You’ve heard the allegations: In 2002, now–assistant coach
Mike McQueary witnessed former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky,
then 58, sexually violating a 10-year-old boy in the coaches’ locker room
shower. McQueary told his father as well as head coach Joe Paterno, who passed
the buck to athletic director Tim Curley, university vice president Gary
Schultz, and university president Graham Spanier. Sandusky’s “punishment”: He
wouldn’t be permitted to bring kids onto campus anymore.
If the allegations are true, this much is clear: They’re all at fault. McQueary knew
exactly what he witnessed and didn't call 911. (Why hasn't he been fired yet?) The others either knew and are covering
it up, or didn't ask the right questions.
Here’s what isn’t clear: At least six men could have called
911. Not one did. Why?
Why didn't anyone call the police?
It starts with the obvious: “People don’t want to be pulled
into conflicts with others,” says Roy Lubit, M.D., Ph.D., a forensic
psychiatrist in New York who treats victims of sexual abuse. “They especially
want to avoid potentially difficult situations in the future, like going to
court. So they tell themselves it’s not their business, or they cannot be sure
what is going on, or convince themselves that someone else will take care of
But this situation is more complicated than that.
“Organizations are also very self-protective,” adds Dr. Lubit. “The number-one
rule is, Don’t embarrass the organization.
Whistle blowers are often treated very badly.”
Okay, but Sandusky wasn’t caught stealing Cap’n Crunch from
the dining hall. And these are, by all accounts, good men who know right from
wrong—and had very little motivation to protect Sandusky, who’d retired three
years before. I met Tim Curley when I worked in the Sports Information Office
as an undergrad. Great guy. Paterno has five kids of his own, and made
mentoring young men his life’s work. Doesn’t seem to have an evil bone in his
body. McQueary, Schultz, Spanier . . . they all seem like good, honest men.
“The human mind has the capacity to spin anything to suit
what we want to believe,” Dr. Lubit goes on. “So you make excuses to yourself.
‘There must be some other explanation.’ ‘He just made a mistake.’ ‘He’s helping
those kids more than hurting them.’ ‘He’d never do it again now that he’s been
caught.’” Psychologists call this motivated bias—the tendency to believe what’s
convenient to believe.
Another factor: cognitive dissonance. Sandusky seems like
a great guy. “That made it harder to
believe he was doing bad things,” says Dr. Lubit.