Protecting 'The Brand' at Penn State


Protecting 'The Brand' at Penn State

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

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

You thought you were done worrying about the Raiders. You thought the votes were in, the moving vans booked for three years down the road, and all gnashing and sharpening of teeth was over. You thought you were free.

Then those buttinsky-come-latelies from St. Louis decided to rear their litigious heads, and now you find yourselves slipping back into that desperate-hope world from which no one escapes.

It seems the city and its regional sports authority has decided to sue the National Football League and its 32 semi-independent duchies over the relocation of the Rams 15 months ago because, and you’ll like this one, the league allegedly did not follow its own relocation rules when it moved the team.

As you know, there is no such thing as a rule if everyone governed by the rule decided unanimously to ignore the rule. This doctrine falls under the general heading of, “We’re billionaires, try and stop us.”

But all lawsuits have a common denominator, and that is that there is money at the end of the rainbow. St. Louis is claiming it is going to miss out on approximately $100 million in net proceeds (read: cash) and has decided that the NFL and especially their good pal Stan Kroenke is going to have to pay for permission to do what they have already done -- specifically, leave.

Because the suit was filed in St. Louis, the benefits of home field advantage apply, and the league is likely to have to reinflate their lawyers for some exciting new billable hours.

As to whether it turns into a windfall for the jilted Missourians, well, as someone who has known lawyers, I would list them as prohibitive underdogs. But there is nuisance value here, which brings us to Oakland.

The city and county, as we know, did not put its best shoe forward in trying to lure the Raiders into staying or the other 31 owners into rejecting the team’s pleas for geographical relief. By that, we mean that the city and county did not fall all over itself to meet the league’s typically extortionate demands.

But they did play angry enough to start snipping about the 2019 part of the Raiders’ 3-More-Coliseum-Years plan, and they are threatening to sue over about $80K in unpaid parking fees, so filing their own breach-of-rules lawsuit might be a possibility.

Because, hey, what’s the point of sounding like a nuisance if you can’t actually become one?

By now, it is clear that everyone in SuitWorld got what it needed out of the Raiders’ move. The city and county could concentrate on guiding the A’s into activity on their own new stadium. The team could go where Mark Davis has been agitating for it to go for at least three years – somewhere else. The state of Nevada could find a place for that $750 million that was burning a hole in its casino vault. And the league went to a market that it, at first reluctantly and then enthusiastically, decided should be its own.

The fans? Oh, please. Who cares about them? To the NFL, and to all corporations in all walks of business, folks are just walking wallets.

But for some cash? Well, climb on board, suckers. The gravy train is pulling out on Track 3.

Nobody is fool enough to think the Raiders would be forced to return. Hell, even St. Louis isn’t asking for the Rams back. They just want to get paid for the money they probably banked on in the good old days before Stan Kroenke decided to head west.

And that would doubtless be Oakland’s stance as well if. Now the circumstances are slightly different, in that St. Louis worked harder to keep the Rams than Oakland did to keep the Raiders. St. Louis scared up $350 million toward new digs for the Rams, well short of what Kroenke would have accepted, while Oakland said it could get its hands on some infrastructure money and no more.

But Mayor Libby Schaaf complained in her relocation post mortem that the league didn’t follow its own guidelines (yay correlation as causation!), maybe with an eye toward throwing a few lawyers into the fire to see how long it would burn.

There is not yet any indication that the city and county are going that route (and the silence may simply mean that they are sick of the Raiders’ saga as everyone else seems to be), but if they do, well, don’t freak out that the team might be forced to return.

Except, of course, in that place where migraines start. Dragging this back up is a bit like the phantom pain amputees feel -- but hey, people will do a lot for a bit of court-ordered cash. Anyone who has ever watched Judge Judy will understand.

A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun


A sports-related pie-fixing scandal? Hell never felt so fun

I’m liking this 2017 so far. Then again, after 2016, nearly any year would be an improvement.

Just this last weekend we got a flat-earth scandal that turned into a mock-up about media self-importance and fake news (yay Kyrie Irving and his impish sense of satire!).

We got the overblown Russell-Hates-Kevin narrative, and the faux Russell-Secretly-Loves-Kevin counternarrative, all because we are stunningly attracted to meaningless and utterly contrived drama (yay our ability to B.S. ourselves!).

We got the NBA All-Star Game ripped for having no defense even though last year’s game was, if anything, worse (yay short attention span!).

We got the Boogie Cousins trade and the national revulsion of all the thought processes the Sacramento Kings put into this perpetually rolling disaster (yay making Boogie and Vivek Ranadive household names!).

And now we got the Great Sutton United Pie-Fixing Scandal. Yeah, pie-fixing. Hell never felt so fun.

So here’s the deal. Sutton United, a very small fry in English soccer, got to the fifth round of the FA Cup, a competition in which all the clubs in England are commingled and play each other until one team remains. The big clubs almost always win, so any time a small club goes deep, it’s a big deal.

Anyway, Sutton went deeper in the competition than nearly anyone in the last century, a charming development given that it is such a small club that it had a stadium caretaker, goalie coach and backup goalie all in one massive fellow, a 46-year-old guy named Wayne Shaw. Shaw became the globular embodiment of the entire Sutton Experience, a jolly lark for everyone involved and especially when he ate a pie on the bench in the final minutes of Sutton’s Cup-exiting loss to Arsenal.

And now he’s been eased into resigning his jobs with the club, because – and this is so very British – there were betting shops taking action on whether he would in fact eat a pie on the bench, and he either did or did not tip off his pals that he was going to chow down on television.

He did eat the pie. His pals collected on their bets. The sport’s governing body opened an investigation into market manipulation by gambling – which is hilarious given that no fewer than 10 gambling establishments have advertising deals with English soccer clubs. Shaw was invited to quit to kill the story, and he took the hint.

Hey, dreams die all the time. But it’s still pie-fixing. Let that rattle around your head for a minute. Pie-fixing. Not match-fixing. Not point-shaving. Pie-fixing.

Now how can you not love this year?

Sure, it sucks for Shaw, but it serves as a series of cautionary tales for athletes around the world.

* Gambling is everywhere, and every time you inch toward it, you dance on the third rail.

* If you want to help your friends, give them cash.

* This is a horribly delicious way to lose your gig.

* And finally, fun in the 21st century isn’t ever truly fun because someone in a suit and a snugly-placed stick is going to make sure you pay full retail for that fun.

But it is nice to know that something that has never happened before is now part of our year. Pie-fixing is a thing now, as silly in its way as Irving’s flat-earth narrative was. And as we steer away from normal games as being too run-of-the-mill-fuddy-duddy entertainment, we have replaced them with sideshows.

Or do you forget how many people complained Saturday and Sunday that the dunk contest wasn’t interesting enough? How stupid is that?

Lots. Lots of stupid. But against pie-tin-shaped planets and pies turned into betting coups, how can it possibly compare?

We chase a lot of idiotic narratives in our sporting lives. The great What Will The Patriots Do To Roger Goodell story died like the old dog it was. We still try to flog Warriors-Thunder as a rivalry in search of better TV ratings when all the obvious evidence is that it is no such thing unless you think a couple that broke up nine months ago is still a solid story. We have Bachelor fantasy leagues, for God’s sake.

This would leave most normal folks in despair, thus matching their everyday experiences, but yin meets yang, and every time it looks like we are all barrel-rolling into the sun, we get Irving, and then we get Wayne Shaw.

In short, 2017 is going to be fun of grand surprises for us all. I look forward to the day President Trump tries to fete the Patriots and only gets to Skype with Bob Kraft and the equipment guys who midwifed DeflateGate, and Mark Davis in Las Vegas, just to see if he can get a P.F. Chang’s into the Bellagio.

Why not? This is sport’s year-long tribute to sketch comedy, and evidently everyone is signing on enthusiastically to replace lessons of morality and honor and equality and dignity and sportsmanship with slackened jaws and belly laughs.

So yay sports! Or as it is clearly becoming, A Night At The Improv.