Of all the sad and disturbing parts of Oprah Winfrey's interview Thursday with Jerry Sandusky's son Matt – and there were plenty – perhaps the worst was when he was trying to explain why he was telling the truth about being molested by his one-time foster and eventual adoptive father.
"Knowing that I'm going to be attacked, knowing that my wife and my children will have to pay for that, there is no reason for me to lie," Matt Sandusky said in the interview that aired on OWN. "I'm here to help."
It was a compelling defense, but that's isn't the issue. It's this: Why does Matt Sandusky need a defense at all?
Across an hour of programming Matt Sandusky laid his guts out in a deeply personal way with what, at times, appeared to be embarrassing admissions of what it's like to be sexually abused. That included the shame and confusion he felt at age 12 and 13 when he experienced unwanted physical enjoyment as Jerry performed sexual acts on him.
"He's doing that to you and it's very confusing, it's very confusing for you because you have a reaction, you know," Matt said. "It's something that you, at that time, you definitely don't know what's happening."
It's an experience, sexual-abuse experts say, that is common yet rarely publicly acknowledged and too often causes victims to remain silent. It was part of the strongest segments of the raw interview, a chance for a vast audience to learn from, to understand what is normal and to avoid self-inflicted emotional torment.
This was an incredibly important and powerful opportunity. Incredibly. It shined a light on a topic that is still too often taboo, especially with men, yet needs discussion if there is going to be prevention.
And yet Matt Sandusky knew he would be attacked for what he was saying – and, indeed, in the pathetic corners of the internet message boards and Twitter feeds (here, here and – language warning – here) and conspiracy websites he most certainly was. This despite the fact the man he was alleging these crimes against is already a convicted pedophile, a man found guilty on a whopping 45 counts in 2012 and currently serving out his life in solitary confinement in a Western Pennsylvania prison.
Make no mistake, these are just allegations. Matt's charges against Jerry were never adjudicated or even thoroughly investigated in a criminal manner because by the time he made them to authorities, Jerry was in the middle of a trial he would lose by a landslide. Matt's story was never needed to put him away.
This certainly wasn't perfect television. Jerry is a convicted child molester, yet he still deserves an element of fairness that these stories haven't been proved against him. And Jerry's wife, Dottie, deserved the chance to respond to some of Matt's allegations, the same way the Today Show should've allowed Matt to respond to some of Dottie's earlier this year. (Journalism isn't a big thing with these celebrity TV hosts.)
Still, this was some significant stuff. The Sandusky case is the most famous child sexual molestation scandal in America and Matt is just the second victim to speak at any length outside of a witness stand – and as a fully-grown man, the most capable of conveying a message. There was just so much there for people to hear and consider and apply to the protection of children.
Yet this continues on with a depressing faction of Penn State loyalists so devoted to clearing their school's name they'll stop at nothing, including victim savaging, to clear the football program and its late iconic coach's name (no matter how much Joe Paterno's own family condemns it).
The key to the small, troubled band of Sandusky Truthers is to find a way to turn a scumbag into a saint, clear him of all charges and thus point out no one could've done anything wrong since nothing wrong was done – except by all these greedy kids who made up everything so they could get paid all while it ruined JoePa and cost us some bowl games. So everyone who speaks up gets blasted.
It remains the final bit of distasteful behavior from a last segment of a Penn State community that has otherwise acted with admirable swiftness and seriousness in implementing widespread reform to a problem that, it should be noted, could've sprung up at nearly any institution.
It goes against the anger and commitment of the vast, vast majority of Penn State students, faculty, alums and football fans who were as horrified at Jerry Sandusky as everyone else, the ones who were quite capable of separating football from real life.
Yet there was Matt Sandusky, sitting on Oprah for no reason at all other than to raise awareness and, at the end, promote his anti-child abuse charity. He made zero allegations against Paterno or the football program or the school he himself attended. He mostly just detailed the depths of what it's like to be a victim at the hands of a man who is already convicted and locked away for life and responded to his adoptive mother's previous attacks on him.
Only rather than expect universal applause and admiration, he was required to defend himself as he openly worried about how the ensuing and continuing vitriol will affect his own wife and children.
That isn't the Penn State that ever existed, no matter what failures or mistakes were made. And it's certainly not the Penn State that emerged stronger than ever from this scandal.
It's just the Penn State that keeps getting dragged through the mud by the worst of its own worst.
Matt Sandusky stood up Thursday and shifted the focus back on the true victims, the kids who were groomed and controlled by a pathetic soul.
It was a chance to educate. It was a chance to enlighten. It was a chance for everyone to learn about things that very few discuss, let alone on national television. He did it knowing he'd be attacked and attacked and attacked some more.
"I'm here to help," Matt Sandusky pleaded.
And he did, at least for anyone capable of moving past trying to Free Jerry and toward trying to prevent the Next Jerry.
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