The Resilient Soul of Jerry Sandusky's Son

Jeff Pearlman@@jeffpearlmanSpecial to Bleacher ReportMarch 3, 2015


STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — I am staring at Matt Sandusky.

Matt Sandusky is staring at me. Holding grapes. Plastic grapes.

As Sandusky gazes my way, the faux produce twirls beneath the fleshy fingers of his right hand, an odd vision when one takes into account the man's size (approximately 6'0", 215 lbs) and perpetually hangdog facial features. Behind him is a small, blue, child-sized trampoline. To his right, atop a brown bookcase, are images of the cast of Frozen. There's Elsa, the queen. There's Anna, her little sister. There's Kristoff and Sven and Olaf and...

"I'm not mad," he says, "but..."

I stop him.

Seconds earlier, with as much delicacy as one could muster, I listed a series of reasons why some people have doubted his truthfulness. Now, as we sit here on the beige carpet covering the floor of his two-year-old son's little upstairs room, I tell Matt Sandusky that, quite frankly, I don't believe he's not angry.

"Why?" he asks.

Because, I say, you look like you want to strangle me. You claim that you were sexually molested as a child, that you're trying to figure everything out, and acknowledge that there is a loud group of people who consider you to be a money-hungry liar who destroyed a family, helped send an innocent man to prison and killed the legacy of the winningest coach in the history of college football.

Oh, and they've devoted themselves to sharing this information with as many people as possible. And you're not mad?

A pause.

"Good point," says Matt Sandusky. "That really is a good point."

And he laughs.

This is the confusing story of a confusing figure in a confusing tragedy.

That's the best way I can put it, and if you need proof, well, how about this: Matt Sandusky isn't actually Matt Sandusky.

Oh, he was Matt Sandusky for 15 years, ever since being legally adopted by Jerry and Dottie Sandusky back in 1998. Now, however, he's Matt --------. The -------- represents a last name that he and his wife, Kim, decided upon in August 2013. They toyed with a large number of possibilities, then settled upon one that's slightly less boring than Smith, but nowhere near as sparkly as, say, Igwebuike or Zisblatt.

The reason you're not allowed to learn Matt --------'s last name is because, in the aftermath of the worst  scandal in college football history, many of the people here in State College didn't take to Matt Sandusky so kindly. More to the point, they didn't take to Matt Sandusky's four children (three with his first wife) so kindly.

"The bullying was very bad," says Kim, who works for a statistical software company. "So as a family we decided to start new and let the kids avoid being stigmatized."

Here's the even more confusing thing: Although Matt Sandusky is no longer Matt Sandusky, he still often uses Matt Sandusky. Which is weird, because the name itself—eight letters, a tad clunky—rolls from his tongue as if he just licked a piece of sandpaper.

Matt -------- goes by Matt Sandusky when he speaks publicly about the Penn State awfulness; when he discusses his own history of abuse; when he tries raising money for Peaceful Hearts, his year-old nonprofit foundation with the mission of helping victims of child sexual abuse seek help and support.

Matt Sandusky at the office for Peaceful Hearts.
Matt Sandusky at the office for Peaceful Hearts.Photo by Abby Drey

"With the foundation, I'm Sandusky," says Matt, a soft-spoken man. "Because, like it or not, people identify the name with everything that happened. And that's important to the cause."

"Everything that happened" refers to both the downfall of a football program and the arrest, trial and imprisonment of a man—Gerald Arthur Sandusky—who spent 32 years as a beloved Penn State assistant football coach but was now convicted on 45 counts of sex crimes against young boys.

Over the course of the 12-day trial, eight alleged victims testified against Jerry Sandusky, telling one story after another of a man whose nonprofit foundation, The Second Mile, allowed him to abuse underprivileged youths under the (painfully ironic) guise of helping them escape horrid lives.

When delivering the actual sentence on Oct. 9, 2012, Judge John M. Cleland looked directly at Jerry Sandusky inside the Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, courtroom and said, "You abused the trust of those who trusted you. ... The crime is not only what you did to their bodies, but your assault to their psyches and souls."

Unless he lives well past 100, Sandusky, now 71, will spend the rest of his life in prison.

And, with that, the final word seemed to be delivered. Joe Paterno, the former Penn State football coach who guided the Nittany Lions to 409 wins over 46 years, had been fired in the wake of the scandal and died in January 2012 as a shamed, disgraced and tragic figure.

Graham Spanier, the university president, lost his job, and Tim Curley, the athletic director, left after an administrative leave—both also symbols of shame and disgrace. The NCAA imposed a $60 million fine and four-year postseason ban on the university, and Penn State ultimately agreed to pay $59.7 million to 26 men, including Matt Sandusky, who came forward with abuse claims.

That was that.

Only, well, that wasn't that. Much of the shame that cloaked State College morphed into anger. And, really, suspicion. Perhaps, had the scandal solely resulted in Jerry Sandusky's banishment, people would have sighed and moved forward. But suddenly, the longstanding pride and tradition that was Penn State (and, specifically, Penn State football) was gone. The program was a joke. No, worse than a joke. It was a tragic ode to irresponsibility and cowardice.

A woman pays her respects at the statue of Joe Paterno after his death on Jan. 22, 2012.
A woman pays her respects at the statue of Joe Paterno after his death on Jan. 22, 2012.AP Photo

The NCAA removed 111 of Paterno's wins (they have since been returned). His statue, outside Beaver Stadium, was carted off into storage. With the NCAA's full blessing, multiple players transferred. Running back Silas Redd was off to USC. Wide receiver Justin Brown headed for Oklahoma. Tight end Kevin Haplea went to Florida State. People came to Penn State because of its tradition. That aura of a model program appeared to be—with one blow—gone.

Throughout State College, there are people who blamed the university and a football operation that, from their perspective, was more concerned about wins and losses than righteousness. One newspaper editorial after another blasted Paterno, Spanier and Curley for the blind eye cast upon Sandusky as he allegedly assaulted multiple children—some within the campus' confines.

Yet, beneath the media's glare, a substantial number of locals directed their frustrations elsewhere. Yeah, maybe a couple of bad things happened. And, yeah, the situation could have been handled better. But how could we be 100 percent sure the alleged victims—and one alleged victim in particular—were telling the truth? How did we know this wasn't about money rather than justice?

Or, put differently: Why the hell should we trust Matt Sandusky?

Back when he was a boy, growing up in Bellefonte, Matthew Heichel said he would numb a miserable childhood by dreaming of Hawaii. "It was this paradise...this place so far away," he says. "Any book I could find about Hawaii, I'd read. In my mind it was somewhere where I could go, and everything would be perfect and beautiful."

He was born Dec. 26, 1978, the first child to Matthew and Debra Heichel. At the time of his arrival into the world, one of America's biggest television shows was Happy Days, which chronicled the blissful life of the Cunningham family and their wacky-yet-loving adventures together.

In other words, the 180-degree opposite of existence as a Heichel.

When Matt—who went by "Mattie" was a child—speaks of growing up, the tales are 5 percent warm, 70 percent awful and 25 percent nightmarish and involve accusations of physical abuse by his birth father and maternal grandfather that can't be independently confirmed.

His birth mother and father divorced when Matt was six (they later had two other children), and he said the three children lived with their mother in a series of dilapidated homes, including a trailer that lacked running water.

Matt said Debra, who grew up in Bellefonte and never attended college, held several low-paying jobs through the years and always struggled to make do. Matt fondly recalls the first day of most months, when Debra collected her allotted food stamps and the children would walk to Bonfatto's, a nearby sandwich shop, and buy hoagies.

"That would be the greatest," he says, "except for the day when the welfare check arrived. That meant Kentucky Fried Chicken. Which was even better."

Although he struggles to put a date or age on the time he first chased trouble, Mattie Heichel spent much of his youth finding it. He shoplifted—repeatedly. He dealt drugs—repeatedly. He cheated in school—repeatedly. He smoked lots of pot and drank lots of beer. He was, by his own admission, a bad seed, largely indifferent to the suffering or pain of others.

Then, in 1987 while living with his grandparents, Matt attended The Second Mile summer camp for underprivileged children. It was founded 10 years earlier by Jerry Sandusky, Penn State's beloved defensive coordinator. Around State College—and across the nation—The Second Mile was lauded as a textbook example of how to bring hope and love to unwanted children.

AP Photo

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush cited the organization as a "shining example" of what it was to be charitable. Senator Rick Santorum presented an Angels in Adoption award to Jerry Sandusky—a high honor sponsored by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Among the foundation's honorary board members were Arnold Palmer, Mark Wahlberg, Franco Harris and Dick Vermeil.

Before long, Matt was all about The Second Mile. He attended Penn State football games, watched Nittany Lions practices from the sidelines and went on road trips with the team. He would have dinners with the Sandusky family and stay the night on occasion for sleepovers.

In his 2001 autobiography, Touched, Jerry Sandusky admitted to feeling especially attached to the boy and would arrive, unannounced, at Bellefonte Middle School to meet with him. "I've never denied all the good he gave me," says Matt. "Travel, experiences, opportunity. So much of what I went through with [Sandusky] was good. I'm thankful for those things."

Matt, however, struggled to walk the righteous path. He began skipping school on a regular basis and, for several months, says he lost contact with Jerry Sandusky. On a freezing day in November 1994, he said he and a cousin cut classes to head to an old barn behind a house at 602 Blanchard Street in Bellefonte. It was a place the two frequented—warm, always unlocked, nobody ever around.

"There was a truck inside the barn, and the door was open so we got in to get comfortable," Matt says. "We couldn't start the truck to turn the heat on, but we were smoking cigarettes and we thought it'd be funny or smart or whatever to light a piece of paper and stick it in the glove box. Because, of course, there's no oxygen in the glove compartment, so the paper would extinguish.

"Well," Matt says, "we obviously should have understood that oxygen gets into a glove compartment, because the fire got bigger and bigger and it started burning everything in the glove compartment, and now black smoke starts coming out of the vents and there's nothing we can do to stop it."

The two boys bolted to school, hoping no one would notice their early absence. "They noticed," says Matt. "And it wasn't good."

According to Matt, police arrived at Debra's home, cuffed him and placed him under arrest. He was assigned to the Centre Counties Youth Center, an under-18 detention facility in Bellefonte. Oddly, he has largely fond memories of his time in lockup—three meals a day, a gym, cable television. Matt was given his own room with a window, and while the plastic cot and sawdust-stuffed pillows weren't of Ritz-Carlton stock, they did him just fine.

Then, after roughly one month of incarceration, Matt says Tim Janocko, a former Penn State player and friend of Jerry Sandusky, stopped by, a visit mentioned in Jerry Sandusky's book Touched.

"Jerry was on the road [in California preparing for Penn State's Rose Bowl appearance against Oregon], but he sent this man to tell me I had two options in life," he says. "The first was to attend a military boot camp in Pittsburgh. I'd be there until my 18th birthday and then afterward I'd be placed in jail for the crime I committed. Or, if we could work it out, he told me I could live with Jerry as a foster child and be basically free."

It turns out Sandusky had, in fact, called the judge directly from the Rose Bowl, with a request for Matt to be released from the facility to come live with him.

Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno in August 1999.
Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno in August 1999.AP Photo

"I didn't see it as much of a choice," says Matt.

In January 1995, he moved into the Sandusky household.

At this point, perhaps it should be noted that Matt says the molestation had been going on for seven years.

He says it was happening every week and commenced well before the barn burning. "Whenever I came over to the house," he says.

It began with simple touching. A hand to the knee. An arm around the shoulder. Awkward hugs. Then, during sleepovers, tuck-ins. Touching beneath blankets. Quick feels. Longer feels. Even longer feels. Blowing raspberries on his stomach.

He says he liked it and hated it. Liked it because it felt good. Hated it because it felt good. Liked it because it felt wrong. Hated it because it felt wrong.

Jerry Sandusky, Matt says, was his savior from hell, but also his...what? Nightmare? Boogeyman? When you're a kid, he says, you know things are wrong but wonder if they're really wrong. Is an old man's hand brushing against your penis appropriate? Sinful? Both? Neither?

"One of the things I did to alleviate the pain was burn myself," he says. "I'd take a metal object, make it really hot, press it against my skin. I didn't analyze it as a kid, but in hindsight I can explain it as a balloon blowing up, and I needed to deflate it by letting out air. It was my way of deflating the balloon so I could endure more."

When Matt speaks, the words "Jerry Sandusky" never leave his lips. Never. Not once. Instead, he refers to Sandusky as "my perpetrator," and he does so coldly, sans emotion.

Matt never liked school, but he says many of his absences were to avoid Sandusky's random visits. He recalls sitting in class, being summoned to the guidance counselor's office and seeing Sandusky waiting.

"It happened a lot, and it was always the same," he says. "The guidance counselor would leave the office, and there I'd be—my perpetrator and me. He wouldn't do anything to me there. He was just imposing himself. To be in my head."

Before the barn burning, Jerry Sandusky would visit Matt at his house. Oftentimes, Matt says he would see Sandusky pulling into the driveway, and Matt would instruct his mom to tell Jerry he wasn't there. And then he'd hide behind a bedroom door. "I was trying to break contact," he says.

"Matt," Debra told The Associated Press in 2012, "was afraid of Jerry." During grand jury testimony, she was asked—under oath—whether she worried about her son's safety with Sandusky. She responded by noting that when she once asked whether he had been touched, Matt replied, "I don't want to talk about it."

Still, in the aftermath of the barn burning, the Centre County court system approved the Sandusky household as a proper foster care environment, and Matt was placed with the family.

Jerry and Dottie Sandusky's home in 2011.
Jerry and Dottie Sandusky's home in 2011.AP Photo

The Sanduskys lived in a modest home at 130 Grandview Road in State College. It had a grassy front yard, and there were plenty of neighborhood kids. Jerry and Dottie had wed in 1966, but Sandusky wrote in Touched that they quickly learned they were unable to have children. So they adopted six.

"My mom and dad are amazing parents," says Jeff Sandusky, the fourth oldest of the six children. "Just amazing."

Matt says living with the Sanduskys was heaven and hell. Food was plentiful, there were always people to play with, dinners were lively. It was an eye-opening world compared to his days of bread, soup and Kentucky Fried Chicken runs. Yet he insists he was also being sexually abused—now more so than ever. By residing in the household, Matt says he was an easy and accessible target.

Along with his time in the detention center, he was placed on probation until his 21st birthday. He says caseworkers came to the Sandusky household to check on his welfare but that they never—"not once"—spoke to him directly.

"Would I have said something about the abuse?" he wonders. "I don't know. But they never spoke to me, they never tried to speak to me. Even after my attempted suicide."

Yes. The attempted suicide. When he was 17, Matt began dating Dottie Sandusky's niece, a college student with a young baby who also resided in the house. Nobody in the family approved of the relationship, so Matt says he and the woman decided to kill themselves, "Romeo and Juliet style."

One night, they drove to a nearby convenience store, purchased a large bottle of aspirin, checked into a motel room and popped one pill after another after another. "Then we were laying there on the bed," he says, "and nothing was happening." They walked outside to Matt's car, started the engine and extended a hose from the tailpipe inside a window.

"I thought we'd die of carbon monoxide poisoning," he says. "But we're sitting there and she starts getting really ill from the pills. In the moment I knew I had to get her help, so I drove to the hospital. They admitted her, and I passed out on the waiting room floor. My perpetrator walked into my room the next day, and the very first thing he said to me was, 'You can't even kill yourself right.'"

Matt spent one week in the Centre Community psychiatric ward, then was released back to the Sanduskys, and, he says, drugged out on Prozac.

Shortly thereafter, Terry L. Trude, a school-based probation officer, wrote a letter to Centre County Judge David Grine. In it, she noted, "The probation department has some serious concerns about the juvenile's safety and his current placement with the Sandusky family." Trude added that Debra Long, Matt's birth mother (who remarried a man named Michael Long), was concerned for her son's safety and mental stability. Long wanted Matt placed with a different family.

That didn't happen, in part because Matt wrote a letter to the probation department, pleading to remain with the Sanduskys.

"I was messed up," he says. "Just messed up." In the immediate aftermath of the suicide attempt, he says, he thought it was merely about love and heartache. With time, however, he says he came to view it as a lashing out over being abused. If so, it worked.

"That was the point when the sexual abuse stopped," he says. "After the hospital, I was no longer his target."

Matt Sandusky leaves the Centre County Courthouse on June 20, 2012, during the trial of his father.
Matt Sandusky leaves the Centre County Courthouse on June 20, 2012, during the trial of his father.AP Photo

The real reason you are reading a story about Matthew -------- is because, during the course of the Jerry Sandusky trial, something in him snapped. At the beginning of the ordeal, he was considered 100 percent Sandusky: a loyal and dependable family member who would stand up for Jerry and speak the truth of a great man being wronged by a corrupt system.

When he was 18, after all, Matt was legally adopted by Jerry and Dottie—an official proclamation that he was not merely loved, but a loved one. He lived with the family for years, worked as an equipment manager with the football team, attended Penn State at a drastic discount. Dottie was Mom. Jerry was Dad. His five siblings were his brothers and sisters.

In the years after he married his first wife, Jill Thomas, in 2003, Jerry and Dottie babysat their children. Matt's car—a Ford Escort—was purchased as a gift by the Sanduskys.

"Even when I turned 21, I always went back," Matt says. "They were my family. I understand how that looks to people, but this stuff isn't simple."

Indeed, in 1994, police came to the Sandusky household to investigate a theft of cash and clothing. Matt was the main suspect (charges were never filed). Two years later, Matt briefly ran away. In May 2003, he called the police to his house with a trespassing complaint. The trespasser? Jerry Sandusky, who told responding officers he was simply there to collect his carpet cleaner.

"Matt did not get along with his dad," says Kim, Matt's wife. "We dated most of 2010 and 2011, and it was very clear. One time I asked him why he didn't seem to like Jerry, and he said, 'He's old, he's senile and he drives me nuts'"

Despite the ups and downs, Matt appeared to remain loyal. In late 2009, a grand jury in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, began hearing testimony over allegations from an anonymous 15-year-old boy who said he had been molested by Jerry Sandusky. Over the course of the ensuing 18 months, myriad people were called to testify—including Matt Sandusky.

"[Jerry] took me to a lawyer downtown who worked with grand juries, and they prepped me as to what questions I would be asked," says Matt. "They wanted me ready."

He was—the take was simple and to the point: Jerry Sandusky is my father. I have never been sexually abused by him. Never, ever, ever, ever. End of story.

"I asked Matt during that time if anything had ever happened to him, and he said, 'No,'" says Kim. "But the whole grand jury experience was weird. We'd be having dinner at the house, and Jerry would tell Matt he needed to speak with him alone. They'd go off into another room for an hour. It was confusing. I'd ask Matt why, and he'd always say the same thing: 'He just wants to make sure I'm prepared.' That struck me. Why wouldn't he be prepared?"

Once Sandusky's criminal trial began on June 11, 2012, the defense—buoyed by his grand jury performance—counted on Matt as a potential key witness. He was a young man from a horrible background who was saved by Jerry Sandusky's goodness. The narrative was perfect. On the first day, he even sat alongside his adopted siblings in the courtroom. But then, early in the proceedings, something startling occurred.

There had been testimony by witnesses who accused Sandusky of molesting them as boys. "Matt came home and I'd never seen him like that," Kim says. "He just looked totally depressed. I asked him what was going on, and he just said, 'Tough day.'"

Matt's wife Kim at their home in State College, Pennsylvania.
Matt's wife Kim at their home in State College, Pennsylvania.Photo by Abby Drey

Kim remembers the dialogue thusly:

Kim: "What's really going on here?"

Matt: "It's just that guy's testimony. He's such a liar."

Kim had been following the trial closely, primarily via online news reports.

Kim: "I don't think he's lying."

Matt: "What?"

Kim: "I don't think he's lying, Matt. I don't."

A few moments later, Matt prepared to exit their home to head to the Sanduskys' for yet another dinner/strategy session. "Are you ready?" he asked.

Kim: "I'm not going."

Matt: "Well, I have to go."

Kim: "I'm not going. And I don't think you should go, either. We're going to go over there, and they're going to act as if nothing is going on."

Matt exited without Kim and spent several hours with his adoptive parents. That night, Matt said he told Jerry, "You can't call me [to testify on his behalf during the trial]. Don't call me, I remember things," he said. To which Matt said Jerry replied, "Not sexual."

When Matt returned home, Kim was asleep and the matter was not discussed. Then, the next afternoon, Matt sent Kim a text while she was at her office. Four words: WE NEED TO TALK.

Kim excused herself and drove the three miles back home, where Matt was waiting, nervously. "That guy," he said, referring to victim No. 4, "wasn't lying."

"How do you know that?" Kim said.

"Because," Matt replied, "the same thing happened to me."

"I cried hysterically," Kim says. "Which probably isn't the best reaction, but it was just extremely devastating. Even though I'd had a feeling about it. To hear the words..."

On the morning of June 21, the 11th day of the trial, Matt said in a statement through his attorney that he, like the eight others allegedly abused who testified, was a victim of Jerry Sandusky. He had gone to the local police department and had spoken for nearly 30 minutes. When detectives asked why now was he willing to cooperate, Matt replied, "I mean, for my family, so that they can really have closure and see what the truth actually is. And just to right the wrong, honestly, of going to the grand jury and lying."

Matt Sandusky was never called to testify.

AP Photo

Jerry Sandusky now sits in a state correctional institution.

"Matt Sandusky is a complete lying piece of crap."

I am no longer sitting on a bedroom floor, looking up at Frozen characters. I'm on my iPhone, hanging in the lobby of the State College Hampton Inn, listening as a man named John Ziegler tells me how he's "more positive than anything else" that Matt -------- is a fraud.

He is quite loud.

Why have I called Ziegler? Honestly, because—in passing, and probably against his better judgment—Matt dropped his name. It was during a brief discussion on haters and how some refuse to believe you, no matter what. He mentioned two people in particular.

One, Jeff Byers, hosts a State College talk radio show and is the voice of Penn State wrestling on WRSC. He grew up three houses down from the Sanduskys, is skeptical of Matt's history and doesn't mind saying so.

"I have my doubts," he says. "Real doubts. Can I say I'm 100 percent sure he's lying? No. But a lot of things are very odd about his story. I just don't believe he's being truthful."

As opposed to the relatively soft-spoken Byers, who allows for the possibility of misjudgment and regrets failing to invite Matt on his show ("I admit," he says, "that I need to be fair and do that."), the outspoken Ziegler tweets regularly on the Sandusky scandal to his more than 8,000 followers (who often take delight in bashing Matt in reply) and has appeared repeatedly on national news programs. He is considered by some to be the go-to authority on the case.

Three years years ago, shortly after the release of the Freeh Report—the independent analysis of the circumstances of the Penn State child abuse fiasco—Ziegler launched a website, Framing Paterno, that devoted itself to "compiling and analyzing the evidence that an out-of-control news media created a false narrative in the Jerry Sandusky story, which effectively framed Joe Paterno for crimes he obviously didn't commit and of which he may have had extremely limited knowledge."

Last year, Ziegler shifted his focus. He initially presumed Sandusky to be guilty, but he now thinks he was wrongly convicted. Two years ago, while researching a documentary on Paterno, Ziegler traveled to the State Correctional Institution at Greene to interview Jerry Sandusky one-on-one.

"I started realizing, 'Wait a minute, none of this makes any damn sense,'" he says. "Anyway, I then spent almost every day for free for a year-plus investigating every aspect of the case, talking to Dottie Sandusky more than I've spoken to my own wife.

"What I realized was that everybody who was telling me Jerry was guilty didn't know what the hell they were talking about, was a fraud, told me lies and said things that didn't make any sense. And all the crazy people who I presumed were nuts, they were telling me Jerry was innocent. And they were the ones telling the truth and making sense."

Dottie Sandusky
Dottie SanduskyAP Photo

Exhibit A in the fraud department: Matt Sandusky.

John Ziegler is convinced he's a liar, that he turned on the family once it became clear Penn State would be paying out large settlements to the victims.

Ziegler has made the case that Matt was desperate for the money, that after a failed construction business, which Matt acknowledged, he needed the payoff a Penn State settlement would provide.

"I can assure you, we were doing just fine, money-wise," says Kim. "It's been made out like we were poor. That's just not true."

Kim says her greatest frustration doesn't come with the insinuation that her husband was motivated by greed. She says her greatest frustration comes in her husband's refusal to be truthful about his reluctance to join the lawsuit against Penn State.

"This is what people don't know," she says. "When all of this happened, Matt said to me, 'I'm not going through a lawsuit.' First of all, he wanted it to all go away. And second, he knew people would say he did it for the money. We walked through it, and I said he needed to think long and hard about that. Not out of greed. Really, not out of greed. But because I told him there was only one way to hold this major institution responsible, and it was through money.

"People can argue that, and that's fine. But it's how I felt, and I was very determined about it. Matt did not want to sue. But when I tell him to call me out on it...to explain what I said, he refuses. And that frustrates me."

Photo by Abby Drey

Whether one believes Matt Sandusky or not, there are several accepted truths about the impacts of pedophilia.

For example, Ziegler repeatedly cites Matt's shifting stories as proof that he's lying. And Ziegler is correct—for a long time, Matt denied Jerry Sandusky touched him. Then he said he did touch him. He's wavered on certain specifics. It's bewildering and, if one knows nothing on the subject, suspicious.

Ziegler also often asks, reasonably, why someone who has been sexually abused as a child would then, as an adult, have his abuser babysit his children. This, to him, is proof Matt Sandusky has lied.

But is it? Bleacher Report spoke with five different experts in the field of child abuse (none of whom have ties to the case), and while all understood why Matt's decision to have Jerry and Dottie babysit his children might seem strange, none actually found it strange.

"You're dealing with emotions that most people never go through," says Dr. Joyanna Silberg, the senior consultant for child and adolescent trauma at Sheppard Pratt Health System in Baltimore. "You're combining guilt, loyalty, love, hate, fear—all into one. So when someone on the outside says, 'That person's decisions make no sense,' it might be because sense as you and I might know it doesn't translate."

As for Matt's shifting stories, the experts Bleacher Report contacted agreed they see more sexual assault victims adjust their narratives than stick to one saga.

"Stories change all the time with victims," says Gavriel Fagin, a New York-based social worker who specializes in sexual abuse cases. "All the time. First of all, depending when abuse took place, details are often hard to remember. And second, there is a strong inner conflict after you've been abused, especially if the abuser is close to you."

Adds Dr. James Cantor, a Toronto-based expert on pedophilia: "We watch the behavior of sexual abuse victims, and they're acting erratically, and we think, 'How would I respond?' But it's a flawed way of thinking, because someone in that situation for years and years and years, they're not acting by normal standards. Long-term trauma changes how we think about the world."

Adds Silberg: "The abused almost always initially defend, because the loyalty created in the abuse is a double bind. Perpetrators make you feel like you're to blame, because you went along. They'll say, 'I wouldn't be doing this if you didn't like it,' and you don't know how to respond to that. Especially a child. So you hide it. You keep it to yourself."

As you read this, Jerry Sandusky is sitting in a jail cell. He's inmate KT2386 at the State Correctional Institution at Greene. He is allowed one hour of individual exercise per day, can shower three times per week and eats all meals in his cell. He will almost certainly never get out.

AP Photo

As you read this, Dottie Sandusky, who declined to comment for this story, is without her husband. Last March, she appeared alongside Ziegler on the Today Show, sitting across from Matt Lauer for 40 minutes. She insisted that Jerry Sandusky was innocent and continues to visit him regularly in prison.

As you read this, Jeff Sandusky doesn't know how to feel.

It's a cliche. A dumb one, perhaps. But there are no winners when it comes to sexual abuse scandals. Lives have changed for the worse. Things you were certain of now feel forever...lost.

Jeff is 39 and recently divorced. He was adopted by the Sanduskys as an infant and swears by his parents with all his heart. When he says his father is 100 percent innocent, it's impossible not to believe him. Maybe not the innocent part, but the sincerity behind the words.

"Dad himself says he had boundary issues, meaning that he'd put a hand around your shoulder, he'd have his hand on my leg," he says. "Can that be taken the wrong way? Yes, and I get it. But he was not doing it to be a creeper, a perv. No, he was doing it to say I care about you."

In an endearing way, Jeff Sandusky doesn't want people to bash his brother. Over the course of a 30-minute interview, he criticizes Matt multiple times, then asks the writer to soften the blows.

"Matt is truly a good person," he says. "I care for him. I do. And I want the best for him. But this is bull. My dad is innocent. I can guarantee you that. He's innocent."

As you read this, Matt -------- is somewhere, likely speaking out about sexual abuse. He spends his days either giving presentations or sitting inside a small rented office space on top of a State College coffee shop, typing away at a red Apple laptop and struggling to make his message resonate.

He says he's thought about leaving the area for a fresh start but that it's the place where his ex-wife and their three children call home, complicating any exodus. "Plus," he says, "there are a lot of caring people here. There really are."

Although he's loath to admit it, Matt is aware of what men like Jeff Byers and John Ziegler say of him. He knows that, when he walks through town, some folks consider him the bravest man alive, others the living incarnation of Satan. He says he doesn't care whether people believe the truthfulness of his words, as long as they're willing to listen to his message.

"Child sexual abuse impacts so many Americans," he says, "and yet we do far too little about it. If that can change, I'll feel like this has all been a worthwhile journey and I can feel real pride."

If that can change, Matt -------- might even let you in on a little secret.

His name.