It is easy to craft your own reality when having faced a moral decision—one scrutinized the world over—and finding you came up on the wrong end of the country’s collective moral compass.
The lesson of Mike McQueary is simple. We can't undo the decisions we make no matter how painful the consequences. Sometimes a little white lie here or a twist of facts there can soften the blow, but when the world is watching—the lie—only compounds the problem.
McQueary was a golden boy. He was a high school football star at State College High School. He decided to stay home and play for Penn State, although Penn State was not his first choice. He played quarterback for one of the top college football programs in America and did it well. He set records as a Penn State quarterback in 1996 and 1997.
In 2002, McQueary was a graduate assistant at his alma mater. He wasn’t fresh out of college. After a failed attempt to make an NFL team, McQueary had returned to Happy Valley. First, as a graduate assistant, then administrative assistant, then his current position as recruiting coordinator and position coach. McQueary was 28 years old.
On March 1, 2002, McQueary witnessed a horrific crime. With the exception of murder, it is difficult to conceive of a more heinous crime than the anal rape of a young boy. That is exactly what McQueary witnessed on that March evening.
According to the grand jury presentment that resulted in the indictment of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, Athletic Director Tim Curley and University Vice-President Gary Schultz, McQueary entered the football locker room, approached the shower and heard the rhythmic slapping of sexual intercourse. He looked in the shower and allegedly observed Sandusky anally raping a 10-year-old boy.
The presentment is specific—the perpetrator and the victim looked at McQueary and he “immediately left.” The presentment found that “no one,” not McQueary, nor Paterno, Curley, Schultz or President Graham Spanier or any other representative of Penn State contacted the police.
The presentment is not a verbatim transcript of the grand jury testimony, but it is telling that specific findings within the presentment seem to contradict what McQueary wrote in a recent email to a friend.
The November 8 email from McQueary to a friend, made available to The Associated Press, said: "I did stop it, not physically ... but made sure it was stopped when I left that locker room ... I did have discussions with police and with the official at the university in charge of police .... no one can imagine my thoughts or wants to be in my shoes for those 30-45 seconds ... trust me."
The clear conflict between McQueary’s testimony and the email became more complicated. The State College Police and campus police deny that McQueary reported the alleged rape. "Absolutely not," State College Police chief Tom King told NBC News when asked if McQueary had reported what he had witnessed, as he claimed in the email. "We don't have any records of him coming to us."
Penn State University police offered a similar denial. "At this point we have no record of any police report being filed in 2002" by McQueary in connection with the Sandusky case, a university spokeswoman told the Boston Globe.
McQueary reported the alleged rape to Head Football Coach Joe Paterno, but his reaction at least according to the presentment was less than heroic. In fact, a grown man who witnesses the rape of a child and does nothing to stop it could certainly be construed as a coward. Had McQueary observed someone holding a child’s head under water in the locker room whirlpool that March evening, would he have intervened?
Why would Mike McQueary include in an email something he failed to mention to the grand jury? Maybe what he included in the email isn’t true at all. Maybe, McQueary’s email was an effort to save face among a group of friends who were dismayed at his inaction. Could McQueary have been so embarrassed by his moral lapse in judgment that he felt compelled to lie to his friends about his role.
Many men would rather be referred to as a liar than as someone who aids or abets the rape of a young boy. It happens every day in prisons across the country. Sex offenders refuse to accept responsibility for crimes against children because they fear retribution from other inmates or just refuse to acknowledge that they could commit such an awful crime.
McQueary may well have told the grand jury exactly what he did, but his efforts at rehabilitating his reputation may prove costly to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as it prepares to prosecute a man accused of unthinkable crimes.