Don Van Natta Jr.’s 6,900 word ESPN feature on Mike McQueary is making waves today for a number of new revelations about the former Penn State assistant coach’s interesting past, and about his key testimony in the seemingly never-ending Sandusky saga.
It’s an incredibly comprehensive and well-researched story, and one that is difficult to digest in one sitting. It paints a tragic story of a man who lost everything — his job, his wife, and many friends — and of a former gambler who was sexually abused as a child. I’ll do my best to report the highlights here, but it’s definitely worth the long read when you have a half hour.
Perhaps the most noteworthy anecdote, and the one that warranted a second ESPN sidebar, is Van Natta’s report that McQueary confided in his players that he was sexually abused as a child. There’s not much information to the claim, but here’s how Van Natta reported it:
Story 1: “Mike McQueary confided to a dozen Nittany Lions players that he could relate to the helplessness of the young boy he had seen with Sandusky in a campus shower a decade earlier because he was abused as a boy, according to two players who attended the meeting and four others with knowledge of it. McQueary did not tell the players who had abused him or when or how long the abuse had occurred, the sources said.”
Story 2: One of [the players]says now that the revelation gave him a better understanding of how difficult reporting the shower incident must have been for McQueary. “It made it even more personal for him,” the player says.
That claim has been thrown around before, but this is the first time it has been reported and sourced in the mainstream.
The second major revelation about McQueary’s past is an allegation that he had a gambling issue while in college, even going so far as to bet on Penn State while he was a player. This allegation had also been rumored, and this is also the first time it has appeared in the mainstream. Here’s Van Natta’s reporting:
At Penn State, McQueary was patient, waiting his turn for three seasons behind Kerry Collins and Wally Richardson. Buddies dubbed him Mr. State College because he projected a squeaky-clean image. But some who knew him then insist it was a facade. “He always kept up this appearance of the star quarterback, the model guy,” says a close friend from those days. “But he was far from it.”
According to several of his classmates and teammates, McQueary developed a compulsive gambling habit at Penn State. He bet and lost thousands of dollars on poker and sports wagering, mostly on pro football, though he also bet, several of his former teammates say, on Nittany Lions games. One former teammate specifically recalls that Big Red bet and lost on his own team in a November 1996 game against Michigan State at Beaver Stadium. With McQueary serving as a backup on the sideline, favorite PSU won on a late field goal 32-29 but didn’t cover the eight-point spread.
As his losses mounted, McQueary owed thousands of dollars to a bookie, a debt that was eventually erased by his father, several people say. A college friend recalls urging McQueary to slow down. “It got pretty bad,” the friend says, “and it just kept snowballing and snowballing. He was very impulsive.”
Whether Paterno or his assistants were aware of McQueary’s gambling isn’t known, but several teammates and former coaches say they doubt it. By all accounts, McQueary was fooling fans across Happy Valley — and pulling the wool over on Paterno. “I love Joe to death,” says a woman who worked for years in the football office. “But in a lot of ways, he was clueless.”
Betting on your own team would obviously be a big NCAA violation, but its relevance to the Sandusky situation is probably thin.
The story portrays McQueary as something of a tragic figure who lost everything in his life with nowhere to go, toxic and unemployable through no real fault of his own. Since the news broke in November 2011, he has been divorced and moved back into his childhood bedroom. Here’s some excerpts from Van Natta again:
Excerpt 1: : Approaching 40, McQueary fills his days hunting for distractions, scouring the web for employment — he’s failed to land several sales jobs — and visiting his lawyer’s office at a strip shopping center.
Excerpt 2: When McQueary signed Statement 1, he was Penn State’s receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, with every expectation of someday leading a Division I program. Now 39, unemployed and broke, he lives in his parents’ home on a quiet State College street and sleeps in his old bedroom. At 6’5″ with a blaze of red short-cropped hair, he is impossible to miss around town — at Starbucks fetching his morning coffee and at Champs sports bar drinking a few beers. He is separated from his wife, Barbara, who lives in Virginia with their 4-year-old daughter.
Excerpt 3: So McQueary waits, his life stuck in its third year of limbo. Last summer Savannah State approached him about an assistant coaching job, but the administration ultimately decided against it. He seems resigned to the fact that he probably won’t coach again. “After a successful and rewarding stint as an assistant football coach at Penn State University, I am in search of possible new career opportunities,” McQueary wrote recently on his LinkedIn page. “I would like to explore any opportunity with growth potential and a rewarding career path. I am willing to relocate within the Eastern United States. I feel I have a broad range of skills and I am extremely hard working.”
McQueary has told acquaintances he cannot wait to leave State College for good. Blowing the whistle has cost him a few close friendships and the respect of more than a few Penn State legends. At a reception at Beaver Stadium during the week of Paterno’s funeral, Franco Harris confronted McQueary, asking him to describe what he had seen and heard in the shower. Harris is among the loudest of the vocal Paterno loyalists who believe the coach was railroaded in no small part because of McQueary’s testimony. Still, the Hall of Famer says he is not surprised Paterno backed up McQueary’s account before the grand jury. “This was vintage Joe,” Harris says, “because Mike was one of his players, and Joe always supported a player until proven otherwise.”
But few Nittany Lions have shown the same loyalty to Big Red. “That blows my mind,” a sympathetic person close to McQueary says. “Where the hell is this ‘We are Penn State’?”
Despite all of this, like most of State College, McQueary still reveres Joe Paterno. Van Natta ends his piece with a touching scene with McQueary at the gravesite of his former coach:
Excerpt 1: On some days, he pays his respects at Joe Paterno’s final resting place. The coach’s grave is along the far edge of Spring Creek Presbyterian Cemetery. As you stand before the burial plot, Mount Nittany looms over your right shoulder. Engraved on Paterno’s modest headstone is a line from poet Robert Browning: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”
These solitary visits are very emotional for Big Red. Before leaving, Mike McQueary always plants a kiss on the coach’s headstone.
Excerpt 2: As for Mike, he declined to comment, except to say this about Paterno: “I love that man more than you can ever possibly say. He’s an unbelievable man. He did unbelievable things. He handled this thing in the best way he could. Was it foolproof or perfect? No. But I didn’t handle this in a foolproof or perfect way either. I am loyal to him to this day. I absolutely love him.”
Another part of the story that particularly interests me was the confirmation of the rumor that investigators got word of McQueary’s story from a Blue-White Illustrated message board user. Without this simple message, McQueary’s testimony may have never been unearthed and the Penn State aspect of the Sandusky scandal may never have been brought to light. Here’s Van Natta:
ONE EVENING IN October 2010, a Penn State football fan named Christopher Houser was reading Blue White Illustrated, a Nittany Lions fan site. He struck up a private chat with John McQueary II about whether Sandusky would ever coach again at PSU. John II told Houser that it was highly unlikely because his younger brother, Mike, had walked in on Sandusky and a boy in a locker room shower in the early 2000s.
It isn’t known whether Houser, who did not return The Mag’s calls, was aware that a grand jury was investigating Sandusky at the time; he later told investigators that he simply assumed the shower incident had not been reported to the police. So on Nov. 3, 2010, Houser sent an anonymous email to Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller describing what John II had said, according to a summary of his interview with investigators. Parks Miller quickly forwarded the email to state police trooper Scott Rossman, an investigator who had worked on the Sandusky investigation in the past. In a note on a summary document, Parks Miller told Rossman “someone should contact and interview Penn State Assistant Football Coach Michael McQueary [in]reference [to]the Sandusky Investigation.”
Houser’s tip provided the break that investigators needed. At 7 p.m. on Nov. 10, 2010, Rossman and Anthony Sassano, an agent in the office of the attorney general, went to McQueary’s home, but his wife, Barbara, told them he was still working at the Lasch Building. She called her husband and handed the phone to one of the investigators. McQueary agreed to meet them anywhere but at his home.
Van Natta was also able to find a member of the grand jury that listened to McQueary’s testimony for the first time. While the Nov. 2011 presentment says that the grand jury found McQueary to be “extremely credible,” at least one juror disputes that characterization. Van Natta also recounts a story from when Victim 2 (the one McQueary saw) walked into lawyer Joe Amendola’s office and claimed that he was, in fact, not abused and that McQueary wasn’t accurate (there are, of course, a number of reasons why sexual abuse victims can change their stories over time. This is merely a recounting of Van Natta’s reporting).
Excerpt 1: Stan Bolton, a 53-year-old employee of the Home Depot in York, Pa., says he was skeptical of McQueary’s claim that sexual acts were going on between the boy and Sandusky because McQueary also said that he didn’t see penetration. “This planted a seed with me — either you saw it or you didn’t,” says Bolton, who was one of 23 grand jurors. The prosecutors “kind of glossed over it and moved on to who [McQueary] told, which started the whole Joe Paterno thing.”
Excerpt 2: “The grand jury report says Coach McQueary said he observed Jerry and I engaged in sexual activity,” the man said. “Nothing occurred that night in the shower.”
Pressed by Curtis Everhart (Amendola’s investigator) on how he could be so certain it was the same night, the man said Sandusky told him soon after that someone “saw us engaged in sexual acts and reported this to school officials.” Sandusky had indeed been notified of the complaint by Curley, though Curley did not tell Sandusky that McQueary was the witness, Amendola says.
“Did PSU officials ever contact you?” Everhart asked Victim 2.
“Never,” the man said. “What McQueary said he observed is wrong. I can’t understand why this was said. It is not the truth.”
Two weeks later at the Centre County Courthouse, a local lawyer informed Amendola he was representing Victim 2 and he intended to sue Penn State. “I said, ‘What?'” Amendola recalls. “And he says, ‘He’s one of the worst victims.’ I almost fell down. That’s not what this young man told me and my investigator.”
Victim 2 also told prosecutors two different stories. Prior to the presentment, he told investigators he was not one of Sandusky’s victims, but several months later, he told them that he was a victim.
This story is a lot to chew on, and will certainly make national headlines throughout the rest of the day. You can read the full story here.