We were a bit puzzled when disgraced former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky recently sat down for an interview with NBC's Bob Costas and tried to explain his behavior--the same conduct that has led to charges of child rape and various other crimes. The interview was cringe-worthy, particularly when Sandusky took more than 20 seconds to respond to a rather straight-forward question from Costas, who asked: are you sexually attracted to young boys?
More recently, we were puzzled again when Sandusky agreed to an extended interview with Jo Becker, a reporter from The New York Times
. You can read her here
, or watch video from their conversation at the paper's web site
. Needless to say, Sandusky didn't exactly help his cause with some of his replies to Ms. Becker's questions. From the Times' article, which was published Saturday, just hours before the inaugural Big Ten football championship game.
He said his household in State College, Pa., over the years came to be a kind of recreation center or second home for dozens of children from the charity, a place where games were played, wrestling matches staged, sleepovers arranged, and from where trips to out-of-town sporting events were launched. Asked directly why he appeared to interact with children who were not his own without many of the typical safeguards other adults might apply — showering with them, sleeping alone with them in hotel rooms, blowing on their stomachs — he essentially said that he saw those children as his own.
“It was, you know, almost an extended family,” Mr. Sandusky said of his household’s relationship with children from the charity. He then characterized his close experiences with children he took under his wing as “precious times,” and said that the physical aspect of the relationships “just happened that way.”
Wrestling, hugging — “I think a lot of the kids really reached out for that,” he said.
It's all a bit mystifying; after all, Sandusky's comments in both interviews can be used against him in court, and the Nittany Lions' former defensive coordinator didn't exactly help himself with his responses. So why let Sandusky appear on national TV--and in the pages of the NYT--offering "answers" that actually provide more ammunition for the prosecution. Does Sandusky have an incompetent attorney, or a legal sharpie who's crazy like a fox?
Don't discount the latter possibility, particularly when you remember James Carville's famous summation of Pennsylvania. The Democratic strategist once described the Keystone State, as "Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west, and Alabama in the middle." Of course, Mr. Carville was making a political observation; the central section of Pennsylvania is more conservative than the liberal bastions of Philly and Pittsburgh.
But middle PA also resembles Alabama in another sense: there are literally thousands of people within a two or three hour drive of State College that live (and die) with Penn State athletics, just as many Bama residents swear allegiance to the Crimson Tide or the Auburn Tigers.
For true believers in PSU's extended family, it's difficult to accept the proposition that Joe Paterno's long-time, trusted assistant was a serial child rapist. Or that members of Penn State's administration and athletic department spent years covering up Jerry Sandusky's alleged crimes, allowing a legendary football program to keep winning (and generating revenue).
These are the same "fans" and "supporters" who rioted when JoePa was fired. The same loyal base that generated a single protester at the home game that followed Paterno's dismissal. And for his trouble, that demonstrator (a Penn State alum from Pittsburgh) was greeted with indifference and derision from his fellow fans.
So what does this have to do with Sandusky's sudden "chattiness" with the media. We assume the defendant's will be tried in central Pennsylvania, home to the Nittany Lions' most loyal fans --the same group that doesn't want to believe the worst about their beloved football teams. The same group that will populate the jury pool that will, in the near future, determine Sandusky's guilt or innocence.
While many scoff or recoil at the former coach's explanations, there are those in and around State College who are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. When Jerry Sandusky sits down with Bob Costas (or The New York Times), it's the legions of Penn State die-hards that he's speaking to. And it only takes one of them to deny a guilty verdict.
It's also occurred to me that they might be trying to contaminate the jury pool by making sure his statements are so widely covered that no one with a functioning brain can claim to have heard nothing prejudicial. But this seems like a very dangerous strategy.
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