The other victim in the Sandusky verdict: Mike McQueary, the Good Soldier
Mike McQueary reported apparent child sex abuse, but he's blamed for not doing enough. American men may call the rule-breaking Lone Ranger their hero, but they are raised to be the Good Soldier or Team Player. It’s easy to blame McQueary for not being the exception.
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I don’t mean to suggest that these two narratives are mutually exclusive. In certain circumstances the Good Soldier acts like a Superhero. Sometimes the team player ignores the coach’s orders and saves the day. But that’s the exception, not the rule. And it’s too easy to blame McQueary for not being the exception that day.Skip to next paragraph
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There is a terrible dark side to the respect for authority that we demand from our children. When you spend time with a four-year old who hasn’t started school yet, you notice how challenging he is: He questions everything. He asks you pointed, impolite questions. He doesn’t agree with everything you say. Now talk to his eight-year-old brother or sister. The independence is gone, replaced by a polite respect for authority. It’s the beginning of a lifetime of conditioning.
And that conditioning is accelerated and deepened when children play organized sports. Unfortunately, that’s the only kind of sports left for children in America to play. In the past, kids grew up playing pick-up games. They might not meet a coach until they were 12. Not today.
Kids are often introduced to coaches and sports at the same time. Four year olds are on t-ball teams and play in soccer leagues. Before they develop any love of competition or a passion for the game, they are faced with the notion that sports is an organization ruled by an authority. The code of honor that lead McQueary to believe he told the only authority that mattered starts early and runs deep.
I’m not suggesting we raise anarchists. I get the fact that society needs Good Soldiers and Team Players. Those are the qualities that make good neighbors and good citizens. But we need whistleblowers, too. We need a lot more Lone Rangers.
We need to think twice when we tell children to stop asking so many questions. We need to stop working so hard to convince our children that their teachers, clergy, and coaches always know best. Because far too often they don’t.
We need to find ways to teach Good Soldiers and Team Players to question authority while still respecting it. In fact, we need to go one step further and teach them that questioning authority is the best way to show respect for it. And any authority that challenges that notion isn’t worthy of respect.
Jim Sollisch is creative director at Marcus Thomas Advertising.