Sandusky Scandal: A PR Disaster for Penn State, Joe Paterno

 @http://twitter.com/jtalty on November 09 2011 8:58 AM
Joe Paterno
Former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno will be buried on Wednesday. He died on lung cancer on Sunday, at age 85. A memorial service will be held on Thursday, in his honor. REUTERS

The shocking allegations against Jerry Sandusky and Penn State University amount to one of the worst scandals in college sports history.

Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator at Penn State, has been charged with 40 counts of child sex abuse.  Sandusky allegedly molested eight young boys, including a particularly unnerving instance of anally raping a 10 year-old boy in the school's football locker room showers in 2002. One report on Tuesday said that number might have already doubled, as more and more victims come forward with allegations against Sandusky.

That particularly harrowing tale was seen by a young graduate assistant -- reported to be current wide receivers coach Mike McQueary -- and was reported to football coach Joe Paterno. Paterno then passed on the information to athletic director Tim Curley, but Curley and Senior Vice President Gary Schultz never informed authorities of the allegations.

The allegations have already led for Curley and Schultz to take administrative leaves of absences, while on Tuesday there were reports that Penn State is already planning Paterno's exit from the program. The whole situation amounts to the worst college sports scandal of all time, according to one public relations expert.

I think it's the number one (scandal), Meredith Geisler, founder of Meredith Communications, told the IBTimes. It's far bigger than Reggie Bush and far bigger than Ohio State. This is the worst that I can think of because of the reputation of the people involved.

That scandal has led for many to call for the dismissals of Paterno and President Graham Spanier, in part because of how poorly the situation has been handled. Penn State has issued a few statements about the situation, including one from Spanier that initially defended Curley and Schultz, but the situation has quickly spiraled out of control.

The initial defense of Curley and Schultz -- a day before both went on administrative leave -- was a major misstep, according to Geisler. She called the initial first statement terrible because there was no way that Spanier didn't know that Curley and Schultz could be charged with perjury.

The initial investigation began in 2008, according to Grand Jury testimony, which means that Penn State has had ample time to prepare itself for the media firestorm. Its poor response to the situation has been shameful, according to the expert that once handled the Len Bias coke overdose crisis.

To not be prepared for what is happening right now is absolutely shameful, she said. They've done a very, very poor job in getting the information out, the awful parts included. It is awful news, but they needed to disclose it immediately and they did not do that.

Since the initial announcement of the allegations, Paterno and Spanier have both released statements absolving themselves of any wrongdoing with this specific case. Neither has been charged with any crimes, but many have decried that the two men, as leaders at Penn State, should have done more in dealing with the alleged sexual abuse.

Paterno was scheduled to speak at his weekly press conference on Tuesday, but it was canceled 45 minutes before it was scheduled to begin. Paterno's son, Scott, says that Spanier made the decision to cancel the press conference on such short notice. He eventually decided to hold an improntu press conference on the front lawn of his home, but instead of focusing on the terrible allegations, Paterno ended up leading a raucous crowd of students in We are Penn State chants.

It was yet another example of everyone involved with the situation not understanding the ramifications of their decisions. It's been mistake after mistake for Paterno and Spanier, though the two dod have a chance to ameliorate the situation a bit, if they change their approach.

They all need to say that we messed up, she said. They need to say that we made an awful error in judgment.

She expects there to be more sympathy for Paterno than Spanier, but that Paterno's reputation has taken a beating.

Penn State will likely rebound from the crisis, no matter what they do going forward, but the school still hasn't hit rock bottom. The longer that it publicly mishandles the situation, the more possible ramifications it faces.

That could be a severe drop in donations, alumni burning their diplomas, or even a cut in funding for the football program. This is why, according to Geisler, the university must act soon to fix the mess on its hands.

As things stands right now, she thinks it's one of the most poorly handled sports crisis of all time.

This could be the most poorly handled crisis in a sports crisis, she said, I thought Tiger's  handling of his crisis was awful, but the incident to cause the (Penn State) crisis, in my opinion, is far worse than Tiger's self-destructive behavior.

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