Skip to main content

In Sandusky trial, a second act for McQueary?

By Jon Wertheim, Special to CNN
updated 4:21 PM EDT, Thu June 14, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jon Wertheim: Testimonies from the Sandusky trial are chilling and horrific
  • Wertheim: Mike McQueary has a second chance to do the right thing
  • He says McQueary was cast as a villain, but he's more complex as details emerge
  • Wertheim: McQueary's account could be very damaging to Sandusky

Editor's note: Jon Wertheim, a former attorney, is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated. He is co-author of "Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won."

(CNN) -- After three days of testimony, the details and accounts from the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse trial are, improbably, even more chilling and horrific than could have been imagined.

Multiple accusers, now grown men, have broken down on the witness stand describing acts of forced oral sex and intercourse, threats and manipulation. Another witness left the courthouse with a black bag over his head, such, presumably, was his level of shame and embarrassment. We respect the judicial process and the presumption of innocence. Yet calling these witnesses "alleged" victims, as we must absent a verdict, nonetheless feels callous.

While no one would dare imply that his suffering is akin to that of a sexual assault victim, another figure damaged in this sordid scandal took the stand on Tuesday, bolstering the prosecution's case: Mike McQueary.

Jerry Sandusky trial: All you need to know

Jon Wertheim
Jon Wertheim

It is McQueary, of course, who has played a -- perhaps, the -- crucial role in the Penn State narrative since the story broke in November. Then a graduate assistant for the Nittany Lions football team, McQueary was at the Lasch Football Building in 2001, when he heard what he described as "skin-on-skin smacking sound" coming from the shower facility. Using a mirror, McQueary could see Sandusky standing behind a boy "propped up against a wall" performing a sexual act. Though almost 6 feet 5 inches, and 30 years Sandusky's junior, McQueary did not physically intervene or call the police. He chose only to slam a locker door, as he testified, in hopes of breaking up the incident.

The allegation lost severity with each retelling. An act initially described as man-on-boy intercourse had become horseplay that made a witness "uncomfortable."
Jon Wertheim

The following day, after conferring with his father, McQueary reported what he saw to Joe Paterno, the team's revered coach. Paterno then waited another day to speak to the athletic director. The athletic director then talked to a superior, who relayed the incident to university president Graham Spanier. The allegation lost severity with each retelling. An act initially described as man-on-boy intercourse had become horseplay that made a witness "uncomfortable."

Initially, McQueary was cast as a villain, the embodiment of the banality of evil. How could he not have confronted Sandusky that evening? Or at least called the cops? And how could he have remained silent as he saw Sandusky in the same football facility and at various functions, sometimes in the company of young boys?

John McQueary's advice to his son
Who did McQueary tell?
McQueary's credibility put on the line

As of last fall, McQueary was a prominent Penn State assistant coach. Since then, he has been placed on administrative leave by the school. His coaching career, to say nothing of his reputation, is in tatters.

But recently, McQueary has become, at a minimum, a more complex figure. As we have learned more about the insularity of the Penn State football program, McQueary's inaction that evening becomes, if not altogether understandable, at least somewhat easier to comprehend.

What's more, CNN is among the news outlets reporting that Gary Schultz, Penn State's former vice president for finance and business, kept a secret file on Sandusky that included e-mails among administrators about inappropriate behavior.

This not only contradicts previous statements by administrators; it suggests that McQueary's initial statements in 2001 were more forceful and clear than they've been portrayed.

Asked about the incident in the trial, McQueary admitted, "I've said repeatedly I didn't do anything physically to stop it. It's been well publicized ... Did I pull the boy out of there, did I physically go and assault anybody, did I remove him? ... Physically [I] didn't remove the young boy from the shower or go and punch Jerry out." McQueary went on to assert that, after 2001, he was so repulsed by Sandusky he couldn't occupy the same room, so much so that other members of the football staff took notice. Why, he was asked, didn't he quit? "I would never resign from Penn State University," he said.

As heart-rending as the victims' testimony has been, McQueary's firm and unambiguous account could be just as damaging to Sandusky. The defense will argue that the accusers have embellished their stories, motivated by the financial gain of a civil suit.

In the case of McQueary, now 37, it's hard to argue there's a profit motive. Plus, having another adult corroborate the accounts of the many witnesses undermines the defense's claims of conspiracy among the victims.

More than a decade ago, McQueary's failure to act with sufficient conviction may have permitted a serial sexual abuser to continue on. If McQueary's honest testimony enables a jury to convict Sandusky, at least he will have made the most of his second opportunity to do the right thing.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

Alleged victims testify as Sandusky prosecution prepares to rest

Alleged Sandusky victim details abuse

Prosecutors: Sandusky file contradicts officials' testimony

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jon Wertheim.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 9:02 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT