My bosses insisted I rework my initial column after alleged pedophile and ex-Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky’s interview with Bob Costas on Monday night on NBC’s Rock Center.
They thought my judgments were too strong, my words were too harsh for somebody that hasn’t been convicted yet, that I didn’t use the word "alleged" enough, that there was no acknowledgement given to his declaration of innocence, no presumption of innocence at all.
In my defense, my mind seemed unable to digest a single moment from that interview:
"Am I sexually attracted to underage boys? … Sexually attracted? You know, no. I enjoy young people. I love to be around them. I love to be around them … uh, I … I, but no, I’m not sexually attracted to young boys," Sandusky said.
It took Sandusky almost 17 seconds to finally produce a definitive "no" to Bob Costas’ gut-wrenching question. And his awkward pause revealed what he really is, at least for me.
In that moment, he sounded very much capable of being the monster the 23-page grand jury indictment alleges he is.
There is a presumption of innocence in this country, and I am not a juror. But after listening to Sandusky talk so calmly about showering with young boys — as if this were a perfectly normal practice — and after hearing him describe as "horse play" what Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary testified was forcible rape of a 10-year-old, my revulsion turned into fear.
I had been operating under the assumption Jerry Sandusky was a sick bastard. The truth may be even scarier. If what is alleged is true, he is also able to somehow justify what almost everybody else recognizes as abhorrent behavior.
Sandusky says that is not him, and he is constitutionally guaranteed his day in court to be able to argue as much.
What was obvious listening to Sandusky’s answers is he engages in at least some self-deception. Even now, with kids lining up to testify, Sandusky is claiming that all that happened in those Penn State showers was a little good-natured naked fun between 10-year-olds and a middle-aged man who enjoys young people. If that is somehow the extent of what happened – and I have a hard time believing so many lied under oath – showering and horse play with young boys is not normal. It is not OK.
And as Costas noted, if that is the case, Sandusky is the unluckiest, most persecuted man in the world.
A jury has to decide if what is alleged is true. The court of public opinion already has decided.
Sandusky was done before Monday’s interview concluded, judging by most reactions to his defense. Done in by his words. Done in by his lawyer agreeing to this Costas interview. Done in by what his pause seemed to reveal about him. Throughout the interview, Sandusky seemed to be trying to defend what he could and deny what he could not. It was tragic for what was said, scary for what remains unknown.
And it is why, ultimately, this case keeps coming back to Penn State officials.
Guilty or innocent, Sandusky needed to be asked the questions Costas brilliantly fired at him. He needed to be asked them a long time ago. He needed to be asked them until answers everybody could live with were procured.
As has been the case all along with this tragedy, the scariest part is the people who had to know and did not do enough, did only the bare minimum or did nothing at all. It was the hardest portion of the interview to listen to. What did legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno know? And what did he do?
Costas: To your knowledge, did Joe Paterno have any information regarding objectionable activities on your part prior to that report in 2002?
Sandusky: I can’t totally answer that. My answer would be no.
Costas: Did Joe Paterno, at any time, ever speak to you directly about your behavior?
At this point Costas sounded incredulous. Frustration crept into his next question and escalated with each Sandusky "No."
Costas: He never asked you what you might have done? He never asked you if you needed help? If you needed counseling?
Sandusky: No, no, no.
Costas: Never expressed disapproval of any kind?
I transcribed this exchange word-for-word in hopes this answers those who blindly defend Paterno for doing enough. Sorry, but he should’ve asked questions after being informed that things of a sexual nature had transpired between an ex-coach and a 10-year-old boy in his locker room. He should’ve kept asking questions until he had answers that convinced him no young boys remained in harm’s way. And there is no amount of library fundraising capable of blunting this fact.
This is not about guilt or innocence, this is about due diligence.
If you were Joe Paterno, wouldn’t you at least want to see Sandusky’s reaction when confronted with the allegations of your graduate assistant, a young man you believed and liked so much that you promoted him onto your staff? Wouldn’t you want to hear Sandusky’s explanation? To judge for yourself if he was a danger to more kids? Wouldn’t you at the very least want to ask the questions Costas did?
Are you a pedophile?
Are you attracted to young boys?
Are these allegations true?
Because as we witnessed Monday, answers have a way of revealing if more forceful and diligent action is required. One of the more revealing things Sandusky said was in response to questions about the 1998 investigation by both Penn State and City of State College police into allegations that Sandusky had improperly touched another boy in those showers. The grand jury report details a conversation between the mom and Sandusky as witnessed by detectives.
"Well, I can’t exactly recall what was said there," Sandusky told Costas when asked about the conversation. "Ah, in terms of, um, what I did say was that, if he felt that way, then I was wrong."
This answer does not make him guilty. It makes us guilty.
This answer required more questions. Those boys who say they were abused deserved the awkward questions that so few before Costas seem willing to ask.
The thing about pedophiles is they do not actually believe they are wrong when they act like this, or if they do they are unwilling or unable to stop themselves. The threat of being almost caught has no chilling effect. They have to be stopped by those for whom there would be no pause, those of us for whom the idea of showering with 10-year-olds is weird.
Taking away the keys is not enough. Telling a supervisor is not enough.
As we saw Monday, the only decent response is to keep asking questions until we have answers we can live with.