Some crises linger. They hang around a long time, garnering media attention and demanding constant diligence and attention in managing the implications and damages.
Such is the case with the Jerry Sandusky, Penn State University and Joe Paterno situation. Make no doubt about it; they are all in Crisis Management mode. And, in this man’s humble opinion, not handling it well.
Earlier today, in advance of tomorrow’s planned publication of the Freeh Report into the Jerry Sandusky “problem”, the Paterno family issued a preemptive statement in support of Coach Joe Paterno. I do not know who is advising the Paterno family, but this is a classic crisis management, public relations mistake.
Crisis management guidelines suggest to deal with facts. Do not address rumors, innuendos and speculation. Do not speculate yourself. Do not panic. The Paterno family statement violates all of these rules. I am not sure what the family hoped to achieve with this statement – but it just comes across as posturing. It is full of fear, emotions and speculation. No, no, and no.
To fear what the report contains – based on “leaks” or not – displays a fear of what could be found. Posturing. To defend findings yet to be published, based on public speculation, only makes you look more guilty. To suggest that no one can know what a man who is now deceased and cannot defend himself was thinking at the time and then tell us exactly what he thought and how he would defend himself is disingenuous.
In my opinion, the Paterno family would have been better served to simply wait. Wait for the report to come out and then, if appropriate, counter the very specific findings (facts) that the report contains. In other words – do not panic.
Here is another piece of free advice for the Paterno family and any other individual or group mixed up in this mess. It is a huge public relations mistake to issue any comment on this ordeal without, specifically and upfront conveying empathy, sympathy and compassion for the victims of these crimes. The Paterno family statement failed to do this. Yes, they say Joe Paterno has been the only individual to admit he wished that he had done more. But, they do not specifically say why? Why does he wish he did more? To save the damage it did to the University? To the Football Program? To the Joe Paterno legend? Be specific … you must say first and foremost that you are sorry for the young men victimized by this monster for years after you had the ability to stop it! I am sorry, but the family statement still sounds as if they are claiming Joe Paterno is the victim here … he is not. They appear more worried about saving the Paterno legend than they are about protecting young men from being molested.
Furthermore to suggest that Joe Paterno was manipulated, fooled and deceived by Jerry Sandusky is not really a glaring endorsement or quality defense for this man that was supposed to be in control of the football program at such a prestigious university.
If you really have the need to make a statement, how about this: “The bottom line is, the impact that the Jerry Sandusky case has on our Father’s legend is of little consequence. All of us, and Joe included, are concerned that this institution, this community and this world, learns from this affair to ensure that future Jerry Sanduskys cannot roam free taking advantage of systems set up to help young men to weave their evil. In the long run, Joe’s legend will stand on its own merit. Right now, we must focus on the damage done to these young men and ensure this does not happen again here or elsewhere. We are confident that, knowing the facts now, Joe would be at the front of this movement to fix the problem we were so blind to.”
Like I said, this crisis will linger. There will be plenty of more opportunities to issue statements and many more situations where public relations and crisis management techniques will be put to the test. Please, try to remain focused on facts. Do not address nor participate in speculation. Do not panic. And, by all means, never forget who the real victims were/are in this crisis.