There was little indication more than 30 years ago that sexual abuse allegations that would come to haunt former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, but a former neighbor who played with the Sandusky children said their home was a magnet for neighborhood kids.
“They were the first to have an Atari [video computer] system,” Jeff Bryers, 42, a radio host in State College, Pa., recalled. “It was one of the houses that kids would naturally gravitate towards.”
Bryers lived on Yardel Road in the late 1970s near the Sanduskys’ old residence in the Lemont neighborhood of State College. He still keeps in contact with several of the Sandusky children, he said. The Sandusky’s raised six children.
He reminisced today about the time spent there; playing basketball games, having football tournaments and occasionally even getting to interact with the famed coach himself.
“He [Sandsuky] would come outside and participate for a little while,” Bryers said. “He was definitely the ‘fun dad’ … was kind of neat to say you were hanging out with a Penn State football coach.”
Sandusky was good-natured, he recalled, but was rarely at home. He says that when it came to running the house, wife Dottie Sandusky was the captain.
“She was a disciplinarian, she was the one who made dinner, kept track of everyone,” Bryers said.
That’s one reason Bryers said he finds the accusations so hard to believe, especially the one made by the accuser known to a grand jury as Victim 9. The alleged victim told the grand jury that he was locked in the basement and raped by Sandusky, while yelling out to Dottie Sandusky, who he said was upstairs. She did nothing, according to his account.
She has denied the allegation. “I have been shocked and dismayed by the allegations made against Jerry, particularly the most recent one that a now young man has said he was kept in our basement during visits and screamed for help as Jerry assaulted him while I was in our home and didn’t respond to his cries for help,” Sandusky said in a statement.
And while Bryers said that it would have been out of Dottie Sandusky’s moral character to stand by while such abhorrent acts were committed in her home, he said that, in recent conversations with some of the Sandusky children, he learned that there were some aspects of Sandusky’s behavior that worried her.
“She did have concerns. I think she was concerned that things could be misconstrued,” Bryers said. “I think she had some conversations with him to make sure that he knew there was a danger in spending one-on-one time with kids … she was not thinking anything along the lines of rape. But there were situations, looking back on it, that he probably should have been more careful with boundaries.”
But concern about boundaries was apparently not an issue for Sandusky. A “big kid,” as described by his lawyer, Sandusky was seen as a gregarious, fun joker by the kids in his neighborhood. There was never any indication that he is the man that a slew of accusers say he is, Bryers said.
And while Bryers would love to revel in the memory of Sandusky as a friendly neighbor, he said that the pragmatism in him will not allow it. “A hug can be misconstrued. But there’s no way you can misconstrue anal rape,” he said of the allegations.
Whatever the outcome, Bryers says he has sympathy for another group of people: the Sandusky children.
“My heart breaks for the kids,” he said, “because I know what genuinely good people they are.”