So now here comes Mike McQueary, the State College kid, Penn State quarterback, one-time Joe Paterno grad assistant who climbed the ranks until he was the Nittany Lions recruiting coordinator, yet today sits unemployed and perhaps unemployable in college football.
Now here comes McQueary, filing a $4 million whistleblower lawsuit in Centre County court Tuesday against the school he loved so much that he and his wife bought a house in 2011 just steps from campus, just blocks from Paterno's, just an easy jog down Park Avenue. to Beaver Stadium. It was an investment in the dream of never leaving.
Now here comes the guy who’s been questioned, vilified, dismissed and demeaned, all stemming from the evening of Feb. 9, 2001 when he watched the movie “Rudy,” got inspired to go back to work and watch recruiting tape and instead stumbled upon Jerry Sandusky and a boy, later known as Victim No. 2, in an otherwise empty Penn State coaches shower.
“Frankly,” McQueary said from the witness stand in June at the Sandusky sexual molestation trial that ended in 45 guilty counts, “I want to be a football coach at Penn State University.”
He isn’t, though. He isn’t coaching anywhere. He’s a 37-year-old whose career, the one he once poured himself into, has stalled out. When new coach Bill O’Brien replaced Paterno, every assistant got a chance to interview, the lawsuit alleges, except Mike McQueary.
“I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong to lose that job,” McQueary testified in June.
"Irreparable harm," the lawsuit states.
So here comes the civil case, with McQueary seeking money – he’s already had to dip into his retirement, according to court documents – but also seeking the best clearing of his name possible, perhaps with a chance to return to his chosen profession.
McQueary admits regret at not doing more when he saw Sandusky and a boy engaged in what McQueary described as an “extreme sexual position.”
He was stunned. He was scared.
“Severely shocked, flustered, hastened, frantic,” McQueary testified in June.
For some, that’s unforgivable. For some, that’s unforgettable. For others, that's understandable, because who knows for sure how anyone would react in that moment?
"I think, one, you never envision yourself being in this situation," McQueary testified.
He admitted his inaction the very next morning to his boss, Joe Paterno, and the following week to his athletic director, Tim Curley, and a school vice president, Gary Schultz. He never hid what he didn’t do, namely call the cops immediately, pausing only perhaps to knock Sandusky out cold. He was employed and promoted anyway through the years.
"Did I pull the boy out of there?” McQueary testified under intense cross-examination in June. “Did I physically go and assault somebody? Did I remove him?"
He didn’t answer his own questions on the stand. He didn’t need to. It obviously still haunts McQueary, a big (6-foot-4), strong former football player whose fight-or-flight response was tragically wrong.
Instead he told his father and a family friend, told them enough and in a panicked enough state of mind that they told him to go tell Paterno. He did. Then he told Paterno’s “bosses.”
And nothing was done. He hated that ever since, making his distaste for Sandusky clear and walking out of the room any time the old defensive coordinator came in.
Still, he’s a villain to some in his hometown, ostracized from old friends the lawsuit alleges, going broke as he waits for another turn as a key prosecution witness (in January against Schultz and Curley) and served up as a scapegoat piñata for every aggrieved party in this scandal – from apologist writers to desperate defense attorneys to Penn State fans bitter over NCAA sanctions.
It’s all Mike McQueary’s fault. Except it isn’t.
Whether he wins this lawsuit or not – or whether Penn State simply settles – remains to be seen. It’ll come down to the wording in his contract and the opinion on whether president Graham Spanier blackballed him or not. There’s no sense in predicting it.
That McQueary deserves the chance to clear his name and explain his circumstance, to fight off the confused attacks from parties desperate to find a scapegoat, is obvious.
So maybe this suit does that. Here’s guessing it’s more important to Mike McQueary than the $4 million, his estimated career earnings the suit seeks.
Unlike the school janitor that saw a similar act by Sandusky in the shower, unlike the other janitors who heard him tell what he saw and feared he was about to have a heart attack, unlike the athletic department superiors that were supposed to be diligent and honorable but are now facing felony charges, unlike who knows how many others that walked in on, or saw, or suspected, something villainous with Sandusky, he spoke up.
What he precisely told each person has turned into the one thread the Paterno/Penn State/Spanier defenders have clung to, even if it requires a skewering of reality to do so.
In the book “Paterno,” which is essentially the family defense of the coach, paragraphs are spent on McQueary’s initial confusion a decade later about what month and year he witnessed the assault. It’s completely immaterial and most of it was thoroughly explained at the Sandusky trial. It goes with the narrative though that McQueary's accounts were hazy and uncertain and no one at Penn State could truly know what to believe.
“Whatever McQueary actually said that morning, Paterno heard something vague,” the book concludes.
Actually, Paterno testified to the grand jury that he was told Sandusky’s act was of “a sexual nature.” Paterno immediately researched his duties under Penn State bylaws and called Curley the very next day.
Embarrassed to discuss this subject with his 75-year-old iconic former coach and current boss, Mike McQueary was specific enough for something to be done.
Later, McQueary told the story to Schultz and Curley, who understood enough to draw up a plan that included banning Sandusky from bringing boys on campus, contacting the Second Mile charity and reporting the incident to children’s youth services, who could properly look into these kinds of allegations.
Schultz and Curley eventually decided against that, even though Sandusky had been accused (yet not prosecuted) of a similar incident less than three years prior.
On the stand at the Sandusky trial McQueary was strong against a lengthy, vigorous and, at times, purposely ridiculous cross-examination. Through all his testimonies he’s been seen as credible.
State investigators and prosecutors built criminal charges against Sandusky, Schultz and Curley based on his word. A grand jury agreed to indict Sandusky on Victim No. 2 despite the boy never being identified (he has since come forward and is expected to speak at Sandusky’s sentencing next Tuesday). They did the same against Schultz and Curley.
And at the Sandusky trial, he never overstated what he witnessed. The jury found McQueary so believable they convicted Sandusky of four of the five charged counts, specifically, following McQueary’s testimony. It was his word that even led to the acquitted charge, which would’ve required proof of actual penetration, something McQueary repeatedly said he didn’t see.
“I did not see a penis entering a rectum,” McQueary testified.
No, Mike McQueary didn’t do enough to stop Jerry Sandusky. No, he didn’t scream loud enough about what he saw. What he did though was more than any other person at Penn State did for a long time. While McQueary ranks extremely low on the list of victims of the Sandusky case, he was affected.
He’s out of work. He’s out of money. He’s out of his career. He’s out of Penn State’s support system even as the school pays for the defense of Curley and Schultz.
He alleges, in his whistleblower suit, that Spanier’s publicly and privately stated “unconditional support” for Curley and Schultz essentially branded McQueary a liar and ruined him. It claims his employer picked sides and killed his career and reputation. All he's ever done, he said, was tell the truth. And now he's paying for it.
“You’ve been sued in court,” the filing declares to the defendant, The Pennsylvania State University.
So yes, here comes Mike McQueary, 11 months after the Sandusky scandal broke big, the one-time, would-be, Penn State coaching lifer, beaten up and broken down, swinging back with just about all he has left.
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