The first crime committed in the Sandusky 2002 child rape scandal was not five adults failing to do the right thing – after the fact.
It was 28-year-old Mike McQueary walking away after witnessing the 58-year-old former coach raping a 10-year-old boy in the Penn State football shower room.
Imagine what lesson was emblazoned on the boy that day.
This story first focused on Joe Paterno, the 84-year-old coach ousted after a storied career. But the story and crime truly begins when former graduate assistant McQueary did nothing to stop the rape of a child in progress.
The criminal indictment of Sandusky says a shaken McQueary first asked his father for advice and then slept on it. It wasn’t until the next day that McQueary told Paterno what he saw. Paterno then told his bosses. Yet no one ever called the police.
And it was 10 days before Penn State officials talked to McQueary and then longer before officials finally banned Sandusky from bringing children onto campus. That ban sent the message that Sandusky’s crimes could continue off campus – as long as they were out of sight and out of mind of Penn State football.
While all the skirting, ducking and pushing under the carpet was going on, a 3rd or 4th grade boy, who had been knowingly raped, was left unprotected. It is sadly obvious that Penn State was acting much the same way the Catholic Church responded when charges of child sexual abuse by priests surfaced.
Penn State continues to care more about the enterprise of football than the atrocities of child rape that allegedly occurred on their campus. Should they have canceled last weekend’s Nebraska game as a statement of solidarity to get this right once and for all, to send the message to fanatical students that child protection is far more important than worshipping football?
But they did not cancel the game. One child, eight children, a hundred children, it doesn’t matter, the game goes on. Is this the same ethical mistake they made in 2002 when State officials chose to lamely ban Sandusky from bringing children onto campus instead of calling police. Once again, they focused on the game, the machinery of making money and pushed the “problem away,” out of sight, out of mind, a clear statement of their priorities.
The boy, now 19, lesson, then and now is the same, that his suffering doesn’t matter, that powerful men get away with crimes, that nothing is more important than money and football, in this case.
When McQueary walked away, he made it clear to the boy who saw him that he was unworthy of the former quarterback’s protection, that he was invisible and forgettable. When Penn State students rioted and pushed over a TV van because they were upset their beloved hero was ousted, the message was clear: “We don’t care about the suffering of children when stacked up against our scared football habit.’’
In the end, the boy is left alone. He has no option but to get up each morning, go to school and probably continue to deal with Sandusky preying on him. And maybe, the boy thought, it was all his fault. Maybe he should have called out, cried “help!” Maybe then the big man with red hair would have done something.