Matt Sandusky, adopted son of former Penn State coach and convicted sex offender Jerry Sandusky, made his first public appearance Sunday when he showed up at the Sundance Film Festival to help promote “Happy Valley,” a documentary about Penn State and the sexual abuse scandal that consumed it.
Matt Sandusky is the central figure in the film as he discusses the abuse he suffered at the hands of his adopted father and the conflict he felt when news broke that he had abused other boys.
"Am I going to remain the coward I am or am I going to risk everything to tell the truth," Matt Sandusky said in the film, explaining his decision to testify at his father's trial.
"I had to be loyal to the family. I wasn't going to betray him. Yet here I sit, betrayed by them all."
Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State defensive coordinator, was convicted in 2012 of 45 counts of sexual abuse against young boys during a 15-year period.
He met many of his victims through The Second Mile, a nonprofit charity Jerry Sandusky founded, which helped at-risk and underprivileged youth in the Philadelphia area. Several of those children, now adults, testified against Sandusky. On Oct. 9, 2012, Sandusky was sentenced to 30-60 years in prison and his appeals have since been denied.
Late coach Joe Paterno, who was made aware of the abuse, including incidents in the football locker room showers, told his superiors about an incident that was reported to him, but never made an effort to follow up with the police. Paterno was ultimately fired over the scandal and died shortly after from complications during his battle with lung cancer.
Penn State was placed on unprecedented sanctions for Jerry Sandusky’s behavior, including scholarship penalties (some were restored this past September), a postseason ban and the stripping of many of Paterno’s wins. The entire ordeal sparked a national debate about how much influence athletics should have not only over a university, but over a community.
"His name was a golden ticket," Matt Sandusky said in the movie. "It was good to be next to him, to feel powerful, to feel that people envied me instead of looking down on me.
"If people thought of Joe Paterno as god, Jerry was like Jesus. They were to me the two most powerful people. They could do whatever they wanted, they could do no wrong.”
The film, directed by Amir Bar-Lev, examines the football culture around Penn State and the roles Jerry Sandusky and Paterno played in it. It also examines how much Paterno knew regarding Jerry Sandusky’s misdeeds and the football program he tried to protect.
The film has already received rave reviews for its depiction of the complex nature of American sports culture.
“I’m happy with my involvement in the film and how it was told,” said Matt Sandusky, who declined on Sunday to talk about whether Jerry Sandusky had abused any of his other children. “The ending is what I want to be seen — what we’ve endured and been through. You feel the world is against you but we have each other.”
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