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Matt Sandusky: Adopted, abused, and now sharing his painful story



It was never about protecting his infamous adopted father. And it was never about trying to support his family during the process that revealed that man to be a monster, a predator. It wasn't about any of those things. 

"The only thing I was doing was protecting myself," Matt Sandusky said. "It was all about protecting myself. I didn't want anyone to know. It was all about keeping my secret." 

And it wasn't his choice to reveal that secret. He didn't want any of this. He didn't want to become one of the lightning rods that attracted the hate and vitriol of those who believed that by telling the world what had happened to him he was among the conspiratorial forces that had launched an attack on the church of Penn State football. 

It was the truth. And the truth had to get out. Too much damage had been done, damage that Matt still struggles to deal with. 

It's a life sentence, what happened to him after Sandusky met him through the Second Mile. Matt had had a hard life, growing up poor in rural Centre County. His father was an abusive alcoholic. His mother did time for passing bad checks. The Second Mile was supposed to help him, as it was supposed to help other children in such dire circumstances. Instead, it destroyed him. 

Sandusky groomed him. He invited him to football games, where Sandusky prowled the sidelines as the university's highly esteemed defensive coordinator. He took Matt into his home as a foster parent. The abuse followed. Matt never told anyone. He acted out, got into trouble and wound up in the juvenile criminal justice system.

The Sanduskys adopted him, part of a deal that spared him jail time. 

He never told anyone. 

Who was he to take on Sandusky? Sandusky was a popular football coach, a part of an institution, the designer of a defense that won a national championship. Further, he had seemingly dedicated his life to helping children, starting up the Second Mile, and had turned down head coaching offers at other universities, giving up, potentially, millions of dollars, to stay in State College. That was Sandusky's public image. 

"People thought they knew this person, that they knew who Jerry Sandusky was," Matt said. "That he had done horrendous things to children does not compute." 

His private identity was something very different, something very dark and ugly, something terrible, an identity that Matt knew. 

When the state police began investigating Sandusky, troopers interviewed Matt. He told them nothing had ever happened. He was lying. He was called before the grand jury and again said nothing happened. He was lying. 

The first day of the trial, he sat with his family. He said he wasn't there to show support. He wanted to make sure that Sandusky's lawyers didn't call him as a witness, to say that nothing had happened. He listened to the testimony of the man identified as Victim No. 4 – a man he knew. That did it. He had to do something. One of his brothers told him that if anything had happened to him, he should go to the police. His brother confided in him that the same thing had happened to him, something his brother refuted later when it became public, calling Matt a liar. 

He approached the prosecutors from the state attorney general's office and told them he had lied before, that Sandusky had abused him. The prosecutors prepared to call him as a witness, to rebut Sandusky, but once Sandusky declined to testify, he was not called. Still, since Matt was a potential witness, the prosecutor's office shared the tape with the defense attorneys, as they were required to do. The defense leaked the tape to "Good Morning America," and the next morning Matt made news. 

"Then the world knew," Matt said. 

He was devastated, "very crushing" is how he describes it. 

It was just the beginning. Matt knew he had to deal with what had happened to him, and he knew that there would be repercussions. His family, still clinging, despite all of the evidence, to the notion that Sandusky was innocent and was framed. 

He has had no contact with his family since. He did see his adopted mother, Dottie, once. She and other family members and people who have founded the cottage industry dedicated to refuting Matt and declaring Sandusky's innocence, and that of the late legendary coach Joe Paterno, showed up at one of his speaking engagements, protesting it and trying to shut it down. Dottie sat in the front row and Matt looked right at her while he described what Sandusky had done to him. 

For two years after the 2012 trial, Matt kept a low profile, working through his feelings and his pain in therapy. Then, filmmakers working on the documentary about the case called "Happy Valley" got in touch with him and asked whether he would like to be interviewed for the film. He agreed. An appearance on "Oprah" followed. A speaker's bureau then contacted him and asked him whether he'd consider doing speaking engagements. That led to a book deal, the result, culled from the journal he kept as he went through therapy, the writing being a form of therapy itself, titled "Undaunted." 

And now he and his wife Kim dedicate their time to running a foundation aimed at helping victims of childhood sexual abuse called Peaceful Hearts. As a part of that mission, Matt gives talks about his experience and about the issue, hoping to destroy the stigma attached to sexual abuse, a stigma that results in abuse not being reported. (He will be appearing in York June 29.) 

"It's an issue that's painful and sick, something people don't want to think about," Matt said. "But it does exist and it's not going away. It has touched more lives than any other disease." 

Even now, years after Sandusky has been locked up in state prison, possibly until the day he draws his last breath, and after Penn State administrators have been adjudicated for their responsibility, the Sandusky incident hangs over State College. There are still those who vilify Matt, believing he played a role in casting that pall over the university and the football program. He hears it now and then, the haters and conspiracy theorists, still trying to clear Paterno's name and still trying to link together a case that it was all about trying to bring down the football program. (Which, by the way, seems to be doing fairly well, having won the Big 10 last year and coming within a late interception and last second field goal of winning the Rose Bowl.) 

Matt hears that stuff. It's an either-or situation, he said. You can believe that the university, and Paterno, were complicit in Sandusky's crimes and still support the football program. 

As for the hatred aimed at him, he said, "It's OK. Every time somebody says something about me, it's going to make me stronger. I'm going to keep using my voice to do good." 

Reach Mike Argento at 717-771-2046 or at mike@ydr.com. 

2017 Jun 22