Why Scandals Happen: Thoughts on Those Who Didn't Do Right at Penn State
Everyone I know is shocked and saddened about what's coming out and going on at Penn State University. For half a century, Penn State under Joe Paterno has been the standard-bearer for how to run a collegiate football program. But as is so often the case with the most perfect-seeming of people, marriages, or institutions, sin worms its way in... and eventually out into the open.
Smarter people than I who are closer to the situation have contributed much greater editorials and information than I intend to here. What I'm writing about today are some of my thoughts (let me emphasize the word "thoughts;" a lot of what lies below is train-of-thought and logical-leap rather than fact, the point being to express how I've been processing what it is we have learned as I try to put myself in the shoes of those involved) about who seemed to know what when and what they appear to have done with it, specifically, 22-year-old (at the time in 2002) Mike McQueary, and head coach Joe Paterno.
I go round-and-round about McQueary. The fact he's still with the program as WR coach nine years after witnessing the sodomizing in a shower of a 10-year-old boy just reeks of a "keep quiet and we'll take care of you" situation after he told Paterno, who seems to have passed the information upstairs himself, with none of them alerting police (side note: Paterno released a statement earlier this week that he was "shocked" by the indictment of Jerry Sandusky; uh... that now feels dirtier than if he had made no comment).
It's also easy for me to make the case that Sandusky, who at one time was considered Joe's heir-apparent, probably resigned as defensive coordinatior when he did ('98, was it?) because he was probably told there is no way we are ever making you head coach knowing what we know about you, you've blown that chance. But then... the fact he was allowed to retain full access to the facilities and run his "foundation" from the campus is both mind-boggling and criminal.
I try to put myself in the position of grad-assistant McQueary circa 2002. If I see that going on in the shower I want to say that I bust in there, no questions asked, and put a stop to it immediately, AND scream my head off to everyone, including the police.
I also then have to wonder what would've happened had he done that... would the school and Paterno used an our-golden-word-against-yours thing to make the grad assistant a lying scapegoat who had something to gain by smearing a superior? To make it go away? Quite possibly. But again, if it's me, even if my career is over, I hold my head high knowing I did right, and hoping I might have prevented Luke 17:2 from being brutally victimized.
The fact McQueary spoke to his dad before doing anything tells me he was conflicted about all these things, about locker room culture and not being a rat and keeping quiet ("playing ball") to further your career. I also surmise that his Dad might merely have told him to think about his career, and do the minimally-responsible legal thing in telling Paterno, who also seems to have passed the buck. Which might be the most disappointing thing of all, because the image we've all wanted to believe of Joe is that if he were to ever find out something like this he'd have used his clout not to cover it up but to drag the pedophile out by his hair and feed him to the lions.
But there's a reason scandals happen... because people who want to think they're about doing the right thing don't do the right thing because they have something to lose (or potentially something to gain, forgetting or ignoring the part about Matthew 16:26).
So when I think "what would I have done" in the shoes of McQueary, I only hope that I would have both strength and foresight to do something like: 1) find camera or video cam, even if just on cell phone. Document that nastiness so I'd have proof. 2) Bust into shower, save kid, crack skull. 3) Immediately inform direct superior. 4) Tell boss, okay, I've done my due-diligence, but now you need do what is right, if not because of your own values, then because if you try to make me go away this image or video goes public.
Oh but how those nagging doubts and thoughts creep in, and we start to wonder if we're strong enough, or whether it isn't easier for it all to just go away, even if we can never sleep at night or look in the mirror again...
"Because of this, I always try to maintain a clear conscience before God and everyone else" (Acts 24:16, NLT)...
Addendum from a Facebook conversation with a friend...
Within every man is the potential for heroism and cowardice, especially when self-preservation is involved. It takes less introspection to imagine what I hoped I would have done, than to imagine what I could have done/not done.
I've been thinking about this too, Brian. I'm sure Mike McQueary would never have described himself as a coward pre-2002. Probably never thought about it, and if he had, would probably - like most of us - have hoped there was heroism within him. But circumstances, fear, hesitation, lack of time to think, and so many other factors make Hamlet-like cowards of so many on a daily basis. "What might I lose? What could I potentially gain? Is there anything in it for me to step in?" These questions are the reason I still discuss an essay we had to read in our college English class titled, "38 Who Saw Murder Didn't Call Police." Nobody stepped in, nobody got involved, nobody thought of another above themselves or their personal safety. Unthinkable, but it happened.
Knowing these questions exist is uncomfortable for anyone who would ever hope to do completely right. But then, even so many of those who can hold their head high knowing they did right still get crucified (say, for instance, if one had done the "right thing," but it resulted in bringing down everyone's favorite football program. He would, I believe, have been run out of town on a rail. For doing the right thing. "So what?" you say? "At least the boy would be safe." And I agree. But I'm not the one paying the cost, or guaranteeing how much of the truth really makes it to the light).
We all want to believe we're the Good Samaritan and not the priest who passes by. But are we? Am I? And that's what I have taken away as of personal value through this whole Penn State thing: the wisdom to be prepared, to have a plan, to help and do what is right regardless of cost or consequences when I see it.
Friends I talk to say this is different because a child was involved. As a parent I think that really might be true. Hopefully the righteous anger of a scene like that would prompt anyone to action. But what if it had "just" been a woman being raped? What if the perp had a gun? What if it were just a beaten-up, dirty guy by the side of the road like in Jesus' parable?
I pray I think only of God-style love and sacrifice and rightness if I ever come across injustice of any style, and not of cost, because if there is one thing we should know from superhero movies, real-life heroes like first responders, and biblical heroes - being a hero may cost you your life. But there are far worse legacies to leave.