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Thirteen days after Jerry Sandusky was arrested and charged with sexually abusing eight boys, the voice of the Baltimore Ravens was about to meet an icon in his field.
On the sidelines of Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on Nov. 18, 2011, the sports broadcaster approached Dick Ebersol.
“I put out my hand and said, ‘Hi, I’m Gerry Sandusky,’” he said.
“[Ebersol] visibly flinched. That’s when I realized this is going to be a very long year and then some.”
Let’s clear this up.
Gerry Sandusky is the Ravens’ play-by-play announcer, going into his seventh year on the job.
Jerry Sandusky is the former Penn State football coach who has been found guilty on 45 of 48 counts of child molestation charges.
They ARE NOT related. They have never been related. They don’t know each other.
One letter sure makes a big difference.
But that small, yet massive difference, and the lack of attention paid to it, has been plaguing Gerry for more than seven months. And it has no end in sight.
He’s received thousands of tweets @GerrySandusky from “confused” tweeters. When we talked last Thursday, he said it was probably the highest volume yet. It was 2:12 p.m. ET and he estimated he received upwards of 600 nasty tweets already that day.
After months of calmly, and sometimes comically, correcting those who make the mistake in identities, Gerry estimates that still 60 percent of the tweets he gets are intended for the other Sandusky.
“I’ve had many invitations to spend eternity in hell,” Gerry said in an emotionless voice.
He’s been called a monster, a molester, a rapist.
“Luckily, people are limited to just how ugly they can get in 140 characters,” he said. “That’s one of the blessings of Twitter. It’s a free medium to people of all levels of insight and intelligence.”
Here’s a few examples of tweets just from last Thursday.
@ABdaCrackbby May I recommend a combination of spelling and anger management? You’re fury is misplaced. I’m not related to JS.
Because of his job, he’s constantly on Twitter. He had 5,615 followers as of Thursday, and the number leapt with developments in the criminal proceedings. There was a brief respite in the month before the trial, but it’s at an all-time frenzy now.
“If there’s an hour when he doesn’t deal with it, that’s surprising,” said his daughter, Katy, who works in the Ravens’ marketing department.
Gerry replies to many of those who are confused. In an effort to head it off, he put in his tagline, “I am Gerry with a G. Baltimore sportscaster. No relation to the former Penn State coach.” That didn’t stop the mistakes.
It hasn’t been easy to bite his tongue, not even for a man with such gifted control of it.
“Early on I probably found myself getting sucked into the negativity a little bit, trying to fight it a little too much,” Gerry said. “Then I just realized you can’t fight this. This is a tidal wave. You don’t fight tidal waves, you ride tidal waves and you try to get to the shore in one piece.”
While the abuse is the worst online, it doesn’t end in person, especially when Gerry is away from Baltimore and those who know him from television.
It followed him and his family last weekend on a vacation to New York City. They went to an Indian restaurant touting the hottest curry in the world. If you could eat a plate of it in 30 minutes, you got your name on the wall.
It’s an honor no man can resist, especially not one with an appetite for spicy food like Gerry. He wolfed it down in 12 minutes.
That was the easy part. The waitress came to their table with the certificate and asked for his name.
“She was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Gerry recalls. “I was like, ‘Lady, would I make that name up?’”
The neighboring table asked if he was for real. Soon, the entire restaurant and half the kitchen were buzzing about it. When they checked into the Marriott Hotel that evening, the front desk asked if they wanted to check in under an alias.
The other Sandusky is in prison, likely for the rest of his life, but the innocent one could also be dealing with the repercussions for the rest of his life.
“This is just something that’s going to have to run its course. That course might be a matter of years,” Gerry said. “By now, my Kevlar is so rock solid that it would take a whole lot to rattle me on this issue.”
“It’s really been hard on him,” Katy said. “I know that. And it’s been hard on our whole family to have somebody essentially destroy the integrity of your name when you didn’t do anything and you worked so hard to maintain a high integrity.”
So why doesn’t he just change his name?
That’s the question Sandusky always gets from sympathizers.
But Gerry is too proud to do that.
He got the last name from his father, John, who was an offensive and defensive tackle in the NFL from 1950 to 1956 for the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers. He was an offensive line coach for the Baltimore Colts, Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins. He was head coach of the Colts for part of the 1972 season.
“My mother and father left me a great name when they died,” he said. “I intend to do the same with my children.
“I believe in my name. I believe in my family. We’re not going to hide.”
Even if Gerry did change his name, in the Google world we live in today, his real name would be revealed in a matter of seconds, if not just remembered by those who know him already.
“Then what’s that say? That he couldn’t take the pressure and folded the deck?” Gerry said. “I’m just not wired that way.”
As you may expect – but probably shouldn’t – from a person that has handled this whole ordeal with so much grace, Gerry has taken the positives from it.
As crazy at it sounds, Gerry feels even more blessed because so many people in the Baltimore market have reached out to him with genuine affection. He has a legion of Twitter followers who fight to clear his name.
Gerry said he feels more connected to Baltimore than he ever has.
“There are people that have colossal problems in this world,” he said. “Mine is a colossal inconvenience. There are real victims in this story. I’m not one of them.
“I’m absolutely fine. I live a blessed life. I’ve got a great job, a great wife, great kids, great health. C’mon, who has it better than me?”