Mike McQueary is in the center of a firestorm.
In one of the ugliest episodes in college football history, longtime defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky allegedly raped a 10-year old boy in the Penn State locker room around 9:30 pm on March 1, 2002, and the crime went unreported for years.
Under oath, McQueary told a grand jury that he saw the rape take place. Not only did he not break up the sexual assault, he didn't call the authorities.
Instead, McQueary called his father, and told head coach Joe Paterno. When faced with a situation of child rape, McQueary chose to leave the scene. If all the reported facts about the case are accurate, the 10-year-old boy needed McQueary's help, and the then-28-year-old aspiring coach chose himself, Sandusky, and the reputation of Penn State at the time, over saving the boy.
In 2002, Sandusky was three years into his retirement after 20 years of being a key part of the defensive staff of Penn State, a famed football program that won two national championships. Sandusky was highly respected for his knowledge of the game, and for McQueary to see a man of such prestige involved in such a nefarious act would be cause for great shock.
But the shock should eventually wear off. After that, it was McQueary's moral responsibility to report Sandusky. Though he reported it to Paterno, he knew that Sandusky wasn't brought to justice.
Sandusky faces 40 counts of alleged sexual abuse of young boys over a 15-year span, and McQueary, Paterno, and Penn State officials could have perhaps prevented several boys from being sexually assaulted if they simply picked up the phone and called the police.
According to ESPN, Sandusky was prohibited from holding youth sports camps on campus in 2002, but continued to hold them through 2008 under his Sandusky Associates company at the university's Behrend campus, just outside Erie. He also held other football camps for boys in fourth grade through high school, and offered personal attention and coaching.
It is hard to comprehend how members of the Penn State athletic department knew of Sandusky's behavior, and were idle as he continued to work with children. It is particularly egregious for McQueary, who saw it happen first hand. McQueary is the now the sole witness of the alleged sexual assault, as the other witness, a janitor, now suffers from dementia, and won't be able to provide credible information about what he knew.
Why did the Penn State athletic department keep silent? Did they think their friend and former colleague rightfully deserved to be spared jail time? Were they trying to minimize the potential damage to the program's reputation? Did they fear their own careers were in jeopardy by alerting the authorities?
It's difficult to say whether McQueary was trying to protect his position as a graduate assistant at the time. There are thousands of men in their 20s who strive for the opportunity to have a graduate assistant job, as the position can lead to assistant coaching jobs, which McQueary ultimately achieved.
Beyond those years climbing the coaching ladder, McQueary apparently kept quiet. As with the Catholic Church sex-abuse cases that have been revealed in recent years, there was a code of silence surrounding Sandusky at Penn State that is now far more damaging than if the crimes had been immediately reported.
After years of secrecy over Sandusky, the fallout is here. Paterno, McQueary, and others at Penn State have their reputations permanently damaged unless new information surfaces that contradicts the stories that have been reported.
To many, the reputation of Paterno is sacred. Considered a warm-hearted man who deeply cared about the community and about his players, Paterno has been an important part of the university and the surrounding area for decades. Simultaneously, he was successful in bringing prominence to Penn State with a successful football program. The only college football coach to have ever won Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year, he was the face of the Nittany Lions.
Many students and fans wanted to see Paterno walk the sidelines, at least one more time, when the team played Nebraska on Saturday, in what would have been a high-profile game regardless of Paterno's standing. Instead, Saturday's game will have a dark cloud hanging over it.
McQueary will be present at the stadium as the wide receivers coach, as he continues to be employed by Penn State. There hasn't been any reason given as to why he wasn't fired along with Paterno. Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports suggested that it's possible that Penn State fears a lawsuit by McQueary under whistle-blower laws, and the Pennsylvania attorney general might not want McQueary alienated as charges might be brought up on Paterno.
No matter what happens with McQueary from here on out with Penn State, his life will never be the same. Questions will always surround him about his role in not reporting Sandusky, and he may never receive another coaching job.
The victims are neither Paterno nor McQueary, and certainly not the Penn State fans who would have wanted a final chance to say good-bye to their avuncular head coach in his last game roaming the sidelines of Beaver Stadium.
No, the victims are the young men who are perhaps permanently scarred by Sandusky. Their lives will never be the same, and unlike McQueary, they had no choice in the matter.
Theo Fleury, a star NHL right wing, co-wrote the autobiography Playing with Fire, which detailed the sexual abuse he endured from his former hockey coach Graham James. Others made allegations about James, as well, including Sheldon Kennedy, another right wing who would go on to play in the NHL.
The psychological damage done to Fleury was devastating. He battled drug and alcohol addictions, and contemplated suicide, going as far as to put a gun in his mouth. This is not to suggest that others who have been sexually assaulted are subjected to the same type of trauma, but Fleury's story provides some understanding of what sex-abuse victims may go through.
It's hard to feel sympathy for McQueary, Paterno, and the others who were involved with the Sandusky scandal when considering the irreparable damage they've done to Sandusky's alleged victims.