Take Paterno’s Statue Down: Penn State’s PR Disaster

Penn State’s sex abuse scandal can no longer be attributed to one man, convicted pervert Jerry Sandusky. The university’s top leaders had a “total disregard” for the welfare of the children involved. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s independent report makes that clear: “The most powerful men at Penn St. failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”

When it comes to crisis communications, there is no substitute for doing the right thing. The top people at Penn State chose not to. There is no amount of spin that can change that. Going forward, Penn State needs to fire everyone involved in the scandal, have a clear plan for preventing it from ever happening again, and work hard to help abuse victims.

And get rid of the Joe Paterno statue.

Freeh’s report states the recently deceased football coach “was an integral part of the act to conceal.” How can anyone concerned for kids pass by that statue each day? No amount of football wins buys you a free pass to conceal such abuse when children are in harm’s way.

Penn State leaders failed to act because they feared the bad publicity would affect its reputation. Note to Penn State: How did that strategy work for you? Let’s hope this lesson is a wake-up call for other administrators consumed with college pride and luxury boxes.

The writer is a communication crisis expert and former sportscaster. For more on crisis communication principles, click here.