Charity gave Sandusky access to vulnerable kids
State College, Pa. ? Over the past 30 years, politicians, sports stars and community leaders heaped praise on Jerry Sandusky and the charity he founded for troubled youngsters, The Second Mile. It was a model program, and the acclaimed football coach was its driving force.
Now, prosecutors say that very success enabled Sandusky to find boys and sexually assault them.
Sandusky, 67, was charged last weekend with molesting eight boys over a 15-year period in a scandal that rocked the Penn State campus and brought down the university’s beloved football coach, Joe Paterno.
In the aftermath, some are wondering if The Second Mile can survive amid questions about its role in the alleged cover-up.
The Second Mile
Sandusky was a star assistant coach at Penn State from the 1970s to the 1990s, and many assumed he would lead the team one day, or even head to pro football. He founded The Second Mile in 1977 for youngsters from broken homes and troubled backgrounds, building it into an organization that helped as many as 100,000 children a year through camps and fundraisers.
Among the big-time athletic figures listed as honorary directors were Cal Ripken Jr., Arnold Palmer, former Pittsburgh Steeler Franco Harris and Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid. President George H.W. Bush praised the group as a “shining example” of charity work in a 1990 letter. (Sandusky’s reaction: “It’s about time, George! This is long overdue,” he recalled in his autobiography, “Touched.”)
But prosecutors said that running the charity gave Sandusky “access to hundreds of boys, many of whom were vulnerable due to their social situations.”
He invited youngsters for overnight sleepovers at his home and took them to restaurants and bowl games. He wrestled in the swimming pool with kids who craved the attention. And he gave them gifts: golf clubs, sneakers, dress clothes, a computer and money, according to the indictment from the Pennsylvania attorney general.
The good-guy aura around Sandusky was so great that when some children questioned behavior that didn’t seem right, no one took the complaints seriously.
Troy Craig recalled attending a weeklong sleep-away camp run by The Second Mile on the Penn State campus in the early 1990s. He was never sexually abused, but in other ways the coach’s behavior seemed inappropriate at the time, said Craig, 33, who is now a disc jockey in State College.
Sandusky “had a way of, whether it was a hug or a hand on the leg in the car as we were driving, or just a way of putting his arm around you,” Craig said. “I said this back then to people I knew. Everybody found it hard to believe, or that I was overreacting. I remember feeling as if I was the only one that thought anything was amiss.”
Through his attorney, Sandusky has maintained his innocence.
Experts on pedophiles aren’t surprised by the stories that have shocked so many people.
Richard J. Gelles, dean of the school of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and author of several books on abuse and violence in families, said pedophiles typically engage in a “grooming” process in which they select a potential victim and proceed to “break down the inhibitions and establish trust.” Gelles said it is no accident so many people saw a “good” Jerry Sandusky.
Sandusky “covered himself by being so beloved that nobody would think he would do something as awful as this,” Gelles said.
The mother of one alleged victim told the Centre Daily Times that that disconnect enraged her.
“I just lived with this for so long, and it killed me when people talked about him like he was a god, and I knew he was a monster,” said the woman, whose name has not been released.