Sometimes, you don’t stick with your boys.
I know that flies in the face of most “macho” wisdom, but I stand by that. There is common thinking that real men stick together. Whether you think of yourselves as “brothers,” a “team,” “Band of Brothers,” or by any other title, there is a time to break away.
When your “brother” is doing something stupid, warn them.
When your “brother” is doing something illegal, report them. Really.
As I write this, the news is talking about Penn State Assistant Coach Mike McQueary. McQueary saw a dirty old man sexually molesting a young boy … and kept walking. He didn’t stop it. He didn’t call the police. He didn’t defend that young boy. He went to his coach.
Alan Jacobs thinks the problem stems from viewing a football team as a military unit (the same sort of thinking I’ve seen with some of the young men I’ve worked with):
For me, the question that looms largest about the Penn State sexual-abuse scandal is this: How could someone see a man raping a child and fail to intervene? Fail even to call 911? I can contemplate many difficult, challenging, frightening situations that cause me to ask myself what I really would do if faced with them — and cause me to have no clear answer. This isn’t one of them. How could Mike McQueary not have done more?
The answer, I think, lies in the tradition — as old as football itself — of pretending that football is a branch of the military. Players often talk about other players they’d go to war with. That linebacker is a warrior. The guys in this locker room, they know I’ve got their back. Football coaches, more perhaps than coaches in any other sport, play up the idea that the team is comprised of a besieged band of brothers who can trust only one another. (Even at the school where I teach — a Division III school with no athletic scholarships, thank God — the football players sit together at dinner and chant and shout.) Moreover, the coaches themselves are the primary beneficiaries of this governing military metaphor: they are your commanding officers, and to them you are uniquely and solely accountable. I bet it never occurred to Mike McQueary to call the police. I bet the first, last, and only thought he had was: I have to tell Coach.
I’ve run into that … and every time that sort of “brotherhood” is used to cover sin and glamorize rebellion. You can feel tough and stand with your brothers … or you can be tough and do the right thing. The two are often mutually exclusive.
I know what the guys who fall into this trap are thinking. You’re wondering what sort of friend you’d be if you turned a brother in. I’d like to ask you what sort of friend you’d been for the past months and years? Have you been speaking the truth to your friends in little ways? Have you guarded your heart and integrity, or have you been bending in a hundred little ways? Chances are, the big issue you now have to confront could have been prevented if you had “man-ed up” and spoken some truth months ago. You let it slide. You went along with the little things. Now you’re paying the price for your tolerance of sin and foolishness. If you had stopped your friend from drinking underage, you wouldn’t be in a position to wonder if you should cover up the accident they had while driving drunk. If you had spoken to your friend about pre-marital sex when he/she first bragged about it, you wouldn’t have to wonder what to do about the unexpected pregnancy. If you’d have been a real friend before today, then tomorrow’s decision wouldn’t be so earth shaking.
Back to Coach McQueary. He probably didn’t know before hand that Jerry Sandusky would behave like this. In that moment, his actions reveal the true treasure of his heart. In the economics of his soul, the welfare of his team overshadowed his desire to protect that boy. As Jesus says, you can only serve one master, you will love one and hate the other. McQueary chose to serve Penn State. Understanding that makes it perfectly clear how he could (hatefully) walk past that situation, leaving a young boy in a terrible situation.
Our actions always reveal our hearts. That’s true for McQueary, it’s true for Sandusky, and it’s true for me.
Finally, there is sci-fi writer John Scalzi who provides the most apt metaphor for this heartbreaking scandal:
Here’s what I think about that, right now. I’m a science fiction writer, and one of the great stories of science fiction is “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” which was written by Ursula K. LeGuin. The story posits a fantastic utopian city, where everything is beautiful, with one catch: In order for all this comfort and beauty to exist, one child must be kept in filth and misery. Every citizen of Omelas, when they come of age, is told about that one blameless child being put through hell. And they have a choice: Accept that is the price for their perfect lives in Omelas, or walk away from that paradise, into uncertainty and possibly chaos.
At Pennsylvania State University, a grown man found a blameless child being put through hell. Other grown men learned of it. Each of them had to make their choice, and decide, fundamentally, whether the continuation of their utopia — or at very least the illusion of their utopia — was worth the pain and suffering of that one child. Through their actions, and their inactions, we know the choice they made.