“We are Penn State: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” All That Is Necessary For Evil To Triumph Is For Good Men To Do Nothing: Penn State, Sponsors And A Crisis PR Nightmare

For evil to succeed, good people stand on the side and allow evil to happen.  At Penn State a blind eye to child molestation went on for years – and from watching the reaction of the university leadership and community we see warped values continue to permeate Penn State.

 “WE ARE PENN STATE” has long been the university slogan, and indoctrination at pep rallies for the football team – that slogan has now been changed to “Don’t ask, Don’t Tell” as it relates to the (at least) 8 children who were raped and molested by Jerry Sandunsky, the coach, who continued to visit Penn State football facilities as recently as last week.   By what we have seen transpire well after we have learned about Sandunsky’s despicable acts we are clear that multiple people at the University turned a blind eye to the molestations. Don’t ask, don’t tell – if you walk in on a child of 10 years old being raped in a shower. Don’t ask, don’t tell – if the football coach wins on the football field why he never called the police. Don’t ask, don’t tell – students why they think football is more important than children.

As a marketer who owns 1 of the largest PR firms in the US, I believe we have only seen the tip of this scandal as it relates to Penn State, and their crisis PR nightmare has just begun.  Sponsors of the $72 Million university athletics program like AT & T, Chevrolet, PNC Financial, John Deere, State Farm Insurance and others will soon be called upon to decide where they stand in support of this program.

We have learned a lot about the values of Penn State in the last few days:

  • Students rioted at Penn State in support of head coach Joe Paterno after he was fired.  They flipped over trucks, brought down light posts, set off firecrackers and clashed with police amidst chants of “Hell no, JoePa won’t go!” and “We are Penn State!” They make it quite clear he’s a winner on the football field and don’t care that he never called the police – and Sandunsky visited his locker room very regularly.  Paterno’s legacy as the best coach ever is clearly much more important than allowing a cover-up.   WE ARE PENN STATE Contrast that with the sole (Yes, one) protestor at Saturday’s game who raised a voice of moral conscience outside the holy temple of Penn State – Their Saturday football game. Jon Matko, a 2000 Penn State graduate stood outside the game with a thick piece of black duct tape covering the Penn State logo on his baseball cap and a pair of signs criticising the university. Matko said: “It’s shocking that I’m the only one here – It’s shocking and disturbing.”   Tellingly, tens of thousands amazingly walked by him and none of them thought to skip a football game and stand with him.  Thousands rioted for Paterno – none thought to stand up for the victims. Shameful.  WE ARE PENN STATE.
  • Contrast that with the sole (Yes, one) protestor at Saturday’s game who raised a voice of moral conscience outside the holy temple of Penn State – Their Saturday football game. Jon Matko, a 2000 Penn State graduate stood outside the game with a thick piece of black duct tape covering the Penn State logo on his baseball cap and a pair of signs criticising the university. Matko said: “It’s shocking that I’m the only one here – It’s shocking and disturbing.”   Tellingly, tens of thousands amazingly walked by him and none of them thought to skip a football game and stand with him.  Thousands rioted for Paterno – none thought to stand up for the victims. Shameful.  WE ARE PENN STATE.
  • Penn State is still paying Mike McQueary, a Penn State assistant football coach who told Joe Paterno that he witnessed a young boy being sexually assaulted in a shower. According to a grand jury report, the graduate assistant entered a locker room on a Friday night – and “..he was surprised to find the lights and showers on,..He then heard rhythmic, slapping sounds.” The assistant looked into the shower and “saw a naked boy … whose age he estimated to be 10 years old, with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky.” McQueary, who surely had spent hours teaching his students how to hit someone hard on the football field never considered getting involved and protecting the youth – took him a day to tell his boss, and he never called the police. With a clear conscience he continued coaching – One wonders how many players he told to hit someone on the football field… yet couldn’t figure that he ought to protect a 10 year old boy.  WE ARE PENN STATE.

 

The Penn state brand has sponsors, donors and people who wear memorabilia – they should all be deciding over the next few days if they stand by a University who turns a blind-eye to child molesters.  Will they decide if they too will turn a blind eye and say “WE ARE PENN STATE”?

In 2010,  the Department of Homeland Security launched a national “If You See Something, Say Something” public awareness campaign –a simple and effective program to raise public awareness of indicators of terrorism and violent crime, and to emphasise the importance of reporting suspicious activity to the proper state and local law enforcement authorities. Clearly, university administrators at Penn State ignored that message when many of them were aware of children being molested – after all the team was winning on the field. Penn State University has let us know where their values are as a brand – now sponsors, alumni, donors and the general decent public should also decide regarding Penn State is it: “Don’t ask don’t tell” or “If you see something – say something.”

I hope decent America will stand up and say something – and do something to punish Penn State’s continued despicable behaviour. This is a shameful story – and those who stand by Penn State continue to aid and abet.

 

 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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