Only days after his confounding interview with the New York Times, Jerry Sandusky, the once revered assistant football coach at Penn State was arrested on additional sex-abuse charges. In a four-hour session, over two days with Jo Becker, a reporter at the Times, the former coach characterized moments with children from his charity as “precious times,” while acknowledging that he showered with boys, slept alone with them in hotel rooms, blew on their stomachs, and often wrestled with them. Mr. Sandusky maintains his innocence against allegations that he sexually abused children.
At best, the print interview (there is an audio recording as well) portrays Sandusky as a man who viewed himself as a confused, chaotic, father-figure who did not always observe adult boundaries with children who were not his own. He viewed those who are now described as victims by prosecutors, as his “kids.” As such, the lines of intimacy (he seems to suggest) were not always clear. Is this a new defense strategy? Perhaps. Is it a viable one? Not really.
Mr. Sandusky’s character defense, beyond consistent claims of his innocence, is that he was good to many children and that these children benefited from his largess, time, and affiliation with the Penn State football program. This may be true. The grand-jury presentment describes the gifts that many of the victims received, ranging from golf clubs to computers and cash. But, in this way, Mr. Sandusky’s lawyer casts the coach as a victim of his own generosity and goodwill toward abused and neglected children. The original grand-jury presentment indicates that leaders at Penn State didn’t think Sandusky’s character fit the profile of a pedophile. Indeed, it was not only their lack of leadership and good judgment, but naiveté that makes this case important for public discourse.
For example, pedophiles do not molest all the children with whom they are in contact. Nor are pedophiles an obvious, leering, stereotype, itching at the sight of every child they encounter. Rather, counted among those who abuse children are judges, coaches, teachers, and other professionals in whom not only children, but parents trust. Among sex offenders are fathers and father-like individuals. Thus, it could be true that Mr. Sandusky built strong relationships with kids from the camp he ran as well as among members of the football team who were never exposed to the type of brutality described in the grand jury presentment. But that’s irrelevant; child molestation and generosity to strangers and friends are not mutually exclusive.
Mr. Sandusky acknowledges that his image is tarnished and that his “circle” has diminished. In light of that, and a significant prison sentence if convicted, his lawyer might hope to reshape his grand-jury presentment image, in which Sandusky is characterized as a man so brazen that he allegedly raped a 10-year-old in the Penn State locker-room shower. If portrayed as an attentive “father figure” rather than a coach without boundaries, this could be the answer his lawyer offers to the resounding question: “Why did Jerry Sandusky think it was ok to shower with little boys?”
The NY Times interview is not fully captured in print, nor is the audio recording a full verbatim account. But the interview sheds some light, even if limited, on Mr. Sandusky’s home life.
For example, Mr. Sandusky characterizes his home as previously in “turmoil.” He vaguely refers to his wife as having “concerns” at one time. He seems confused about the order in which his adopted were brought into the family. In response to his only other known interview (since his indictment) with Bob Costas, Sandusky responded, “If I say ‘no, I’m not attracted to boys,’ that is not the truth, because I’m attracted to young people. … I enjoy spending time with young people.” Mr. Sandusky’s lawyer, who was present for the interview, interrupted at that point to clarify that what Jerry Sandusky meant to say is that he is not “sexually attracted” to kids.
The interview was published Saturday, December 3, 2011, and by the following Wednesday, Sandusky was arrested on 12 new charges. The expanded case stems from the accounts of two young men, Victim 9 and 10 in the new grand jury presentment, who testified that they were sexually abused by Jerry Sandusky, starting between the ages of 10 and 12. As boys, both participated in the Second Mile Program, which was founded by Jerry Sandusky to help impoverished youths. The new charges include allegations of sodomy, anal penetration, and other forms of sex abuse at Sandusky’s home as well as at a hotel, and on the Penn State campus. The new grand jury presentment details the allegations.