Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where children and their well beings are revered, valued and defended no matter what.
I have to start by expressing my revulsion and utter disgust at the allegations against Jerry Sandusky and Penn State University officials. Reading the 23-page indictment report made me want to vomit. I think ESPN said it best so far: if true, what has allegedly happened at Penn State is a true American tragedy. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families, and my sincere hope is that swift and appropriate justice is rendered to anyone who may be guilty of or complicit to these heinous crimes.
Professionally, I think this still-breaking scandal at Penn State is all by itself on a whole other level of scandals – far worse than Ohio State, Miami, USC and other recent rulebreakers. Nevin Shapiro is one slimy guy, but he’s no child molester…and Jim Tressel covered up some things, but he didn’t allegedly kick the can down the road when sexual abuse was happening under his roof. This scandal’s reach permeates into the community much more than others because of the nature of it…many more stakeholders of all kinds are involved here, and any response/communications strategy needs to address each of them appropriately.
So far, I would argue Penn State gets a D- for its handling of the crisis. First and foremost, I don’t believe I’ve heard anyone involved or any representatives of Penn State apologize for anything. It’s as if PSU President Spanier thinks this will just go away in a week or so. Second, they’ve puckered up tighter than a snare drum, cancelling scheduled news conferences, offering short statements, etc. Just last night I saw a statement from the Board of Trustees expressing horror at the allegations and promising action…that’s the only thing saving PSU from an F grade in my book. But that’s it…the key parties aren’t saying anything, and as such they project guilt (because, quite possibly, they are guilty). Worst yet, they’re appearing to be completely out of touch with the widespread grief and anguish that every single member – students, staff, the community, alumni, etc. – of the Penn State community is dealing with. The only person who seems willing to talk is JoePa himself, but his handlers have had other ideas…a late-night address to a support rally at his house doesn’t quite count.
Adding yet another hint of impersonality to the situation, has anyone else noticed how Scott Paterno – Joe’s youngest son – has been calling his own father by his first name? He’s not saying that “his father,” or “Dad,” is doing anything – it’s always “Joe.” Maybe this is completely normal behavior, but Paterno family dynamics aside, this makes JoePa seem even more distant to the public – especially the extended PSU and national community who doesn’t know him as well.
PSU officials would be wise to think about every single stakeholder group at the university and in their community – and then devise messages and communication to every one of them…and fast. They’d also be wise to say something…anything really, but something more than nothing. Their first and only goal should be reassuring victims, students and other key constituents that these charges are being taken extremely seriously and will be handled appropriately – not worrying about whether or not the Nittany Lions can remain on track to play in the Big Ten title game next month. I think these officials are failing to recognize that the prestige and reputation of their university, and the perceived value of a diploma from their institution, is at stake. This is a crisis that goes way beyond the football field, directly challenging the mission and business of Penn State University. Officials have to do what they think will help them uphold that reputation now, next week, next year and beyond…or the aftershocks will reverberate well beyond Beaver Stadium.
What a nightmare situation this is. Unfortunately, I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better. I hope I’m wrong.
That’s all for now. I’m out like a sense of humor from any part of this post. It just wouldn’t be appropriate, I think.