Penn State Opens the Old Wound
By Alex Greenwood
As if the tragic, disgusting, slow-moving train of public relations going off the rails into total disaster wasn’t enough, Penn State has waded back into the fray:
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett announced plans Wednesday to file an anti-trust lawsuit against the NCAA over its sanctions against Penn State University following the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Last July, the NCAA levied unprecedented sanctions against the university, including a fine of $60 million. It also stripped 14 seasons of football victories from late head coach Joe Paterno.
“These sanctions did not punish Sandusky,” or those who allegedly helped cover up his repeated sexual abuse of disadvantaged children, said Corbett at a news conference in State College.
He said they instead affect past and current students who were not part of the scandal.
“I cannot and will not let it happen without a fight,” said Corbett, adding that the Sandusky case was a criminal matter and not a violation of NCAA rules.
The NCAA responds:
“Not only does this forthcoming lawsuit appear to be without merit, it is an affront to all of the victims in this tragedy — lives that were destroyed by the criminal actions of Jerry Sandusky,” said Donald M. Remy, NCAA executive vice president and general counsel. “While the innocence that was stolen can never be restored, Penn State has accepted the consequences for its role and the role of its employees and is moving forward. Today’s announcement by the governor is a setback to the university’s efforts.”
Out of respect for the victims, I’m not going to talk about the despicable chain of events that led to a conspiracy of silence around a notorious child molester. I’m talking now purely from a damage control repair stance for the school. This lawsuit is not a good idea. It is a (probably) well-meaning, but ultimately misguided attempt to salvage something from this mess. I’ll say it again–it’s not a good idea.
Mediabistro had an excellent bit of advice for Penn State last year:
The only PR strategy Penn State has is to keep moving. To keep going. To make itself an example and to use what will it has left to right its wrongs where possible. The school shouldn’t place blame on others or just a few, because this was a collective crime and society won’t buy it. And neither will sponsors. The jury of public relations has spoken. Penn State is up to Penn State now.
Agreed. The future image of Penn State is up to Penn State, and this lawsuit is not the right direction. The collective shame surrounding this horrible situation is worsened because it extends beyond the innocent victims of sex abuse to every student, instructor or staffer connected with the school–the entire Penn State brand. Instead of moving on and collectively accepting punishment, there is now an attempt to save money and shorten the period of contrition via lawsuit. It just drags everything back to the surface; it reopens a public image wound that just won’t heal.
In the excellent film Excalibur (1981), Sir Lancelot (who wronged King Arthur) returns for the final battle, haggard, bleeding but ready to fight because contrition and guilt are all he has left. “It is the old wound, my King. It has never healed.”
The governor’s actions on behalf of Penn State have reopened the wound. Unlike Sir Lancelot, fighting a losing battle one last time with such a wound is not valiant. It is selfish.