July 17, 2012

A Closer Look at ’99 Photo of Sandusky Touching a Player

A Closer Look at ‘99 Photo of Sandusky Touching a Player

The first thing to say about this photo of Jerry Sandusky taken in 1999 by AP’s Eric Gay is that the Atlantic is not the first to use it. They are the latest, though, as it accompanies their current story, “Could the Penn State Abuse Scandal Happen Somewhere Else? Definitely.” In fact, if you follow this Google link, you’ll see the photo has run dozens of times since 2011. (Here, a blog called “The Daily Blender” appended a hard question to it as a follow up to the Sandusky – Costas interview last November.)

The thing is though, I’d never seen it before. And I imagine many of you hadn’t either.

Another thing about the photo is that, in almost all of those instances in which its been published, it was used for illustration as opposed to discussed on its own. Of course, this is how good photo editing is supposed to work. We see a powerful photo like this, we understand it intuitively (or we’re supposed to), and we move on. In this case, however (and, in the case of every image we post at BagNews), our feeling is that certain photos deserve a more singular look.

Culling from the original AP caption, I believe, the Des Moines Register informs us:

This Dec. 28, 1999 photo shows Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky reaching out to defensive back Brandon Scott (45) as he is carried by players including Jason Wallace (88) after they defeated Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl, in San Antonio, Tex.

What else might there be to appreciate here, however, beyond just the irony we read in an instant?

Well for one thing, this article at Tampa Bay Online informs us that Sandusky’s “Victim 4” was listed as part of his family party at the very same ’99 Alamo Bowl and that police in San Antonio were “looking into claims in the grand jury report that Sandusky made advances toward the boy.” According to the report:

“Sandusky did threaten to send him home from the Alamo Bowl in Texas when Victim 4 resisted his advances….”

As you already get, it’s data like that which will immediately transform a photo from an abstraction or a suggestion into a window.

A couple pieces of ephemera, by the way….

Many of the instances in which this photo appears come from posts speculating that Sandusky had a particular interest in young black males. I don’t know if those claims are realistic or completely unfounded, but they understandably point to a dimension of competitive sport in which black youth, if they come from little or no means, have a exposure and vulnerability the culture isn’t all that interested in thinking about — at least, not prospectively.

Then, the photo and article at The Plain Dealer by a reader, bbacker187, generated this comment:

To add another layer of awfulness to this whole mess, a decade ago Jerry Sandusky published a book titled “Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story” (you can find it on Amazon, although it is out of stock–as if anyone other than law enforcement officials and prosecutors would want to read it.)

… And yes, it exists — at $500 for the hard bound edition, at least as of today.

Given Sandusky’s actions but even more so, the enabling of it by the university and the sports industrial complex, we should not only be touched by a photo like this (at a glance), but we should also be mindful, if you keep looking and digging into all manner of news photos, they’re going to have a lot more to say.

(photo: Eric Gay/AP – 1999)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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