The double takes have become de rigueur at airports. Restaurants, too, or any place that requires a credit card. Last month, as he prepared to travel on the Baltimore Ravens' charter to Atlanta for a preseason game, the team's radio voice handed his driver's license to a TSA agent. The agent stared at the name on the license. Then back at Sandusky. Then back at the I.D. Ravens linebackers coach Ted Monachino, standing nearby, noticed what was going on and attempted to diffuse the tension. "Yep," said Monachino, "Lee Harvey Oswald is checking in for the flight."
Not quite, but sportscaster Gerry Sandusky has one of the worst names in America. Every day, especially online, he is reminded of his homonymic proximity to Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach who was convicted in June on 45 counts related to child sex abuse. The two are not related, though they did meet once: Gerry interviewed Jerry before the 1987 Fiesta Bowl. It was a 90-second feature on the then defensive coordinator and included some harmless questions about how they share a name. "Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that that interaction would be something I'd deal with 25 years later," says Gerry, 51.
He has been heckled by fans on the road, watched people visibly flinch when he introduces himself, and no longer makes reservations at restaurants under his full name. Though his bio on Twitter clearly states I am Gerry with a G. Baltimore sportscaster. No relation to the former Penn State coach, he gets hateful tweets on nearly a daily basis. He has repeatedly been told, "I hope you rot in hell forever." His family members—he and Lee Ann, his wife of 24 years, have a 22-year-old daughter, Katy, and a 17-year-old son, Zack—share similar stories. "The name spurs conversation; it spurs the looks; it spurs people being taken aback," says Lee Ann, a travel agent. "You grow weary of it, but every day you wake up and know that you are probably going to get it."
Gerry uses the word inconvenience to describe his situation—he repeatedly says he is not a victim, out of respect for Jerry Sandusky's real victims—but sharing such a vilified name has had professional implications. Last June he served as an instructor at the NFL's annual Broadcast Boot Camp, a four-day workshop at NFL Films for current and former players who want to get into the business. In conversations there with producers from several networks, Gerry says, he was told that his name would be too much of a liability for him to work games at the national level.
October 1, 2012
Things are better in Baltimore, where Gerry is the sports director at WBAL-TV. He explained early on to viewers that the names were not connected, and both Ravens and WBAL-TV management have said the name was never an issue. "Our association with him is a benefit to us despite the other Jerry Sandusky," says Kevin Byrne, who oversees the Ravens' public- and community-relations departments.
To Gerry, the name Sandusky honors his late parents; his father, John, was an NFL assistant coach for five decades who served under Don Shula in Baltimore and Miami. He accepts that the double takes and invective will continue for years, but his name is his name: He will not change it. Says Gerry, "I can't help but think that somewhere out there in America there's also a truck driver named Bernie Madoff or a baker named Charlie Manson."
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ESPN has often tinkered with its NBA pregame show—last year it forsook a traditional studio host and moved its base from Bristol to Los Angeles—and another makeover is being planned. The network has reached out to Bill Simmons, offering the Grantland.com majordomo an analyst role. (It is thought that he'll accept.) ESPN has also spoken with former Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, whose candor could translate into terrific TV. Those additions would add bite, but neither would address the show's major weakness: Magic Johnson, whose delivery is too clunky and whose demeanor is too wooden for him to be the centerpiece of every discussion. The bold move would be to bench Magic (right), but that probably won't happen.