denial is not a defense here.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Also, I just watched Sandusky talking to Costas on Rock Center with Brian Williams, and mother of Jesus, WTF. The mealy-mouthing of the answer to “Are you sexually attracted to young boys?” was horrifying.

  • JeniMull says:

    The combination of this horrific happening, coupled with the toddler hit by a two cars in China and ignored as she lay dying, really makes me hope that we humans are waking up to our shared humanity and our need to watch out for each other – or, for the love of all that is holy – at least the children who aren’t yet capable of watching out for themselves.

    I realize I am probably trying to deflect my grief and heartbreak at these awful events into something that can give me hope – and maybe that is a classic defense mechanism in these circumstances. For now, I will cling to it.

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