Who is Jerry Sandusky?

Jerry Sandusky started a refuge for troubled children, the Second Mile, in '77 with his wife, Dottie.
Jerry Sandusky started a refuge for troubled children, the Second Mile, in '77 with his wife, Dottie. (ANDY COLWELL / The Patriot-News)
Posted: November 06, 2011

So what manner of a man is this Jerry Sandusky?

On Nov. 13, 1999, he received a standing ovation from a crowd of 96,480.

It was the occasion of his official retirement as dean of Linebacker U's impenetrable defense. For a long, long time, he was thought to be the successor to Joe Paterno. When he finally decided to leave the fold, after 32 years of unswerving loyalty and uncommon patience, they had him run out onto the Beaver Stadium sod for the last time.

What must that have felt like, to hear a whole stadium of fans, on their feet, chanting your name, with Happy Valley reverberating with thunderclaps of applause and former players encircling you with hugs? The man with the silver hair grinned that engaging, lopsided grin, patently uncomfortable in the spotlight. Ego has never been a problem with him.

But there are no grins now. There is shock and there is disbelief, there is anger and hurt, there is a vague, unsettling sense of betrayal, and there is righteous indignation, and there are questions. So many questions.

And no matter how this ends, either justice will be served, as it should be, or an innocent man will be exonerated, which is also as it should be. But no matter what is proven, or mis-proven, this will linger long into the night, like an uncomfortable silence, no one knowing quite what to say, but wanting not to believe.

The headlines are inflammatory and accusatory: Former Lions Coach Faces Multiple Sex Crimes.

My first reaction was that there had been a mistake of some sort. They have the wrong man. This is a man who has been a fisher of lost souls, not a predator.

It has been over 10 years since Sandusky left Penn State to devote all of his time to the Second Mile, a charitable organization he and his wife started in 1977 as a sanctuary, a safe house, for children at risk.

It is a noble undertaking, and it has grown and grown, and it is estimated that it reaches 100,000 kids a year. The name comes from the Sermon on the Mount - "And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile."

Along the way, Jerry and Dottie, unable to have children of their own, began to adopt. They found they couldn't stop, and reached six before they finally got around to stopping. Oh, and there were foster children, too. Always room for one more, somehow.

His mother, Evie, said in an interview in 1982: "It's the way he's always been. I guess it's his nature that he's never quite happy unless he's helping someone else."

He came by that through his parents, who in Washington, Pa., in 1953, signed up as live-in directors of the Brownson House, a local rec center teetering on the brink of foreclosure. They persuaded the town fathers to keep Brownson House going, and they moved in. Permanently. Sandusky was 9. That stayed with him all his life and set him on a course of helping others.

"I saw kids coming through Brownson House, and never had a family or a home or anyone to care about them," he said. "It's what we try to give."

He went to Penn State and was a starting defensive end from 1963 to '65. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in health and physical education in 1966 and 1970. He was the assistant basketball and track coach at Juniata College in 1967-68 and was offensive line coach at Boston University in 1968.

And then he came to Happy Valley. There followed a flurry of all-American linebackers, 10 in all.

It was not always chuckles in Happy Valley - Sandusky said the give-and-take in staff meetings sometimes turned rancorous and passions ran high. Paterno fired him. More than once. And then rehired him on the spot.

The Penn State staff was - still is - the stuff of legend. Assistant coaches don't leave. Well, hardly ever. Hey, it's Camelot, isolated and insulated, who wants to bail?

Sandusky was approached on several occasions about the head job elsewhere. The closest he came, he said, was Maryland. And when he finally did leave, it was completely out of football. The Second Mile needed his full attention. He couldn't say no.

All that he accomplished on the field pales in comparison to what he and Dottie have done off it.

So then, what manner of a man is this Jerry Sandusky? Teacher. Mentor. Humanitarian. Rescuer of the lost and the troubled. A compassionate man. A doer of great, shining deeds.

And, yes, even though it makes me squirm in anguish to write this, perhaps possessed of a dark side.

It is, after all, not a new story, the predator and the innocent.

It is to be fervently wished that this is not one of them.

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