In case you missed it in Sunday Reading yesterday, there was a terrific op-ed in the New York Times by Daniel Mendelsohn on one aspect of the Penn State story that so far has been avoided: the gender of the victim.
Does anyone believe that if a burly graduate student had walked in on a 58-year-old man raping a naked little girl in the shower, he would have left without calling the police and without trying to rescue the girl? But the victim in this case was a boy, and so Mr. McQueary left and called his dad (who didn’t seem to think that it was a matter for the police either).
Mr. McQueary’s reluctance to treat what he allegedly saw as a flagrant crime, his peculiar unwillingness to intervene “physically,” the narrative emphasis on his own trauma (“distraught”) rather than the boy’s, the impulse to keep matters secret rather than provide rescue, all suggest the presence of a particularly intense shame, one occasioned less by pedophilia than by something everyone involved apparently considered worse: homosexuality.
The article makes the case that being gay — or even being perceived as even sympathetic to gay issues — is anathema in certain sports circles, including the hyper-butch arena of a highly-ranked college football locker room.
After all, a guy is never so much a guy as when he’s playing a violent game or hanging with his teammates afterward in the showers and locker rooms, “horsing around.” The familiar ferocious anti-gay swagger many athletes affect is likely meant to quash even the faintest suspicion that anything tender or erotic animates naked playfulness between men.
And with that comes the stigma of being the one who notices that something “funny” is going on. There is nothing worse than being the one who breaks the jock omerta; who reveals the torture and the hazing, or in this case, the rape.
Assistant Coach Mike McQueary is in deep trouble for not reporting the crime when he saw it… and in some places he is being hounded for not keeping the code of silence.