Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The ugly aftermath of Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno and the Penn State Scandal

In the 14 years SportsBusinessNews.com has been publishing, the biggest story we’ve covered up until now, has been the death of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt. As sad as The Terminator’s death was that fateful day at the Daytona 500, nothing compares to how important and far reaching the Penn State football scandal represents to the sports industry. The Penn State football program was free of the problems that have plagued so many other major college football programs. Their players graduated, they played football. This moved from a sports story, to the lead item on network news, the front page of newspaper, a sports story that has become one of the defining news stories of 2011.

The far-ranging and long-term implications of the Penn State football scandal haven’t begun to be understood. Before this story ends (and that may take many years) – how college football, college athletics and sports is viewed by hundreds of millions of people – will be impacted. It will be next to impossible to fully assess the fallout , but the sports industry that existed before the Penn State scandal, will not be the sports industry that will exist ten or twenty years from now.

Before the horrific allegations were reported (hard to believe it was just ten days ago this story was first reported), few if anyone outside of Penn State had ever heard of Jerry Sandusky. However, Joe Paterno and Penn State were two of the most cherished “brands” in sports, let alone college athletics.

Paterno had won more football games (409) than any other coach in college football history. Paterno had been Penn State’s head football coach for 46 years. Joe Paterno was among the most honored names in American society. Paterno was synonymous with the good most people look for in our leaders. And Penn State football – among the best –
where young men excel on and off the playing field and become community leaders after their playing careers ended.

“I’ve not seen anything on this scale, where the leadership’s been on notice for 10 years that something was going on, and took no action,” Harlan Loeb told The New York Times. Loeb who is in charge of the United States crisis and risk management practice at Edelman, a public-relations firm, continued. “That has to have a big effect on trust and reputation.”

Countless mistakes were made, beginning with an apparent cover-up of the allegations Jerry Sandusky, and now Penn State, are linked to that dates back more than 13 years. Penn State knew about Sandusky’s alleged behavior as far back as 1998 and Paterno knew something was wrong in 2002. They choose to “look the other way” and not contact the police. For Penn State, a problem that should have been dealt with years ago has become one of the great examples of damage control an American University has ever been forced to address.

“This scandal will not affect the quality of the education the students will receive, but it certainly could affect individual employers’ views of the education P.S.U. provides,” Karen A. Mason, director of college counseling at Pennsylvania’s Germantown Academy, said in an e-mail to The New York Times. “Incidents like this trigger concern that other problematic issues at the University may have been overlooked.”

When you choose to cover-up events that are repulsive and decide to conduct business as usual – one price you pay is being associated with similar events.

“It is really a striking and almost identical factual pattern that has emerged in the Catholic Church cases and at Penn State,” Jeffrey Anderson, a lawyer who has represented hundreds of American abuse victims in lawsuits against the Catholic Church, told CNN. “The only difference is that two people have been fired at Penn State who was in revered positions. That’s in contrast to every diocese in the U.S where a cover-up has been revealed.”

There have been other tragic and horrific events that have taken place at American universities – examples those at Penn State can learn from in trying to move forward in hopes of restoring Penn State’s image.

In 2007 at Virginia Tech, where Seung-Hui Cho’s horrific shooting rampage left 33 dead, Virginia Tech leaders had to ask themselves — would any parent allow their children to attend Virginia Tech?

“It might sound trite, but prospective students and their families saw on TV a united student body and incredibly supportive alumni population working together with strong university leadership,” said Larry Hincker, associate vice president for university relations at Virginia Tech in a New York Times report. “It was painful and stressful, but the institution kept moving in the right direction, dealt openly with problems and shared our experiences with others.”

The rape allegations against Duke’s lacrosse team created a national firestorm. While the players were exonerated of any crimes, in the days, weeks and months following the allegations, Duke’s preppy image and the sense of self-entitlement associated with their athletes, created a communications nightmare for Duke University.

“In all the information sessions I did that season, there was only one time when anyone raised a question about it,” Christoph Guttentag, Duke’s admissions director told the New York Times. “Most people saw it for what it was, which was an issue that wasn’t going to have any significant effect on their child’s career at Duke.”

The Penn State football scandal left the sports pages soon after the news broke on November 5. Reporters who play in the sandbox of life (better known as the sports industry) reached out to those who knew little about the sports industry but did understand the horror of the allegations and what the cover-up represented.

“This isn't about football or coaches or who you like better. The Penn State scandal is about what happened to those young boys in the shower stall. The horror of those 'alleged' moments is almost lost in the uproar and focus over the shakeup of an historical and cultural mob mentality that ignores the small and crushes the weak,” Ph.D. therapist and couples expert Dr. Tammy Nelson told The Huffington Post.

“Even in the media coverage of the recent shake-up at the college, the focus has been on the loving and loyal connection to the old guard football legends of coaching at Penn State. We ignore the victims of the abuse by a coach who was accused 18 times of abusing young boys and instead hear interviews and news coverage of nostalgia for the good old boy/good old days. That type of loyalty to the team spirit could have and should have kept all the team players safe and protected instead of throwing the weak and vulnerable to the wolves for the sake of the big game.” Nelson concluded.

The Penn State football program generates more than $70 million annually, and has shown a yearly profit of more than $50 million. Penn State football is a money-making machine and the cover-up in large part was about ensuring Penn State had that $50 million to spend each year. But coaches like Joe Paterno create a sense of loyalty that few outside of the Penn State football circle will ever understand.

“Misplaced loyalty is often because a person has developed a trauma bond relationship and become loyal, attached or even supportive of a person who is manipulative, exploitative, abusive or toxic. This can be a powerful attachment that requires the trauma-bonded person to 'keep secrets.' The secrets being kept are the powerful force that keeps the person in bondage. Typically, a trauma bond relationship is applicable to sexually abused persons. They are traumatized by the horrible secret and are required or exploited by threats of breaking the secret. The power is in the secret,” Trudy Johnson, therapist and author, told The Huffington Post.

The Penn State scandal has become a communications disaster of biblical proportion for Penn State. It wouldn’t be too far fetched to suggest what might be in the best interest is for Penn State to believe it is in the school’s best interest to adopt a scorched earth philosophy – fire everyone who is in anyway linked to the scandal. That process is well underway.

Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier, Penn State’s President for 16 years, were fired last week.

Mike McQueary, then a graduate assistant and currently an assistant football coach at Penn State, has been placed on “administrative leave” and is under protective custody. According to Grand Jury records, McQueary walked into the Nittany Lions locker room in 2002 and witnessed Sandusky raping a ten-year-old boy, and decided all he had to do was to let Coach Paterno know. A year after McQueary reported what he had seen to Paterno, Paterno hired McQueary as a full-time coach.

Penn State Athletic Director Timothy Curley and Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz are facing charges for failing to report the abuse to authorities and misleading investigators. Curley is still on Penn State’s payroll; Schultz has retired.

Jay Paterno, one of Paterno’s sons and one of Penn State’s assistant football coaches, is likely coaching his last football games at Penn State – guilty only of being Joe Paterno’s son.

Penn State is going to need a great deal of help in rebuilding their football coaching staff next year – and that makes perfect sense. The road back for Penn State will be a long, difficult and painful path. What Penn State had better realize is that the sooner they are honest in dealing with the scandal and the fallout, the sooner the school will have an opportunity to begin to deal with life after the Sandusky scandal.

For Sports Business News, this is Howard Bloom

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