Joe Paterno has taken the bulls by the horn this morning, and in a widely reported press conference has stated: “I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can.”
Paterno has pushed Penn State into a corner – and now and today Penn State needs to respond forcefully and say:
“You are Fired. We will not tolerate our employees to be aware of child molesters and do nothing about it. You may be a winner at coaching, but your conduct as one who educates youth on values is unacceptable, and we will not tolerate such people to educate our athletes, or others. Mr. Paterno: Would you want your children and grandchildren educated by someone who does nothing about child molesters? Mr. Paterno may not be guilty in the court of law, but he’s certainly guilty in the court of public opinion.”
The Penn State brand is at risk here and one wonders how many parents are watching scenes unfold of students celebrating Paterno in front of his home as a hero because of his many wins on the football field – but one wonders if the football field is nearly as important as the destroyed lives of the many children molested. These kids were molested in part because Paterno and others did nothing about it.
This reputational crisis which Penn State is facing is one which affects the entire Penn State brand – From the value of Penn State degrees to recruitment for future Penn State classes, donations from alumni to possible academic awards, Penn State’s PR crisis is only yet beginning. One wonders how many parents will be comfortable having their children attend and educated at an institution where University Presidents, “hero” coaches, and students not only accept, but celebrate those who witness – and do nothing – about disgusting, illegal behaviour.
The former football coach and admitted child molester even wrote an autobiography entitled “Touched.” Penn State has a lot at risk in handling this situation properly – and quickly before the damage continues to spread. Given the elements of abuse, sex and university this is sure to be a lasting viral, national story.
Like in many other crisis PR situations, there are two courts at play – the court of law and the court of public opinion. Penn State needs to decide if their brand is about winning football games or speaking out against child molestors. As a brand proposition it’s an easy decision.
And if you want to know more, download the indictment of the child molestor: http://i.cdn.turner.com/dr/teg/tsg/release/sites/default/files/assets/sanduskygrangjury.pdf
Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5WPR, a Top 25 PR Agency and has a best-selling PR book”For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations” an Amazon best selling Public Relations book available for purchase at: http://www.amazon.com/Immediate-Release-Deliver-Game-Changing-Relations/dp/1936661160
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