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November 9, 2011 4:22 pm

PR Legacy of Joe Paterno: Witness to Child Molestation

avatar by Ronn Torossian

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Joe Paterno on the sideline during warmups.

We in the Jewish community had a nightmarish summer when eight-year-old Leiby Kletzky was discovered dead and Levi Aron was charged with the brutal murder. The heinous crime changed the religious Jewish “brand” in many ways, both inside and outside the community, as people realized that no one was safe.

Today, the college football world faces a crisis – and a legendary football coach Joe Paterno has taken the bull by the horns this morning, and in a widely reported press conference stated: “I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. At this moment the board of trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can.”

As a marketer and as a parent I wonder if Penn State will do the right thing and fire him immediately. In this crisis PR situation, one would hope Penn State will say:

“You are fired. We will not tolerate our employees being aware of child molestation and doing nothing about it. You may be a winner at coaching, but your conduct as one who educates youth on values is unacceptable, and we will not tolerate such people educating our athletes, or others. Mr. Paterno, Would you want your children and grandchildren educated by someone who does nothing about child molesters?” Mr. Paterno may not be guilty in the court of law, but he’s certainly guilty in the court of public opinion.

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Aren’t parents out there who watch students cheering and supporting Paterno in front of his home sickened by such displays? These kids were molested in part because Paterno and others did not act upon their knowledge.

This reputational crisis Penn State now faces is one which affects the entire Penn State brand – including the value of Penn State degrees, recruitment for future Penn State classes, donations from alumni and potential academic awards. This is only the beginning of Penn State’s PR crisis.

One wonders how many parents will be comfortable having their children attend and be educated at an institution where university presidents, “hero” coaches, and students not only accept, but celebrate those who witness – and do nothing – about disgusting, illegal behavior.

I recently visited Disneyland with my young daughter – and was shocked to see a ride featuring Michael Jackson. I forbade her from riding, because Jackson is a child molester (albeit never convicted in court.) One wonders what’s more important – being a world renowned musician, great football coach, or a decent human being.

Penn State needs to decide if its brand is about winning football games or speaking out against child molesters. As a brand proposition it’s an easy decision.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5WPR, a Top 25 PR Agency and has a best-selling PR book “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations” an Amazon best-selling Public Relations book available for purchase here.

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  • Shereena

    Is Joe Paterno Jewish? Your article doesn’t state so, but the lead in makes me think so. Not that it’s a huge deal….there is no cornered market in ‘looking the other way’.

  • Mari

    I have read about a 100 articles on this scandal is this is one of the most uneducated ones I have read. Just watch, there will be more bad PR that will come out once people realize the rash, uneducated decision that was made to fire Paterno. And the fact that you would label a massive 96K+ learning institution due to the acts of one person is true ignorance. Additionally why would anyone supporting a man who dedicated 60+ years of his life doing good for a school and community be sickened by watching him continually produce well rounded/educated men? This man had a personal positive affect on my son and family, but as an outsider you feel you know enough about him to criticize him and compare him to someone who was actually accused of crimes? Do you know that of the top 25 teams of the BCS this year, that PSU has the highest graduating percentage of all athletes and that there is no difference between the rate of black and white athletes. What have you done in your life to make such an impact?

    • wendy

      It is good that this man had a good effect on your son and family…because no one is completely good or completely evil. However JP’s inaction is unforgivable.

  • Rich

    Nice diversion with the wholly unfounded Michael Jackson distraction.

    Why no mention of the Jew, Sandusky, who committed these molestations?

    • Interested Observer

      B”H

      Hi there. Check again, Rich. I believe Jerry Sandusky is not Jewish. Not that that would matter much to his victims. But as a Jewish person I can breathe a little sigh of relief.

  • Levi Eshlevi

    The Paterno incident has shown some sick American values as they care about a coach more than the molested children. Its been disgusting and awful. Gross terrible people – and to read these comments where people tell Mr. Ronn Torossian of 5WPR he is wrong for speaking out. Where are our values people ?

  • Mitch

    So if you’re accused of something and the courts declare your innocence you’re still guilty? Because the media railroaded the MJ stuff so much that Noone got the facts he’s guilty? Please. JoePa did not witness nor have first hand knowledge of the despicable and atrocious crime. He took what at that point was a serious rumor and reported it to his supervisor. That’s his job he did the right thing. What did the athletic director and board do? Paterno cooperated and testified before a grand jury and was fired while two other school officials commited perjury and are still employed by the school and the school is paying for their defense. So PR shot for this school indeed but Paterno was railroaded by a school board of trustees and hopefully Sandusky, McQueary and others to include the trustees will have justice served. Firing Paterno hasn’t helped them save face its made it an even worse PR nightmare. This schools brand is shot!

  • He did EXACTLY what he was supposed to do when he heard about Sandusky. To the T.
    Penn State’s guidelines said to report it to the athletic director. Paterno did that.

    It’s the athletic director who then failed to perform HIS duties.

    Why is the legendary coach Joe Paterno being fired?

    • Johnny Gluck

      Paterno didnt tell the police – shouldnt he have you fool ?

  • ron jerkjeski

    Hopefully we see jail time for this man, but the sports fans seem to think otherwise. People are not looking at the victims’ health, but the health of a football program and reputation of a college. It is so completely twisted and misguided when society overlooks humankind for acclaim. In the following weeks, we will learn of the many victims and evil acts committed. Its not one big tragedy for the school, but errors in judgment in its individuals.

  • steve

    You mention MJ being a child molestor but never being convicted… Sweet let’s all get burning sticks and pitchfork and take our justice now. Your piece is an embarassment and a joke.

    • Johnny Gluck

      How can you not believe that Michael Jackson was a molester. Yes the world would be a better place if molestors were shot on the spot.

  • John P Arnold

    I totally agree with you. You echo precisely my feelings about this matter. I have an eleven year old boy, and this event has made me more vigilant. How many other institutions that we consider respectable, could be harboring monsters that remain unknown to protect the reputation of such institution? and what about Mike McQueary? he supposedly was a witness, and not only did not do anything, but also failed to report it to the police. Finally, I agree mostly with what you said about all those students protesting Paterno’s firing. Is “football” that important?… what a bunch of air heads!

  • Jonathan Gluck

    Thank you ronn Torossian of 5wpr – why is the world allowing this

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