After a grand jury indicted former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky for sexual abuse of children, a friend of sportswriter Jack McCallum reminded him of his 1999 profile of Sandusky and his foundation for disadvantaged kids. “I guess you feel like a jerk,” the friend said. McCallum says the story, which he pitched after another one about Penn State fell through, “wasn’t very good.”
More to the point and most obviously, I had no suspicions about anything untoward going on with Sandusky or Second Mile. I remember that I didn’t particularly like the man — he seemed a little strange and detached and not at all joyful about what he was doing — but none of that tipped my cynical believe-the-worst-about-anyone-until-proven-otherwise journalistic dial toward high alert. …
Two things in particular haunt me. By the time I wrote the story, Sandusky’s showering with a youngster had already triggered a campus investigation, albeit one that never became public. And the revelations in the “Jerry Sandusky Grand Jury Report” … reveal that some of Sandusky’s worst behavior was going on right around this time. So I wrote a favorable story about a guy who was already a sexual predator.
Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated columnist Joe Posnanski, who is working on a biography of Joe Paterno, says he will not “add to the noise,” but instead focus on the book.
Some readers have criticized Posnanski for not weighing in on the scandal. In a longer post on SI.com, Posnanski writes:
I don’t know if this will make much sense, but the advantage of writing a biography, rather than an article or a series, is that you have time to allow the snippets and fragments and disputed stories and piercing emotions and enlightening moments to meld together and become something sharper and deeper, a mosaic that might offer something like insight. The challenge, though, is to use that time, to not get caught up in the emotion and distracting heat of the moment. …
I came to State College to write about a real man. I won’t tell you anything surprising: This terrible, evil story has made it harder.
Related: For sports media obsessed with the latest scandal, the biggest challenge may be maintaining some sense of fairness (National Sports Journalism Center)