The Pulse: Why didn't the assistant coach who witnessed a 2002 sex assault intervene?

Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary on the sidelines in 2009. He testified to a grand jury that he saw former defense coordinator Jerry Sandusky sexually assault a naked boy in the Penn State locker-room shower in 2002.
Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary on the sidelines in 2009. He testified to a grand jury that he saw former defense coordinator Jerry Sandusky sexually assault a naked boy in the Penn State locker-room shower in 2002. (TONY DING / Associated Press)
Posted: November 10, 2011

There is one line amid the 23-page grand jury presentment that marks the depth of the alleged depravity in the Penn State scandal. As a father of three sons, it makes me sick to read.

Here is the context:

It was about 9:30 p.m. on March 1, 2002 - the Friday before the beginning of spring break - in the Lasch Football Building on the main campus.

And here is the line:

"He saw a naked boy, Victim 2, whose age he estimated to be 10 years old, with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked [Jerry] Sandusky."

The "he" has been identified by the Harrisburg Patriot-News and other media outlets as Mike McQueary, then a graduate assistant and now an assistant coach at Penn State. Sandusky, of course, is the former Penn State football coach who has been charged with sexually assaulting eight boys over a decade.

So what did McQueary do in that moment? Did he shout? Did he pry the attacker off the young boy? Did he seek help from anyone who might have been nearby? Did he call the police?

The answer to all these questions is no, at least according to the grand jury report.

Instead, the 28-year-old called his father. And John McQueary told his son to call head football coach Joe Paterno. He did, the next day. And later that Saturday, the two met at Paterno's house. (I keep wondering where the 10-year-old was and what he was doing by then.)

What was said at the Saturday meeting?

According to the grand jury report, the graduate assistant told Paterno "what he had seen." Before the grand jury, Paterno testified that he was told that Sandusky was seen "fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy."

Regardless of what level of detail he was provided, in my opinion there is no exculpatory explanation to be offered on Paterno's behalf. Maybe that's why he released a statement last weekend when the story broke, before this week's events led to his firing:

"As my grand jury testimony stated, I was informed in 2002 by an assistant coach that he had witnessed an incident in the shower of our locker-room facility. It was obvious that the witness was distraught over what he saw, but he at no time related to me the very specific actions contained in the grand jury report."

He continued: "Regardless, it was clear that the witness saw something inappropriate involving Mr. Sandusky."

The day after his meeting with McQueary, Paterno hosted athletic director Tim Curley at his home and related that the graduate assistant "had seen Jerry Sandusky in the Lasch Building showers fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy," according to the grand jury report.

So what happened to Sandusky? He was essentially put on double secret probation and prohibited from using the athletic facilities with young people.

All of which is why many have been appropriately asking of Paterno and Penn State president Graham Spanier: What did they know and when did they know it?

But I am fixated on an earlier point of the causal chain. I want to know why Mike McQueary did not take immediate action.

I am trying to be fair to the man. For all I know there is some plausible explanation not revealed in the grand jury report. If so, it's unlikely we'll hear it soon. His father was quoted in the Centre Daily Times as saying, "The attorney general in Harrisburg told us, because we are witnesses, they told us not to make any comment whatsoever."

But without more details, the situation that Mike McQueary encountered on that Friday night in 2002 seems akin to a passerby who witnesses the rape of a woman in an alley and chooses to walk past.

The event he told the grand jury he witnessed was live and ongoing. If fact, he testified that he believed both Sandusky and the boy saw him when he witnessed the attack. I wonder what the young boy thought when McQueary did nothing. I wonder how that inaction may have scarred him.

It would seem that an adult bore silent witness to subjugation, manipulation, and coercion. And rather than take immediate action, he delayed, called a parent, and disregarded the immediate safety of a prepubescent boy.

Shame, shame, shame.


Contact Michael Smerconish at www.smerconish.com. Read his columns at www.philly.com/smerconish.

 

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