Protecting 'The Brand' at Penn State

Protecting 'The Brand' at Penn State
November 9, 2011, 4:38 pm
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People keep asking how Penn State, as the scandal is now unfortunately being referred, could have happened -- how so many spent so long doing nothing in the face of such monstrous behavior when only one phone call was required.Well, its easy, and theres a lesson here for everyone.Its the notion of protecting The Brand -- an insidious and hateful phrase itself that immediately makes the company all-powerful and its workers mostly cattle waiting for the hammer.
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And it goes on in every company, and every sports organization, and most assuredly and most stridently in football, where the head coach is the be-all and end-all of all things -- and the successful head coach is the right hand of God.Football was God at Penn State, Joe Paterno was the high priest, and his reach extended from the Welcome To State College sign to the You Are Now Leaving State College sign. He was feared, and loved, and feared. So much so that even sodomizing children was not a serious enough crime to risk damaging The Brand.What were saying here is that this is not Penn State, The Scandal. This could have happened anywhere where The Brand is more important than the people under its protection, and that is everywhere. So fuel your outrage if you must, but chill that smug.Football is just the most obvious place for a sports analysis of the problem to take place, because it generates the greatest amount of money and the most deference from those touched by it. Most university presidents cower at the sight of the successful football coach. They take no stand on excesses, because The Brand must be protected. And athletic directors are in charge of generating more money to keep the engines churning, so his or her role has nothing to do with his or her place on the table of organization.RATTO: Regaining trust all that matters at Penn State
And coaches, the smart ones anyway, know how to fill a power vacuum. It happened at Ohio State, and Michigan, and Miami, and Oklahoma, and USC. And every other place where a real scandal has taken place, because when confronted by the right thing to do, the coach couldnt be bothered, and the people above him didnt want him to be bothered.Protecting The Brand. Or as it used to be known, institutional cowardice. Dont forget Baylor, where a basketball player was killed by another, and the coach, Dave Bliss tried to cover it up. A murder, for Gods sake. That was protecting The Brand, too. And even those who can now minimize the Ohio State and Miami and USC and Notre Dame scandals because nobody got sexually assaulted miss the point, because it still points to the idea of taking care of the football program and those within it. Ohio State wasnt about Terrelle Pryor tatting up -- it was about Jim Tressel trading in his word and responsibility to protect the brand. Miami had Nevin Shapiro running rampant, and the school keeping quiet to protect the brand. USC was all about protecting The Brand. Even Notre Dame, when a student died when a camera crane he was standing on to film a practice blew over in high wind, took care to protect The Brand first.And then people wonder why the players think theyre getting jobbed. It isnt that theyre not getting paid enough. Its that everyone gets paid BUT THEM. And that when it hits the fan, as it occasionally does, The Brand is protected BUT NOT THEM.PHOTO GALLERY: Biggest sports scandals ever
Penn State happened not because people thought Jerry Sandusky was behaving properly, but because what he did might damage the Penn State brand. They made a value judgment that the brand mattered more than the safety of children -- and that would be a less shocking development if it was the only place where that decision was made.But theres still Baylor, and Ohio State, and Miami, and all the other places where The Brand was defended in ways that it would never occur to people to defend the humans, or where protecting the humans that shine up The Brand became more important than those in their care.In short, Penn State isnt Penn State. Its everywhere, ratcheted to a revolting extreme. Its why when college athletics holds itself up as a noble enterprise, smart people say, Yeah, if you have the good moral sense not to make money at it.The real end-game here is not what happens to Paterno, or Graham Spanier, the somnolent president whose only real skill here seems to be running from his duties or even the gaze of others, or even Sandusky, who looks like he will spend the rest of his days in prison. Or the Penn State football program, or the recruiting damage done.The end-game comes if the people who take in children to be educated and cared for -- in exchange for rapidly escalating tuition costs, we might add -- actually say, Screw The Brand when something goes wrong. This isnt about the superhuman task of eliminating scandal; thats going to happen in a society that is slowly but surely becoming a kleptocracy.This is simply about minimizing the mistakes and the horrors, and by protecting the victims when those things occur, and defending The Brand by showing its true place in the list of priorities.And if this concept seems foreign to you, take a minute and look around the house. You have misplaced your soul.Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.