The Penn State sanctions levied by the NCAA were announced today. They didn’t get the dreaded “death penalty”, but the NCAA did lay it on thick. Penn State will pay 60 million in fines (that will benefit outside organizations that deal with child abuse), not be allowed to compete in post season games for four years, lose its cut of bowl revenue (an estimated 13 million), lose 20 scholarships a season for four years, have all the wins from 1998-2011 vacated, lose any players who choose to transfer, need to honor existing football scholarships even if the students decide to not play football, and implement a number of procedural and oversight recommendations per the Freeh report.
And so it is…the loudest and most clearly heard lesson on what a lack of integrity will get you. Key players (Paterno, Spanier, Curley, and Schultz) tried to “protect” the university’s reputation so they covered-up and then looked the other way in the face of multiple cases of sexual abuse. They knew better – one does not make the effort to cover-up things that one does not perceive as damaging. Had they acted appropriately when they first discovered what Sandusky was doing they could have separated themselves and Penn State from the ugliness of the sexual abuse charges. It wouldn’t have been a pleasant situation to deal with, but the blood would have clearly been on Sandusky’s hands instead of splattered all over Penn State’s reputation. What an ugly statement of misplaced priorities – money and power above people’s wellbeing.
While I do feel sorry for the innocents at Penn State that will no doubt be the secondary victims here (students, faculty, and staff that were not involved), I do believe that this practical lesson is a timely one. Take note universities, businesses, and organizations – there is a line with reputation management and you know you have stepped over it when the behavior involved (by an indvidual or entity) could result in criminal penalties or a major civil lawsuit. Secrets always come out…dirty laundry always gets aired. The biggest lesson from a reputation management perspective is this: if you know you are going to take a reputation hit, maintain credibility and trust with the public (even if you are in a state of disgrace) by being honest. We (the public) expect things to happen – people to misbehave, products to fail, mistakes to occur – we can empathize with these types of failure when we know that we are getting a straight story from an entity that has our trust.
In the bible (John 8:32), it is said that, “…the truth shall make you free.” Remember that when dealing with crisis – your reputation (which is in essence the public’s perceived identity of your university, business, or organization) lies in the perception of your integrity. If you tell the truth even in the face of error, failure, or shame you will maintain trust and credibility – the public will credit you for having integrity.
Penn State now has an opportunity – the world will be watching as it attempts to recover from this failure. I hope that as they move forward they will learn that good reputations are not built or protected merely by words (or win records) - they are the byproduct of consistent, honest actions.
Day one thousand one hundred and thirteen of the new forty – obla di obla da