Jerry Sandusky Called Himself 'The Great Pretender'

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CNN goes in depth to examine Jerry Sandusky's "make-believe world." Ann O'Neill and Wayne Drash read the disgraced former Penn State University defensive coordinator's memoir and interview former friends and associates to try to map the man behind the child sex abuse scandal that has rocked his former employer, and brought down Joe Paterno, the winningest college football coach in history.

Some of their findings.

The nickname:

Sandusky called himself "The Great Pretender," he writes in his autobiography, Touched. The nickname, like the memoir's title, is one of the things that now seem "creepy" in light of the abuse allegations, O'Neill and Drash write. The nickname is one he gave himself while performing in a band for children at his charity, Second Mile.

Sandusky tried to explain:

"I believe I live a good part of my life in a make-believe world. I enjoyed pretending as a kid, and I love doing the same as an adult with these kids," he writes. He recalls words spoken by the father he idolized and tried so hard to emulate: "'Jer,' he said, 'you could mess up a free lunch.'"

Throughout his own account of his life, he reveals little of the internal workings of his mind. But he characterizes his pranks and "goofball" humor as a kind of "insanity."

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The "Bug House":

Sandusky befriended a mentally disabled boy from the recreation center run by his parents. (In the memoir, he refers to it as "the Bug House.") And his impulse to form his own charity for troubled boys seems to have come directly from his father's example.

His father coached football, basketball and wrestling and worked hard to embody the slogan on a sign in his office: "Don't give up on a bad boy, because he might turn out to be a great young man." He tutored neighborhood children and took in troubled kids, giving them chores and making them feel important.

"Artie had strength and leadership and charisma," says Larry Romboski, who became a local basketball star under Art Sandusky's wing. "I know a lot of people benefited from Artie's work, and I am one of them. I wouldn't be where I am now without Artie Sandusky."

He didn't write about football:

Sandusky's co-author for Touched says he "had to prod him to include football tales. 'That's what you're famous for,' Richeal reminded him." Instead Sandusky was focused on writing about the boys he had come to know through Second Mile.

Except for his wife and daughter, Sandusky hardly mentions women and girls in the book. Instead, he refers time and again to "special" boys he has grown close to over the years. They meant as much as, if not more than, football.

The walls of Sandusky's home and office were covered with photographs of children he befriended. "They are kids that have touched my life and have been a part of me for a long, long time," he writes. "They are people that I can never leave."

Paterno's warning:

Joe Paterno has said he had little understanding of the nature of the allegations against Sandusky. (The university's board of trustees, skeptical of that claim, fired him and university president Graham Spanier anyway.) Sandusky's book doesn't reveal much of a friendship between the two coaches, but it does recall an early incident — part of Sandusky's pattern of portraying himself as a madcap prankster — in which Paterno told him to regulate his behavior.

Sandusky recalls how Paterno summoned him to his office in the late 1960s to scold him: "I would like to be able to recommend you for future coaching jobs, but I don't want to recommend a guy who's going to act like a complete goofball."

Sandusky explained their relationship to Sports Illustrated in 1999: "You have to understand that so much of our time was spent under stress, figuring out how to win. That takes a toll. We've had our battles."

Calling the witnesses:

As the grand jury that indicted him reported, Sandusky called one of his alleged victims after the Patriot News of Harrisburg broke the story of the investigation into abuse. He hadn't spoken to the boy in two years, but Sandusky, his wife, and a Sandusky family friend called the boy's house. Their calls were never returned.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.