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As ESPN controversy swirls, Gerry Sandusky can empathize with broadcaster Robert Lee

A sports broadcaster is in the news this week for his name. Gerry Sandusky, of course, can relate.

The WBAL-TV sports director and Ravens radio play-by-play voice still gets misguided comments about name doppelgänger Jerry Sandusky, almost six years after the former Penn State football defensive coordinator was indicted on 52 counts of child molestation.

With ESPN’s decision this week to remove play-by-play man Robert Lee from the broadcast of the Virginia football team’s season opener next week in Charlottesville, where earlier this month a protest over the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue turned deadly, I asked Sandusky whether he wanted to weigh in on the developing controversy. I figured he might be sick of talking about names by now. He was not.

What was your reaction when you first heard about this? What kind of flashes or pangs of déjà vu did you have?

One of the first things I thought about was when everyone reached out to me originally: "So why don't you change your name?" Well, here's your answer: What if you change your name to Robert Lee? You've got to go with the cards you're dealt.

Look, it's reached a level of epidemic insanity when a guy named Robert Lee is taken off a broadcast at a Virginia football game because we're so hung up on the way people's names sound, the color of people's skin, what kind of food they're eating, whether they're Republican or Democrat, whether they're a blue state or a red state. We have so lost touch with the simple, conversational rules of humanity, of giving people their space to have their name, their preferences, their backgrounds, as long as those aren't hurting anybody.

I mean, I totally understand taking a guy off of a broadcast if he assaulted somebody, sure. But here's a guy who's a young broadcaster, has a chance to do an ACC football game. That's a big deal. And he gets his opportunity taken away from him because somebody might be offended by his name? I just think we're just so overreacting and so overreaching and so overconcerned about the things that don't matter because we're not paying attention to the things that do matter.

Lee's obviously not as experienced as you were when you were going through what you did in the wake of Penn State. Do you think this is something he would have been better off having to grin and bear, if there was any brushback for him doing a game at Virginia?

Exactly. Because the one thing we can always control is our reaction. And as soon as you understand that if you don't react to the haters, you take their power away. People are free to hate all they want. But if you don't react to it, then you don't add any fuel to the fire, and eventually it'll die out. America's gone through much bigger crises than a broadcaster named Gerry Sandusky or a broadcaster named Robert Lee.

Do you think this whole incident is a disservice to his career?

It won't be a disservice to his career because now he'll have people who will remember his name at cocktail parties that wouldn't have remembered it otherwise. And if he's good at what he does, which seems to be, then he'll get other opportunities, and I think it'll probably be kind of an eye-opener for him. You just can't get too caught up in what everybody else thinks.

I saw that you still are getting Jerry Sandusky remarks online and on Twitter. How frequent is the confusion that you get from people?

Several times a week still. Some of them, I know, are just trolls, and I don't respond to them.

Does it pop up more during football season?

Oh, yeah. It pops up all the time. It's one of those things, even at this point, when people see my name for the first time, they think they're the first person who's making the connection. It's like, "Thanks for the punchline, but I've heard that joke before." People see it and they go, "Oh, my gosh!" It's like: "Alaska's been a state for a while, and people have been making fun of my name for a while. Glad you could catch up."

Lee hasn't been made available for interviews, so if you had a chance to give him your hard-earned advice, what would you say?

Be proud of your name and use it as an opportunity to make people feel good about your name. The only way you do that is by the way you handle your reaction to it. Don't buy into the negativity. Don't hate on the haters. Stand tall, know what you believe in and stand for those things. And if you do, people will recognize it.

We have two more preseason Ravens games to go before the season starts. What are your thoughts on where the team is?

I'm always excited to see a football season start. I think this year, more than any year since Joe Flacco's rookie season, we're not going to get a dress rehearsal. We're not going to get a true dress rehearsal where you see the starting 22 for a full quarter or a full half and have a sense of, "OK, this is what this team looks like."

I think we know this is going to be a really good defense. We know that this is going to be a great special teams unit. Could be a great defense. I don't think we have any sense of what this offense is or is going to be because we haven't seen Flacco in practice, we haven't seen the same offensive line two days in a row, and so between now and Sept. 10, I think you could see a lot of new pieces to the puzzle.

So it's kind of like looking at a picture and having a pretty good sight line on two-thirds of it but that other third, not really having a great feel of what it is or what it could be. And I think that adds a lot to the drama of the fall.

jshaffer@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jonas_shaffer

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