It would be a humungous understatement to say the Penn State scandal was tragic and that swift and severe action was inevitable and necessary.
From a Public Relations standpoint, it was also frustrating.
That’s not just because of the painful irony that the cover-up was for the purposes of Public Relations and it backfired exponentially, but also because it was all completely unnecessary. In fact, if it had been handled differently, it could have had the direct opposite result for publicity.
There’s good and bad everywhere you look. What people want to know above all is how an individual or group handles the situation once the bad is discovered. The public would have been initially shocked and appalled to find out a member of the coaching staff was sexually abusing children. But none would question the integrity of the school if it was later determined that, immediately following the discovery, the coach was investigated, terminated and arrested.
Actually, parents would probably feel even more comfortable letting their children go to an institution that put their safety above all else and tolerated nothing less, no matter who you are. Joe Paterno’s statue would be torn down only to be replaced with a bigger one made of gold. Instead, in an attempt to save the reputation of the program, it has been destroyed beyond recognition and repair.
They say, it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up. However in this case, the cover-up matched the crime. Simply put, doing the right thing should be good enough in any situation. If Penn State had done the right thing in 1998, it would have had the unintended consequence of great publicity.