At an on-campus dinner the night before Penn State's football game against Iowa last month, former Nittany Lion Rogers Alexander shook hands with Jerry Sandusky. It was the first time Alexander, once a Washington, D.C., police officer, saw his former coach in more than 20 years.
"I remember walking away, and this is my cop-self talking, asking myself, 'Did he give you that vibe?'" Alexander said.
Alexander on Monday joined a group former Penn State football players questioning what they knew about not only their former coach but also the program. In online columns, on Twitter and in interviews, the former players struggled to comprehend something they hope proves untrue.
"I know Jerry, and I've known the people involved there for a long, long time," said Mike Guman, a Bethlehem Catholic graduate who played for Penn State in the late 1970s. "That's what's so crushing about it. I hope to God those things are all false."
Added Mike Cerimele, a Central Catholic graduate who played during Sandusky's final season in 1999, "I'm really struggling with it. At the end of the day, if it's true, I don't feel bad saying this: Go rot. It's just disgusting."
Online, reaction from former players mixed shock with sadness.
"[R]eally tough hearing about this penn state scandal as it unfolds ... ," running back Evan Royster tweeted.
"I love PSU, but I just read the 23 page indictment it was tough to read, if everything in there true it's really hard to be Penn State Proud," fullback Matt Hahn added.
In a column posted at the Washington Post's website, former linebacker LaVar Arrington said he "will wait to see what happens in court" but was "shocked and surprised this even has a possibility of being true."
"On one side I want Jerry to be innocent because he was a great man to me," Arrington wrote, "but on the other side, as a responsible parent if he did molest or assault those children, then he needs to be responsible for his actions, as we all have to be."
Alexander, who played linebacker for Penn State in the 1980s, said the grand jury report detailing the allegations against Sandusky didn't match the coach he knew as a "big softy." At the benefit dinner last month, Alexander recognized Sandusky as his "usual, jovial self," the same coach who "would be smiling even when he was yelling at you."
Still, Alexander said, the interaction struck him as "weird." At the time, he was aware of the continuing grand jury investigation against Sandusky, and his experience investigating child-abuse cases as a former police officer heightened his awareness. Alexander added that the number of alleged victims and the grand jury testimony of an eyewitness, current wide receivers coach Mike McQueary, were "troubling."
"I know from catching bank robbers, eyewitness testimony can be disputed, but it's unique testimony," Alexander said. "Plus, the witness knew the alleged perp. Eyewitnesses are not as accurate when the witness doesn't know the perp. So when I read the grand jury testimony, that really shook me to my knees."
Cerimele called the allegations "shocking and sickening" and said they made him view past instances differently. After the team returned from the Outback Bowl in early 1999, Sandusky walked around "with the weight of the world on his shoulders," Cerimele said. He thought the coach looked distracted and said the timing of Sandusky's retirement later that year was puzzling.
"That was something I could never understand," Cerimele said. "He was most likely the next head coach, if he wanted the position, and he had this great group of linebackers coming through. It just didn't make any sense."
Former players also expressed concern over whether Penn State, including head coach Joe Paterno, handled the situation properly. On Monday, Frank Noonan, commissioner of Pennsylvania State Police, said Paterno fulfilled his legal requirement in reporting suspected abuse to his superior but questioned whether the coach fulfilled his "moral requirement."
"That struck me because, as players, I always thought we were under the microscope," Alexander said. "So I would think a former coach or current coach would be under the microscope as well."
Added Guman, "I think of the people at Penn State. They've given their life to young people. I'm confused about that. I can't imagine that, if they truly knew, they wouldn't have come forward and done something about it."
Cerimele said one of his concerns, once the case is resolved legally, is the potential damage to Paterno's reputation.
"I hope this isn't the last thing people think about when they think about Joe Paterno," he said.
Guman, Cerimele and Alexander, along with countless Penn State players, have volunteered with The Second Mile, the children's outreach program that Sandusky founded. They further worried about the organization's ability to continue its work.
"A lot of Penn State athletes who were involved in The Second Mile feel akin to being facilitators to this," Alexander said. "Because, if you're a parent, you see that these are good kids coming from Penn State to help. It lends legitimacy: 'My kid is going to be safe in this environment.' It feels like we're part and parcel of pulling the wool over these parents' eyes."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times