Who knew that we
have so many heroes in our great nation?
This week they flocked forth in huge numbers - almost unanimous numbers,
it seemed - to tell the amateur human beings at Pennsylvania State University,
including legendary football coach Joe Paterno,
Penn State President Graham Spanier,
and the now-infamous assistant coach Mike McQueary,
how they should have behaved when confronted with the sex assaults being
committed by former Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky.
Sandusky is now charged with 40 counts of criminal abuse of eight minors over a
15-year period, with additional charges likely to develop from ongoing
The initial impulse on the part of the Penn State
student community was to rally behind their beloved, bespectacled Coach Paterno,
who has guided the football program at Penn State for 46 years. But as the story
continued to unfold, the focus turned more to McQueary, the assistant who
reportedly showed up at the Penn State athletic facility one night nine years
ago to pick up some scouting video and witnessed Sandusky sexually abusing a
10-year old boy.
McQueary, the story goes, reported the incident
to his father - this was in 2002, and McQueary was only a graduate assistant at
the time, though he was 26 years old. His father began contacting Penn State
officials the next morning, including Joe Paterno, who very soon thereafter told
Sandusky, his heir apparent, that he would never become head coach at Penn
State. The apparently shocked Sandusky resigned his position at Penn State soon
thereafter, supposedly to devote himself full time to the boy's club he had
founded, Second Mile, the aim of which was
to help "needy" children.
McQueary, who is the last man standing on the
Penn State football staff among those associated with this lurid tale, has gone
into protective custody and was to miss today's game with the Nebraska
Cornhuskers. There have been threats against his life.
McQueary's crime, according to the popular
outrage, is that he did nothing in the moment of his discovery of
Sandusky's assault on the boy to stop it then and there. As one commentator put
it, "McQueary is six-four and 220 pounds. The guy was quarterback of the Penn
State football team, he's a stud! And he did nothing?"
The national reaction to this storyline has been
not only revulsion, but condemnation not just of Sandusky but of everyone else
mentioned above, and most especially the former BMOC McQueary. Everyone seems to
know exactly how they would have handled that moment, it seems, though the best
I have heard in terms of describing actual steps that should have been taken
come from comedian John Stewart, who suggests that you step in to break up the
assault and call the police in one order or the other.
That is the checklist, but how easy is it really?
In my own family, we had an incident once that
became family legend over time, and it had to do with actions taken by a
favorite uncle when he was confronted with a similar situation. The story goes
that he was driving through his home town one day - a place he had lived in his
whole life, a small town - and a flash of disturbance through the picture window
of a house he happened to be passing by caught his attention. He looked to see a
man beating his daughter; a man my uncle knew to be a violent drunk, and a
daughter he knew to be petite and defenseless against her father's rage.
Without hesitation, my uncle pulled his work
truck over to the curb, entered through the back of the house, and committed
physical violence of his own against the drunken abuser. He threw the guy up
against a wall and warned him that if he ever laid his hands on that girl again
that he would beat him senseless.
That story was unverifiable. It was, in fact,
told by that same favorite uncle, along with a long collection he had of stories
he would tell about times in which he had taken down some threat against whom
others were hopeless. In fact, I had two other tough guy uncles who had similar
legacies of heroic violence, and some cousins, too.
I never saw any of these heroics, in truth, but
have sort of incorporated them into whatever mythologies could be molded around
my larger clan associations, because I suppose I need these stories. They seem
to hint at something greater within us all, that we should feel guilt about not
being capable of summoning at will as situations arise.
Where one may be
hesitant to confront a belligerent drunk for fear of what irrational violence
may ensue, asserting one's self into the affairs of a sexual predator is another
thing entirely, or so one could logically assume. Sexual predators are fueled by
damaged psyches and prying open that Pandora's Box could expose a person to
Is that what is happening with the
Ray Gricar story? Gricar is a former district
attorney who chose not to prosecute Sandusky in 1998, after investigators
recorded a conversation between Sandusky and the mother of a boy who had
reported Sandusky's abuse. When Sandusky apologized, D.A. Gricar dropped the
case, but then in 2005 Gricar simply disappeared, though not without a trace.
The New York Times has reported that Gricar's car was found abandoned, his
laptop recovered months later in a river without a hard drive, but that Gricar's
body has never been found.
Sandusky, who is currently free on $100,000 bail
-- also a hot debate topic this week -- is certainly "twisted" and very possibly
psychotic, whether or not he had anything to do with the disappearance of D.A.
If that is true, it is staggering
to imagine that Joe Paterno could have worked with this guy all these years --
Sandusky is 67 years old -- and somehow not have noticed what an odd duck he
must have seemed. The kids he molested called him a "weirdo". Wouldn't
weirdness have manifested itself in day-to-day interactions with others?
Have you ever been around a university athletic
facility? Or possibly a military camp? Or have you ever read anything about the
There is something inherently sexual, and
violently so, about male institutions. And there are reasons that as males
mature into puberty that you get this schism that in high school typically plays
out as the "jocks versus the geeks" and why opinions on either side are strongly
For the single mothers of boys in need of
fatherly direction, Sandusky's "Second Mile" foundation must have seemed like a
stellar opportunity, combining associations with a high profile athlete and
America's reverence of big-time college sports with perquisites and benefits
otherwise impossible for a kid from those backgrounds to imagine.
We send such mixed messages to kids, vulnerable
and not anywhere near fully developed enough physically and intellectually to
protect themselves in a world that grownups often misapprehend.
And as for heroism?
We live in a constellation of pain of
suffering, of opportunities to do heroic things and help our fellow man, but by
and large we look the other way.
At least 40
percent of American voters will vote for anti-government Republican and Tea
Party policies out of pure unwillingness to accept that their fellow citizens
could handle the responsibility of efficiently managing benefit payments.
And that gives that 40 percent the benefit of the doubt, because some percentage
of that number harbor resentment against anyone who would even claim to need
help and assistance (read Herman Cane and the notion that people "should blame
themselves for not having jobs...").
Of that group, some small percentage might pull
Jerry Sandusky off that kid, were they to encounter him in that shower at the
Penn State athletic facility in 2002, and...do what? Assault him? And then call
And then spend the rest of their lives embroiled
in the twisted wreckage of Jerry Sandusky's psyche within the nightmare
corridors of the American judicial system?
Heroism, it turns out, is a complicated decision
to make when it may only be the beginning of something long and awful, not the
So what do you do in that situation? You probably
do what Mike McQueary did, which was to escalate the issue up the ladder of
authority, or otherwise to act as instructed and report the incident to a
supervisor. That includes the police, who are better resourced to handle
psychopaths than was graduate assistant Mike McQueary, and there is where the
chain of responsibility fell apart. McQueary, Paterno...they should have all
called the police.
As for the
public machismo, save it for the polling place if you still believe it counts.
There are a nation of people being abused by life every day. And you can help,
Hercules, but will you?