NEW YORK – The former Penn State assistant football coach at the heart of a massive child sex-abuse scandal said he showered with young boys and hugged them but called the allegedly criminal contact “horseplay.”
Jerry Sandusky told NBC News’ “Rock Center” on Monday night that he was not a pedophile but, in retrospect, should not have showered with the boys he’s charged with sexually assaulting.
In an interview with Bob Costas, Sandusky, once considered the heir apparent to coaching legend Joe Paterno, proclaimed his innocence in the face of a series of startling allegations detailed in a grand jury report issued last week.
“I am innocent of those charges,” Sandusky said. “… I could say that I have done some of those things. I have horsed around with kids. I have showered after workouts. I have hugged them, and I have touched their legs without intent of sexual contact.”
Sandusky is accused of sexually assaulting eight boys over a 15-year span, with some of the alleged crimes happening at Penn State, where he had access to campus as an emeritus professor following his 1999 retirement as Paterno’s top defensive assistant.
Asked whether he was sexually attracted to underage boys, he said “sexually attracted, no. I enjoy young people, I love to be around them, but, no, I’m not sexually attracted to young boys.”
Asked if there was anything he had done wrong, Sandusky said, “I shouldn’t have showered with those kids.”
When pressed about how two people could claim to have witnessed Sandusky engaged in sexual contact with boys on two different occasions, Sandusky replied that “you’d have to ask” them.
The scandal has hit hard the community called Happy Valley, where “success with honour” is the motto. Paterno and university president Graham Spanier have lost their jobs and athletic sirector Tim Curley and senior vice-president Gary Schultz face perjury charges.
The interview with Costas was Sandusky’s first public comment on the charges. He had previously maintained his innocence through his attorney, Joe Amendola.
“We anticipate we’re going to have at least several of those kids come forward and say ‘This never happened. This is me. This is the allegation. It never occurred,”’ Amendola said on the NBC broadcast.
The New York Times reported on its website late Monday that close to 10 additional suspected victims have come forward to authorities since Sandusky’s arrest, according to people close to the investigation. The paper said police were working to confirm the new allegations.
A spokesman for Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly declined to comment on the interview, citing the active investigation.
Amendola earlier told CNN that his client was just behaving like “a jock.”
“Jerry Sandusky is a big overgrown kid,” Amendola said. “He’s a jock, and for anybody who’s ever played sports, you get showers after you work out.”
Wide receivers coach Mike McQueary told a grand jury that in March 2001 when he was a graduate assistant, he saw Sandusky sodomizing a boy about 10 years old in a shower at the Nittany Lions’ practice centre. McQueary did not go to police but instead told Paterno, Curley and Schultz, although it is unclear how detailed a description he gave. Schultz, in turn, notified Spanier.
Sandusky told NBC there was no sexual contact.
“We were showering and horsing around, and he actually turned all the showers on and was actually sliding across the floor, and we were, as I recall, possibly like snapping a towel – horseplay,” he said.
Amendola accused the attorney general’s office of having “thrown everything they can throw up against the wall.” He said some of the allegations, such as putting a hand on a boy’s knee, do not constitute criminal conduct and other cases include no direct complaint by the boy.
“They have other people who are saying they saw something, but they don’t have actual people saying, ‘This is what Jerry did to me,”’ Amendola said. “We’re working to find those people, and when the time comes, and if we are able to do that, we think this whole case will change dramatically.”
The Associated Press has made several efforts to reach Sandusky by phone and through Amendola, but messages haven’t been returned. The AP also knocked on Sandusky’s door and left messages at least three times over the past week.
When Sandusky retired in 1999, at just 55, he cited his desire to devote more time to The Second Mile, a charity he founded in 1977 to help at-risk kids. According to the grand jury report, however, Sandusky was a sexual predator who used the charity and his Penn State connections to prey on young boys.
Though he was not particularly close with Paterno, he remained a familiar sight around the Penn State football complex. He was given an office in the East Area Locker building, across the street from the football building, as part of his retirement package, and would take Second Mile kids around the football facilities.
The Sandusky interview came on the day when it was announced the president of The Second Mile had resigned. Jack Raykovitz, a practising psychologist who had led the group for 28 years, said he hoped his resignation, accepted Sunday, would help restore faith in the group’s mission. The Second Mile also announced it had hired Philadelphia’s former longtime district attorney Lynne Abraham as its new general counsel.
Separately, the Big Ten has decided to take Paterno’s name off its championship trophy. League commissioner Jim Delany said that it is “inappropriate” to keep Paterno’s name on the trophy that will be awarded Dec. 3 to the winner of the conference’s first title game.
The trophy had been named the Stagg-Paterno Championship Trophy. Paterno had more wins, 409, than any other major college coach while football pioneer Amos Alonzo Stagg won 319 games in 57 years at the University of Chicago.
The trophy will now be called the Stagg Championship Trophy.