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Sports Business

Paterno's fall from grace provides valuable lesson

July 24, 2012
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We could argue all day and into next week about whether the NCAA overstepped its bounds in punishing Penn State or whether the university should have ripped down the statue of its former coach, Joe Paterno.

We could talk right through the entire next season about college sports becoming too big and running amok. We could bemoan the innocent Penn State players and coaches who had nothing to do with, or may not have known, Jerry Sandusky who are being punished by the NCAA’s harsh sanctions. We could even decry the severe economic impact all this will have on the school, the Big Ten and an entire region in central Pennsylvania.

We could discuss and debate all that, but I won’t.

Instead, I want to ponder a question put forth by University of Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel.

“What did we learn from all this?” Pinkel said after the NCAA handed down its ruling yesterday.

Upon hearing the question, I recalled something a local public relations expert told me when I asked what she advised clients when something not-so-great within their business or organization has been uncovered.

The answer was swift and simple. It’s something most of us have heard from our parents since the time we could talk. It’s something that is repeated in a court of law with regularity.

“Tell the truth. The whole truth. And nothing but the truth.”

But there was a caveat that came from this public relations expert.

“And tell it fast.”

That last bit of advice wasn’t about fast-talking, it was about revealing what you know as soon as it has been revealed to you.

Telling the truth, as it turns out, not only allows you to begin damage control faster, it also allows you to limit the totality of the damage.

It’s always tempting to call a cover-up play when unseemly happenings are found out in an organization. It has long been seen as a means of damage control. Sweep it under the rug. No one will know.

But the truth has a way of finding its way to the surface.

It isn’t the big, bad NCAA or the court of public opinion or recruits and now former fans who have spurned Penn State that have inflicted the most damage on the school. So much of the damage done to Penn State was done by people who purported to love the university the most.

So what have we learned?

The welfare of children is far more important than a college sports program. That's obvious. But there's more.

Cover ups don’t work. They cause more damage than they prevent.

Tell the truth.

And tell it fast.

Had Paterno and other Penn State officials done that, Paterno’s statue would still be standing. Paterno might be, as well.

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