My sportswriting peers would correctly argue that I’m the most polarizing scribe within our industry. Many of my cohorts hate me. The reasons for and legitimacy of their animus vary.
I attribute most of the hostility to my decision to choose independent thought and action over allegiance to the established church of sports-journalism culture.
Having grown up in the 1970s and ’80s reading the god-awful Indianapolis Star, I entered the profession with an enormous level of skepticism about the competence, backbone and ethics of journalists, particularly sportswriters. As I’ve climbed the journalistic ladder, my cynicism has grown more acute.
My pessimism frequently spills out in my column and occasionally complicates my work situation.
I bring all this up because I think I understand the situation Mike McQueary faced when he walked in on Jerry Sandusky allegedly raping a 10-year-old boy in 2002. I bring it up because I believe many of the people loudly and quietly crucifying McQueary for apparently doing next to nothing to stop Sandusky would make the same choice as McQueary.
David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, brilliantly argued this point in a column earlier this week. Citing the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide and random American street violence, Brooks wrote that people "suffer from Motivated Blindness."
Not that I disagree with Brooks, but I believe he would’ve strengthened his column by referencing Motivated Blindne$$, America’s most powerful force when it comes to willfully ignoring lapses in ethics and adherence to law, common decency and morality.
Had McQueary walked in on Sandusky raping a child inside a YMCA locker room, the then-28-year-old McQueary very well may have beaten the then-58-year-old, weaponless Sandusky within inches of his life and rescued the young boy.
It was the workplace environment that ignited McQueary’s Motivated Blindne$$.
People, Americans in particular, are most cowardly when at work. For good reason.
In 2003, Abar Rouse, a young assistant coach at Baylor University, squealed on then-head coach Dave Bliss’ plan to portray murder victim Patrick Dennehy as a drug dealer to cover up “illegal” cash payments to Dennehy. Rouse hasn’t worked as a college coach since. He outed a coach who plotted to disgrace a murdered young person to cover his own rear.
“No snitching” doesn’t just apply to gang members. It’s the accepted and enforced policy in every work environment.
It cracks me up when I hear journalists complain about an institution, corporation, sports franchise or government agency circling the wagons and refusing to break a code of silence. We rip the police for their blue code. Media outlets have a yellow one. We’re hypocrites.
Hell, many of my peers are offended by respectful disagreement.
Last February, I erupted in disgust when my peers who participate in the Pro Football Hall of Fame process failed to induct Willie Roaf. I pointed out some of the flaws in the system and the obvious hypocrisy of the secret voting process.
Based on the reaction of some of my peers, you’d have thought I was Jerry Sandusky.
The Hall of Fame columns are insignificant in comparison to some of the bigger scraps I’ve been in for bucking the church of sports-journalism culture and confronting superiors in my work environment. There is no reason for me to recount more of the highlights. My point isn’t to beat my chest and insinuate that I’m morally superior to my peers. I’m not. I’m freer than most — wealthy, talented and unburdened by the responsibility of children.
No, my point is to illustrate that many of the journalists and non-journalists bragging about what they would’ve done in McQueary’s situation have never shown an inkling of that kind of courage in their workplace.
Man’s most basic instinct is survival. It generally takes precedence over all else. The firemen and firewomen who courageously ran up flights of stairs as the World Trade Center burned spent days, months and even years contemplating how they would handle a life-death situation. Courage, like almost everything else, requires preparation.
There was no way for McQueary to prepare for the moment when he walked in on Sandusky allegedly assaulting a child. McQueary panicked. His coaching career flashed in front him and he made a compromised choice. In all likelihood, he made a noise to reveal his presence and stop Sandusky’s apparent assault. McQueary then further compromised, according to the grand jury report, telling Joe Paterno rather than the police.
I don’t agree with or respect the choices McQueary made, especially his decision to remain at Penn State for the next decade. But I’m not so foolishly self-righteous that I believe I’m incapable of similar cowardice. I say that knowing I have a career resume filled with righteous decisions that jeopardized my career. But those decisions always came after some combination of deliberation, consideration and prayer.
Our most courageous and selfless decisions/actions are rarely instantaneous or instinctual.
In America, our instinct is to survive financially. We hate Mike McQueary because of what he and his decisions say about us.