Paterno puts 'the brand' ahead of human decency


Paterno puts 'the brand' ahead of human decency

The shrapnel from the Freeh Report on the Penn State scandal is still raining down on State College, but youd probably do yourselves a great big favor by worrying about the longterm fallout in your neighborhood too.

RELATED: Freeh Report -- Paterno, Penn State officials 'concealed critical facts'
Not because child molestation happens everywhere, but because hero worship does. Hero worship, and devotion to the brand.The report basically blows the former Penn State administration to bits, including the previously bulletproof Joe Paterno, for putting the safety of the brand ahead of human decency. Theres no elegant way to put this, so well say it -- sexually brutalized children were deemed collateral damage in the greater goal of protecting the institution.And it is that general instinct of the powerful and high-ranking to protect their systems no matter what the cost might be that is the danger we all should heed.That the Penn State nightmare happened under a sports umbrella should not surprise us, because there is no institution that understands the value of branding quite like sports. The temptation to blame this on Penn State for being Penn State is wrong, but the idealized version of Penn State is very much why Jerry Sandusky went unchecked hell, unsupervised, more like.And to argue exactly the extent of Joe Paternos knowledge of the crimes, and when he fully understood them, is to miss the greater point, which is this:The brand cannot be put ahead of people, ever. The brand is in and of itself an offensive concept, because it reduces all human endeavor to marketing and imagemaking. At Penn State, the brand was everything, and the football program was integral to the brand. The thousands of students who learned there, and hundreds of teachers and staff who worked there, and the jobs that were created around there, they were not the problem.The brand was the problem. A stupid reductive term became over time the raison detre for the schools existence in the minds and actions of those who controlled the institution, even in the face of one of the most monstrous crimes humans can devise.It is easy to understand why Penn State students, alums, faculty and even fans are going to be very defensive about the Freeh report, because it speaks to the greatest of the myths constructed around them. But neither Jerry Sanduskys crimes nor the fevered cover-ups that ensued were theirs, or their work, or their beliefs. They were victims, too, in a much smaller way.So yes, this was Sanduskys crime, followed by a level of moral and ethical cowardice by his superiors that may result in other convictions. But other than Sandusky, the crime was protecting the brand, at a time when the brand would have been far better served by a loud, public and aggressive defense of its most defenseless.This was not a difficult choice, either. A wrong was committed. There was one right thing to do. It wasnt done, because the people who needed to do it put the brand first, and only.And we all live with the curse of branding. Every sports team we have is a product of branding, and the imagery takes on its own life over time. When we prioritize stadium construction over public services, when we look the other way at bad or illegal behavior because we need the center fielder or running back or point guard too much, we are reinforcing the instincts of the Graham Spaniers, the Tim Curleys, the Gary Schultzes, and if the Freeh report is an accurate assessment, the Joe Paternos.No, the lesson here is the lesson for all. The brand is only as valuable as its willingness to serve those in its care its employees, its fans, its fellow citizens. If the brand is taking more than it is giving, it is unworthy of its status. If more effort is put into protecting the brand that it puts into protection, it isnt worth defending. And it should go even further. When you read or hear of a team or an athletes brand, the person who writes or says it must be regarded as a part of the problem. And the problem is everywhere. Penn State is getting it now because it defended the indefensible for more than a decade, but were all in the same boat. When we forget that the brand is to serve and not be served, we head down the same disastrous path.

A's stripped of little-engine-that-could classification at a bad time


A's stripped of little-engine-that-could classification at a bad time

As rumored over the past two months, Major League Baseball just lowered the Oakland Athletics’ revenue by $34 million, and now all the other developments of the past few weeks have finally become a call to arms by an organization that has always been strident pacifists when it comes to money.

In other words, The Little Engine That Occasionally Could has now been stripped of its little-engine classification, and the conditions that allowed them to play the cute little underdog are gone. No more waiting for more clement economic circumstances, or a more favorable political climate, or for the ever-nebulous “future” which the A’s always dangled before its dwindling fan base.

That was the news of Wednesday. Thursday, reports from ESPN’s Jim Trotter indicated that San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos is going to swallow his pride to exercise his option to join Stan Kroenke in Los Angeles, thus reducing Mark Davis’ viable options to Las Vegas and the tender mercies of the NFL, or Oakland and the tender mercies of whoever decides to tackle the problem of a new football-atorium.

In other words, push and shove are now jockeying for position in what is expected to be a crash.

First, the A’s.

With the news that Major League Baseball is going to hack the team’s revenue sharing check by 25, 50, 75 and then 100 percent over the next four years, the margin of error for new front man Dave Kaval to get a stadium built has been reduced to those four years. He is following the dictates of his boss, the persistently hologrammatic John Fisher, who essentially shoved Lew Wolff out the door for preaching San Jose and then caution.

The A’s don’t want to share anything with the Raiders, which rules out a Coliseum site. They have investigated Howard Terminal, which is not without its issues. And there is a new darkhorse site, the land around Laney College which, in a tart bit of irony, is the site of the Raiders’ first Oakland home, Frank Youell Field.

The city and county are in the early stages of a deal to sell the Coliseum land to a group faced by Ronnie Lott and the money-moving Fortress group, and get out of the landlord business entirely. It has pledged somewhere between $190 and $200 million in infrastructure improvements, though in the case of two stadia, the question of whether that amount is split remains to be politicized.

But the real point here is that the Gordian knot that is Oakland’s weird hold on its franchises remains tightly raveled. The Fortress announcement was supposed to be a point of clarity, but the revenue sharing news and now the Chargers-to-L.A. rumors have returned chaos to its usual position at the tip of the food chain.

And chaos makes for hasty decisions, and hasty decisions are often regretted. But hey, what’s life without rich people awash in regrets?

The new developments ratchet up the pressure on the City of Oakland and Alameda County to decide what support – if any – to provide a new A’s stadium, and coincidentally what support – if any – can be provided to the Raiders if they are forced to stay in Oakland by the NFL.

It even ratchets up the pressure on the NFL owners to decide among themselves whether their actual end-game goal – to have the Raiders controlled by someone other than Mark Davis – is better served by allowing him to move his team to Las Vegas or denying him his escape route.

But now for the first time there are time constraints – a few months for Mark Davis, a few years for John Fisher and Dave Kaval. The principles of subsidized Moneyball are now conjoined with the principles of Darwinism, and as the A’s have had innovate-or-die thrust upon them, the Raiders have approached the day of reckoning they’ve been desperately kicking down the road since Al Davis’ death. Plus, the political structures of Oakland and Alameda County will catch the holiest of hells either way, and probably across the board.

But as Paul Weller once wrote, “That’s entertainment.” Find shelter, children. The acrid smell of roasting money is in the wind.

Defying common sense makes another official look inhuman


Defying common sense makes another official look inhuman

Officials are a pet cause of mine, since they are uniquely hired and set up for daily failure as a condition of having the job at all. They are given a supervisory role against a group of mesomorphs running, jumping, colliding and athletick-ing all over the place, only so that they can interpret a rulebook written in Cambodian script in such a way that he or she angers everyone involved, and is supported by none of the people who gave him the rulebook to defend.

But sometimes, despite all this, officials need to be left alone to apply common sense in direct defiance of the dictates of the bloated swine who made the rulebook a tool of the socially ignorant.

And no, I am not talking about Doc Rivers snapping like a stretched bobblehead the other night after Ken Mauer tossed him from the Los Angeles Clippers-Brooklyn Nets game for being geographically inappropriate with fellow official Lauren Holtkamp (he crossed the midcourt line, and curb your dirty minds). Screw him. He had it coming.

No, this is about Frank Schneider, who refereed the otherwise unremarkable Paris Saint Germain-Angers match in Ligue 1, the top division of French soccer, and felt compelled to yellow-card PSG goalscorer Edinson Cavani for doing this.

For you link-averse weenies, Cavani scored a goal and then took off his shirt to reveal an undershirt that read “ACE FUERZA” in support of the Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense, the team involved in the plane wreck that killed 77 of 81 passengers, including all but a few of the team’s players and staff en route to the championship match of the Copa Sudamericana in Colombia against Atletico Nacional.

It was a thoughtful gesture, one we want our athletes to produce to show that they are not just mercenaries with expensively shod feet. It was a credit to Cavani, who is Uruguayan and who knew none of the players involved. He did it to be a human being.

And Schneider knew that. But the rules say he had to give Cavani a yellow card for removing his shirt as an act of celebration or in this case, sympathy, and if Schneider had ignored it, his supervisors would have punished him knowing full well that ignoring it was exactly the correct and decent thing to do.

This right here is one more reason why people hate officials, even more than they used to. They are not allowed to apply their own common sense to a situation that demands it, and if honoring fellow athletes who died in an accident doesn’t demand the common sense of saying, “Heartwarming thought there, Scooter. You’re a good lad. Run and frolic with the other woodland creatures, unconcerned with any notion of punitive action.”

Maybe Schneider walked up to him as he presented the card and said, “Listen, this is crap. You know it and I know it, and I will back your play in the game report, but I have to do this. Please find it in your heart to forgive my bureaucratic obligations.”

That’s not the zenith of understanding as we would wish it, but it would be a way to try and shield Cavani from the withered arm of the law.

Or maybe Schneider said, “I give this card to you in my role as a strident and iron-willed defender of mindless regulations. I spurn you as I would spurn a rabid wolf.”

I don’t know. All I know is, Schneider ends up looking stupid for carding Cavani for supporting his soccer-playing brethren, and officials across the globe cry out as one, “You put him in a ridiculous position, you suit-wearing filth. Where is your compassion? Where is your dignity? Why can’t we line up in an orderly fashion and kick you squarely in the groin 30 to 70 times?”

And a decent human instinct is stamped out as though it were caught stealing office supplies.

You can extend this lesson as far as you wish, including the No Fun League’s old-white-guys fetishistic ban on post-touchdown self-expression, but right here is where that sort of mockable nonsense starts. People died, some of them soccer players. A fellow soccer player honored them on the field of play without disrupting the game itself. He was sanctioned. This is idiocy.

But Doc Rivers getting flipped in Brooklyn? Sorry. There’s only so far we can go with this, and in this case, well, to quote the old philosopher, “Nice tantrum, Glenn.”