The Unspeakable Sandusky

Frederick Crews
2 min readJul 24, 2021

Several years ago, after reading a formidable but neglected book by Mark Pendergrast called The Most Hated Man in America: Jerry Sandusky and the Rush to Judgment, I joined the small group of skeptics who have concluded that America’s paramount sexual villain is nothing of the sort. Sandusky, now 77 years old, has been imprisoned since 2012, but he still insists on his innocence, and–believe it or not–there isn’t a shred of credible evidence that he ever molested anyone. Indeed, it is now known that he was physically as well as morally incapable of doing so.

Since Sandusky first began to be demonized in the press, 14 months before his trial, no print magazine has published a single word in his defense. Until recently, I hit the same wall myself when trying to place an essay detailing the many troubling aspects of the case. My luck seemed to change, though, in December 2020 when an editor at the conservative religious magazine First Things solicited my essay, provocatively titled “Saint Sandusky?” Although I am neither conservative nor religious, I found a tolerant atmosphere among the staff. The article was scheduled for publication on July 9, 2021, in the magazine’s August/September number.

Anticipating outrage and canceled subscriptions, the editors asked me to gather favorable opinions that could be posted online to cushion the blow. Easily done. In circulating my drafts to friends and acquaintances, I had already accumulated many heartfelt endorsements. First Things intended to post statements submitted by Noam Chomsky, Elizabeth Loftus, Carol Tavris, and Jerry Coyne among others. But those testimonials didn’t appear, because . . . the article didn’t, either.

First Things is a vehicle of the Institute on Religion and Public Life. At the eleventh hour, as the mortified editors informed me, the institute’s Catholic board canceled publication of my article. Perhaps you can guess the reason: the Church has a pedophilia problem, and Jerry Sandusky is assumed to be a pedophile. It was thought best to avoid any association, however remote, between Catholicism and his cause.

To my mind, this timidity is sadly ironic. Sweeping sexual abuse under the rug has been routine policy for the Church, and it has only magnified the worldwide scandal of predation and hypocrisy among the anointed. Moreover, we know that some priests have been falsely accused by fortune seekers–an exact parallel to the Sandusky case, as my essay shows. And finally, Jerry Sandusky himself happens to be a devout Methodist. The editors of First Things had supplied their guardians with every reason to believe that a man of faith has been wrongly incarcerated, but that consideration was overruled by image polishing. As I wrote to the editors, “Your board is Catholic, but it isn’t Christian.”

“Saint Sandusky?” can now be found on Medium.

If you want to see (but not post or publish) the statements of support, write to me at



Frederick Crews

Frederick Crews is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent book is Freud: The Making of an Illusion (2017).