STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – They've all been swept out now, everyone involved in the alleged sexual assault in 2002 that crushed Penn State.
Everyone but one man.
The one who saw it.
Assistant coach Mike McQueary was expected to be working Saturday when the Nittany Lions play Nebraska. McQueary remains employed by the school but will not be in attendance for the game against the Cornhuskers. The Penn State athletic department made the decision late Thursday to remove McQueary from coaching in the game after receiving "multiple threats."
Legendary boss Joe Paterno will not be there, because he did not do enough in response to the horrifying allegation that former assistant Jerry Sandusky assaulted a child in the shower at the Penn State football building. Athletic director Tim Curley will not be there, after being charged with a felony crime for not reporting the allegation. Former senior vice president Gary Schultz will not be there – he is charged as well. Former president Graham Spanier will not be there, either, having paid for his inaction and tone deafness with his job Wednesday night. And obviously Sandusky could be facing life in prison (though he has been extended the luxury of being out on bail).
But McQueary, the lowest man on the accountability totem pole in this tawdry affair, and seemingly the most expendable, still has his job. The one guy involved with Penn State football who allegedly witnessed Sandusky in the disgusting act of raping a child – the one guy in position to physically stop the violence – continues on.
It is curious. Perhaps there is legal protection from federal whistleblower legislation that has allowed him to remain employed. Perhaps there are other explanations. But thus far, it has not been adequately explained by Penn State or anyone else close to McQueary.
I spoke briefly with his father, John, Wednesday night. He was cordial and seemed like he very much wanted to talk, but apologetically declined comment on the advice of legal counsel. John McQueary, like his son, will be a witness when these sex-abuse charges go to trial.
[Forde: Firing prompts chaos, sadness at PSU]
School trustee John Surma didn't address the topic in any depth during his Wednesday night press conference. Interim head coach Tom Bradley was asked about the McQueary Conundrum on Thursday morning and understandably offered little insight.
Asking Bradley about it was futile – there was no way this was his call. You don't throw that hot potato into the lap of an interim coach in his first hours on the job replacing Joe Freaking Paterno. That had to be an administrative decision – and it is a curious one.
To this point, no answers have been provided.
McQueary himself has many questions to answer, most of them based on simple, human instincts.
[Wetzel: Process of healing begins for Penn State]
Many have criticized him for not physically interceding at the alleged scene of the crime when he came across it. I won't be one of them. Would it have been the best thing to do? Sure. But there is absolutely no way to know, for sure, how I or anyone would react when coming across something as shocking as that.
There is something known as a fight-or-flight instinct, and McQueary may have chosen flight at that moment. It was not the best choice, we are sure now. But that choice is not for me to judge.
More troubling is the reaction over time. If the scene was as the grand jury presentment depicted – graphic, horrible, enough to leave McQueary "distraught" – how does he keep working at Penn State for nine years? How does he keep going to the office building where Jerry Sandusky was a regular presence? How do you look at that man on a routine basis and apparently just shrug it off?
What about in 2007, when – according to the grand jury's finding of facts – Sandusky brought another child to preseason Penn State practices? Surely McQueary would have seen him there, the alleged rapist in the company of a new potential victim. Was there any attempt at that point to blow the whistle anew? Wouldn't that sight be more than a man could tolerate without acting?
Some are curious about the timing of McQueary's 2003 promotion from graduate assistant to administrative assistant at Penn State, a year after he allegedly witnessed the crime. The year after that he was made a position coach and full-time assistant.
Fact is, Paterno brought up many former players through the coaching ranks and it is not hard to conceive of McQueary earning that promotion solely on merit. The more cynical will wonder whether it was part of an arrangement to keep him quiet about what he saw. That might be Oliver Stone material, but the question can and undoubtedly will be asked at some point in time.
This much seems clear: from Penn State's perspective, McQueary is better off not at the stadium Saturday against Nebraska. There are too many raw emotions swirling around, and too many cameras to train in on the redheaded receivers coach and recruiting coordinator. There is no hiding this story, but McQueary's presence would have only fed it more.
Regardless, the fact that he is coaching is a troubling sidebar to an ongoing tragedy. For reasons that are clear to no one, Mike McQueary is getting the kind of treatment a Paterno-level coach would get in time of crisis. He's the only key player in that terrible 2002 episode with an opportunity to continue working while this storm rages around him.