Media shock and awe descended upon Happy Valley this week, but nothing was more shocking than the outcries and outrage leveled against Mike McQueary, the Penn State football team's wide receiver coach and recruiting coordinator -- and the whistleblower against Jerry Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator now accused of sexual abuse perpetrated upon eight young boys.
McQueary was a graduate assistant in 2002 when he said he saw Sandusky committing unspeakable acts with a young boy in a Penn State shower. Sandusky had retired and was not part of the football program; even so McQueary went to head coach Joe Paterno and reported what he had seen.
Paterno passed the accusation upstairs and his passivity led to his firing as Penn State football coach this week at the age of 84, after 46 years and the winningest record in college pigskin. The president of the school was also deep-sixed this week, and both athletic director Tim Curley and university vice president Gary Schultz were summarily arraigned in District Court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for perjury and failure to report under Pennsylvania's child protective services law.
All of that is as it should be and the law is probably not done with Joe Pa and the others, despite what the students might say on campus. There is nothing but blame to go around in a case with many young victims that makes everyone cringe.
The one thing that makes no sense whatsoever is the public hanging of Mike McQueary, the assistant with hair so red on the sideline it looks like he's on fire. McQueary has been pilloried and vilified as if he (and not Sandusky) had committed the heinous acts. He has been told he couldn't coach Saturday on Senior Day against Nebraska because school authorities fear for his safety. Talk radio and the blogosphere have been spilling over with the spleen of those who would have McQueary's head.
McQueary has been excoriated for not doing more -- for not making more of a stink or stopping Sandusky -- though as of this moment nobody really knows if that's true. He has become a scapegoat, as whistleblowers often do.
But the reality of his situation is completely different. There's a reason McQueary will likely be protected under state whistleblower statutes. In case you didn't get the memo, whistleblowers are brave people who take a risk by telling the truth. That's the right description for Mike McQueary.
A local boy and star quarterback at Penn State in 1996 and 1997, he began as a graduate assistant, an entry-level job that defines the lowest man on the coaching totem pole. For a graduate assistant to go to head coach Joe Paterno -- the most revered man in college football -- with such an accusation against the coach's former defensive coordinator took real guts.
By blowing the whistle, McQueary was risking his entire career, a reality that we have seen play out over the last week. That's what happens to whistle-blowers. They are typically pilloried and vilified for their courage.
We don't have a first-hand account yet of what happened in the shower. In the meantime, the sports cognoscenti should be praising the courage of a local kid at the start of his coaching career willing to risk it all by doing the right thing.
We have more than enough villains without adding Mike McQueary to the list. Americans are always complaining about the dearth of American heroes. Maybe that's because they don't know one when they see him.