There is a famous if apocryphal tale of a Fleet Street theater critic covering the first night of a new play in the West End of London. At the end of the evening, he went to a public telephone and dictated his review. The following morning, a furious editor called him and demanded to know why he had neglected to mention that, midway through the third act, the theater had caught fire and burned to the ground. The critic sniffily replied that it was not his business to report fires, but that, if the editor had read more carefully, he would have observed that the review included a passage noting discreetly that the critic had been unable to remain for the final scenes.
That, more or less, is the position of those Americans defending the behavior of the Penn State establishment: It would be unreasonable to expect the college-football elite to show facility with an entirely separate discipline such as pedophilia-reporting procedures, and, besides, many of those officials who were aware of Jerry Sandusky’s child-sex activities did mention it to other officials who promised to look into mentioning it to someone else.
From the grand-jury indictment:
On March 1, 2002, a Penn State graduate assistant (“graduate assistant”) who was then 28 years old, entered the locker room at the Lasch Football Building on the University Park Campus on a Friday night. . . . He saw a naked boy, Victim 2, whose age he estimated to be ten years old, with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky. The graduate assistant was shocked but noticed that both Victim 2 and Sandusky saw him. The graduate assistant left immediately, distraught.
The graduate assistant went to his office and called his father, reporting to him what he had seen. His father told the graduate assistant to leave the building and come to his home. The graduate assistant and his father decided that the graduate assistant had to promptly report what he had seen to Coach Joe Paterno (“Paterno”), head football coach of Penn State. The next morning, a Saturday, the graduate assistant telephoned Paterno . . .
Hold it right there. “The next morning”?
Here surely is an almost too perfect snapshot of a culture that simultaneously destroys childhood and infantilizes adulthood. The “child” in this vignette ought to be the ten-year-old boy, “hands up against the wall,” but instead the “man” appropriates the child role for himself: Why, the graduate assistant is so “distraught” that he has to leave and telephone his father. He is pushing 30, an age when previous generations would have had little boys of their own. But today, confronted by a grade-schooler being sodomized before his eyes, the poor distraught child-man approaching early middle-age seeks out some fatherly advice, like one of Fred MacMurray’s “My Three Sons” might have done had he seen the boy next door swiping a can of soda pop from the lunch counter.
The graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, is now pushing 40, and is sufficiently grown up to realize that the portrait of him that emerges from the indictment is not to his credit and to attempt, privately, to modify it. “No one can imagine my thoughts or wants to be in my shoes for those 30–45 seconds,” he e-mailed a friend a few days ago. “Trust me.”
“Trust me”? Maybe the ten-year-old boy did. And then watched Mr. McQueary leave the building. Perhaps the child-man should try “imagining” the ten-year-old’s thoughts or being in his shoes. Oh, wait. He wasn’t wearing any.