Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Penn State a Smoldering Crisis for 17-Years

“It’s not about Paterno or football, it is about making sure processes are in place and individuals are held accountable so Penn State’s name is never shamed again,” Paul Silvis, a member of Penn State’s board of trustees said shortly before veteran coach Joe Paterno confirmed he would be retiring at the end of the season.

Well, this post is not about Paterno or football or even Penn State.  It is about any organization – business, charity, not-for-profit, public school or university having a plan in place to manage and communicate when something as big and smelly as the assistant coach molesting young men and boys blows up in your face.
First of all, this was what we at the Institute for Crisis Management call a smoldering crisis.

Former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was temporarily jailed last weekend and charged with sexual assaults or advances on at least eight boys starting as early as 1994.  Someone or several someones have known about the smoldering crisis for years.  And someone could have started the process of shutting down the “problem” and beginning the process to both take care of the victims AND prepare the Administration and Head Coach to minimize the damage. 

“This is a tragedy,” Coach Paterno, said in a statement released today by his public relations agency. “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

And the school’s Board of Trustees issued a statement saying it was “outraged by the horrifying details” in the grand jury report about the Sandusky case.”

The statements are okay, but are 17-years late!

Every organization should have what we call a MEWS, or Management Early Warning System in place. Everyone in the organization should be educated and encouraged to pay attention to what’s going on around them and not be afraid to report potential problems to someone up the management chain. Even when it impacts your  money making football or basketball program and its star coach.
The boys themselves may or may not have been telling anyone about what the “Coach” had or was doing to them...but very likely one or two did tell someone.  If that person had only told someone else.

Well, a graduate assistant DID tell Paterno about Sandusky assaulting a boy visiting  the Penn State locker room in 2002, but nothing was done to fully stop the molestations nor to take the appropriate steps to make it public, take care of the victims, apologize and begin immediately repairing the athletic department and university’s reputation.

Once again I appeal to leaders of all organizations to plan for every possible thing that can go wrong, from the building blowing up, blowing away or getting damaged by the stench of misbehavior by someone that works for you.

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