Commentary

Parents' teachable moment: Penn State

Updated: November 11, 2011, 2:48 PM ET
By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com

After watching about as much Penn State coverage as I could stomach Wednesday night, I turned off the television, checked to make sure all the doors in the house were locked, poured myself a glass of water, then looked in on my sleeping 14-year-old son.

I knew he was safe, but I just had to make sure.

I'm always making sure.

That's what parents are supposed to do -- worry about their children.

Take care of their children.

Do right by their children.

[+] EnlargeMike McQueary
Getty ImagesMike McQueary played quarterback at Penn State while Jerry Sandusky was still the defensive coordinator.

My mom still looks after me; I look after my son; and, if God sees fit to one day bless him with children of his own, I pray I have not failed him. I pray that I have sewn into his heart the sound sense of morality he needs to look after them.

To do right by them.

I do not know exactly what was said between Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary and his father, John, on March 1, 2002-- the night Mike, then a 28-year-old graduate assistant, told his father that he had witnessed a boy being raped by Jerry Sandusky in the shower.

I do not know what they said to each other on March 2 or 3 or in 2004 or even last week.

But after reading the 23-page grand jury report surrounding the Sandusky allegations, I do know this: On the night of March 1, 2002, John did not do right by his son.

Parents are supposed to teach their children right from wrong. From the looks of the report, the elder McQueary let nine years pass without picking up the telephone to tell authorities what he knew, what his son had told him he witnessed.

This, despite being a prominent youth coach himself.

This despite being a father, like his son.

I ask you, what kind of example is that?

"It's not that he's not willing [to talk]," John told The New York Times. "I think it's eating him up not to be able to tell his side, but he's under investigation by the grand jury. He'll make it. He's a tough kid."

I try not to be too hard on the decisions some parents make with regard to raising their kids. Lord knows I don't always get it right. In fact, I'm sure I get a whole lot wrong.

But damn -- little boys?

Rape?

I'm just not sure how anyone could get this one wrong, but a lot of people did. And seeing how some find humor in turning Sandusky's name into a verb, obviously a lot of people are still getting this one wrong.

Mike, now the wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, should not have to be told by school officials to stay away from Penn State's last home game because of multiple threats and fear for his safety.

[+] EnlargeJoe Paterno and Mike McQueary
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesAfter talking to his father about what he saw in the Penn State shower, Mike McQueary talked to coach Joe Paterno.

He should have the decency not to want to show his face there ever again.

The fact that he didn't resign long before Joe Paterno was fired also reflects poorly on the conversation he had with his father in 2002.

"He did what he was supposed to do," John told USA Today earlier this week.

Maybe.

But I wouldn't want either one of these coaches around my son. Not if "supposed to do" in this situation is good enough for them.

At least now we have a better understanding of why Mike didn't try to stop the rape. We can see how Mike, on the outside at least, could wash his hands of the situation after telling school administrators. His father said he's a "tough kid." He would have to be. I know I wouldn't have the strength to look myself in the mirror every day for nine years knowing I saw a boy being sexually assaulted and I didn't try to stop it or even call the cops.

Twice this week, I sat down with my son and talked to him about this story.

I suspect we will talk about it many more times because it is important to me that he understands what is expected of him. He is to be respectful to teachers, listen to his coaches -- and throw both of those expectations out of the window if he witnesses them doing something unlawful or horrible.

Then come to me, and we will work it out together. If he's afraid to talk to the police, I'll stand beside him as he makes that call.

If there's anything to take away from this terrible news, it's an opportunity to talk to the kids in our care about the people they are hanging around with and the people they are talking on social media sites; to use this Penn State tragedy as a teachable moment about ethics and morality.

Mike turned to his father for direction that night in 2002, and John handed him a broken compass. Then, for years, he continued to let his son walk down the wrong path.

I'm sure he didn't do it on purpose. I'm sure he loves his son as much as I love mine, as much as you love any kids you may have.

But after Sandusky, I have a hard time seeing anyone connected to this story more unnerving than Mike McQueary's father -- a man who sat back and allowed his son's soul to erode in a cesspool of self-preservation and cowardliness.

We are supposed to do right by our kids, teach them the difference between right and wrong.

In this situation, John just didn't do that.

My hope is that he can at least teach Mike how to learn from his mistakes.

And that we, as saddened, angered on-lookers, can learn from theirs.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at lzgranderson@yahoo.com.

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Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine