ESPN ran a story on Mike McQueary recently. The article The Whistleblower’s Last Stand covers McQueary’s present circumstances following the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky trial and losing his job at Penn State. The article gives an account of when McQueary informed his players that he would not coach them in the next game. What makes the story questionable is this portion:
Behind closed doors, he singled out each player by name. “You are a good kid, this is why you are here, you belong here,” he said. “I’m not sure what is going to happen to Joe. I’m not sure what is going to happen to me.” Then, as he told them what he had seen and heard in that locker room shower a decade ago, Big Red began to cry.
The players listened in silence, their heads down. “He said he had some regret that he didn’t stop it,” says Patrick Flanagan, then a redshirt freshman receiver. “We didn’t want to see someone we looked up to get emotional. It was heartbreaking for all of us. We weren’t sure who to believe. You see an older man crying, someone you looked up to. It’s sad.”
Finally, McQueary confided in his players something he hoped would make them understand how he’d reacted at the time. He told them he could relate to the fear and helplessness felt by the boy in the shower because he too was sexually abused as a boy.
The article does not focus on that revelation. The only other mention of it is this:
Three days before he wrote the Nov. 10 email, McQueary had told his players that he was a sexual abuse victim. McQueary would not confirm to The Mag that he was in fact abused as a boy or offer any comment on what he told the players. One of them 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.
It is unclear whether reporter Don Van Natta Jr. had McQueary’s permission to mention his alleged abuse. If McQueary would not confirm the abuse happened, it is likely he did not give permission.
This has prompted some people to question whether ESPN crossed the line in publishing the allegations about abuse. I think ESPN has some cover here because the article reports what players told Van Natta. There is no rule in journalism that you cannot report what people claim others told them. Since at least one player told Van Natta that McQueary told them he was abused, I think that is fair to publish.
Whether it should be published is another matter. In other circumstances, I would argue that it would be fine. Again, it is simply reporting that someone told the reporter. Reporters do not have to vet every statement a person makes, and reporting that someone said something does not mean that the reporter is saying that thing is true.
However, given this situation—the heat McQueary has gotten over the past two years and the attention such a claim would get—it would have been better for Van Natta not to publish the comment or to have immediately followed it up by telling readers that McQueary would not confirm the allegations were true. There should not be several thousand words between those statements as there are in the article.
One of the author’s criticizing ESPN’s move questioned whether they would have treated a woman the same way. I think the same thing would have happened, although the backlash would be much greater. I do not think this is a case of sloppy reporting so much as it is not thinking about the potential fallout McQueary may face.
That said, I do understand why people find this out of line. It is not anyone else’s place to talk about someone’s abuse, let alone out them as an abuse survivor. The survivor should be the one to decide who they tell, what they tell, when they tell, and how they tell it. Van Natta’s decision puts McQueary on the spot in an unfair way, and that did not need to happen.