Jerry Sandusky's 'damning' NBC interview: 5 takeaways

The former Penn State assistant coach publicly defends himself against allegations that he sexually abused children. Many critics simply don't believe him

Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, accused of sexually assaulting several children, said in an interview Monday that while he enjoys the company of children, he is not
(Image credit: REUTERS/Pennsylvania State Attorney General's Office)

Jerry Sandusky, the disgraced former Penn State assistant football coach whose child sex abuse scandal led to legendary coach Joe Paterno's firing, broke his silence Monday night in a phone interview with Bob Costas on NBC's Rock Center. (Watch the video below.) Sandusky faces several criminal charges for allegedly sexually assaulting as many as nine boys during his 15 years with Penn State, (The New York Times reported Monday that 10 new alleged victims may also come forward), and has engulfed his former employer in a devastating controversy that has cost several high-ranking officials their jobs. What does Sandusky have to say for himself? Here, five takeaways from the "damning" interview:

1. Sandusky proclaims his innocence — but admits poor judgment

"I am innocent of those charges," Sandusky said, before hedging a bit. "I could say I have done some of those things," he said. "I have horsed around with kids." Specifically, Sandusky admitted that he had hugged children, showered with them, and "touched their legs." As for the alleged incident in which assistant Mike McQueary says he saw Sandusky sodomizing a young boy in the Penn State showers in 2002? We were just "showering and horsing around," Sandusky said. The boy turned on the showers, the pair slid across the floor, and they engaged in towel snapping and "horseplay." In hindsight, "I shouldn't have showered with those kids," Sandusky said. "That's what hits me the most."

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2. Sandusky says he is not a pedophile

The "biggest moment of the interview," says Garth Johnston at Gothamist, came when Costas directly asked Sandusky, "Are you a pedophile?" Sandusky quickly responded, "No." When asked if he was sexually attracted to underage boys, Sandusky said, "I enjoy young people. I love to be around them. But no, I'm not sexually attracted to young boys." When Costas pointed out that "if all of these accusations are false, you are the unluckiest and most persecuted man that any of us has ever heard about," Sandusky took a long pause, offered a hearty laugh, and agreed: "I don't know what you want me to say. I don't think these have been the best days of my life."

3. He says Paterno never confronted him

Another "big moment" in the "instant classic" interview, says Erik Wemple at The Washington Post, was when Sandusky claimed that Joe Paterno never approached him about his conduct. (McQueary brought Sandusky's alleged abuse to Paterno's attention in 2002, but the longtime coach didn't go to the cops — something he's come under harsh criticism for.) When asked if he felt responsible for Paterno's firing and Penn State's damaged reputation, Sandusky said he doesn't, but conceded that he "obviously played a part in this."

4. Costas handled the interview impressively

With the "newstainment" of Bill O'Reilly and Jon Stewart becoming increasingly popular, "I almost forgot how good regular old TV news can be," says Wemple. Costas "provided a stellar example." Yeah, he "was damn near perfect," says Alan Sepinwall at HitFix. He had his facts ready, asked all the right follow-up questions, and "just kept giving Sandusky rope that the alleged pedophile seemed happy to hang himself with."

5. Sandusky should never have done the interview

Appearing on Rock Center for the interview was a "Hail Mary" for Sandusky and his legal team, says the Daily News. Everything he said in the interview can now be used against him in court. "He's just given up his Fifth Amendment rights not to incriminate himself," New York attorney Tom Harvey tells the paper. Perhaps Sandusky was trying to "sow seeds of doubt in public opinion," says Bison Messink at Ology. Even so, says law professor Marci Hamilton, agreeing to the interview was "legally insane."

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