It's nearly impossible to tell what the full fallout will bring from the current Penn State scandal that started with sexual abuse charges involving a minor related to Jerry Sandusky. From the firing of one of the most storied head coaches in college football history to likely millions upon millions in legal settlements, this will undoubtedly go down as one of the biggest scandals in college athletics.
So what is a team to do in the wake of this? It's clear that there were several people involved, including Joe Paterno, who acted improperly -- who simply reported to the next person up the food chain about the Sandusky incident and then left it at that. Fear was involved, certainly, for a lot of people -- fear for the university's reputation, fear of what could happen to a friend, fear for their own reputation as a whistleblower. But fear always comes from the unknown, and perhaps it's clear by this point that Penn State never made it known what should be done in the case of a crisis like this.
That's not an excuse for Paterno, so in no way am I saying, "He didn't know what to do, so we cannot blame him." There's a moral code in place (for all of us) that Paterno should have continued to bring it up to the powers-that-be or even the authorities in order to right that wrong. But not every crisis reaches this level. Not every incident involves something so grotesque as Sandusky's actions. Sometimes the lines are a bit more blurry, the skies a bit more gray. Sometimes it's a viable choice between reporting something and maintaining the reputation of a person or place.
Andy Katz reported that schools are undergoing some training measures in response to the Penn State scandal i the hopes of avoiding a mess like this (or even one on a much lower scale. Katz writes:
Michigan State coach Mark Hollis said Thursday that earlier this week he met with football coach Mark Dantonio and men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo about the proper protocol in dealing with a crisis, particularly if it’s a legal issue. Hollis said this is in direct response to the way Penn State handled the alleged sexual abuse scandal by a former assistant coach of young boys. "We had to go through discussing things that if something ever happens in negative in nature about how we’re supposed to handle it, react and respond,’’ Hollis said. "These are the challenges for all schools going forward. Something can happen every day and that’s why you hope everyone follows the protocol.’’
Other schools (read: every other school in the country) would do well to heed the same advice as MSU at this point if they are not already. There's no reason for someone to act out of fear when there's a crisis at hand. Instead, if everyone in a position of influence or power can be educated on where to go with their concerns or observations, people can make calculated judgments that truly involve seeking the best in every situation rather than reacting out of fear as what has happened in the Penn State case.
Responding out of fear not only brings out the worst in someone, but it always involves a victim. To that end, every university owes it to their employees and the people within its reach to know what to do to handle itself in a crisis situation.