by Shenjie Qiu
There are many things in Shenjie’s piece that caught our attention, but the initial thing that grabbed us was its ability to discuss a complex and deeply violent situation with concise, aware, and compassionate language. It was exciting to see this focus expand in the revision process, as this short essay doubled in length.
Moreover, we thought this revision was a really great example of turning a piece written under a certain set of parameters (assuming the audience has a baseline understanding of all parts of the Penn State scandal, per the professor’s instructions) into something written for a larger audience (adding in explanatory context where needed). Different audiences require different types of writing, and this revision really illuminated that effectively!
—Zefyr Lisowski, editor
The child sex abuse scandal of Penn State was ground-shaking news to the world in 2011.1 Convicted on 45 counts of child molestation from 1994 to 2009, the child molester, the ex-assistant coach of the football team, Jerry Sandusky, was sentenced to 30-60 years in jail in 2012. Coach Joe Paterno was fired. Ex-president Graham Spanier, ex-vice president Gary Schultz and ex-athletic director Tim Curley were also sentenced to months. This stain can never be erased from Penn State’s history. The administrators let everybody down. How did that happen? Could this damage have been circumvented?
The administrators failed the trust of the Penn State Community and the public in several aspects. First, they didn’t listen. In 2002, Paterno responded to a complaint from someone who had witnessed Sandusky molesting a student in a campus locker room by saying that it was not his business, though he notified Curley later. Second, Schultz and Curley lied to the grand jury in 2011, though they knew Sandusky was a pedophile. Third, they didn’t walk the talk. On Nov. 5th, 2011, Spanier stated that Schultz and Curley operated at the highest levels of honesty towards the grand jury, but they colluded to conceal Sandusky’s crime. Fourth, the lack of empathy to victims was the last straw making everybody mad at the administration. The management team learned about Sandusky’s improper conduct in 2002, but they didn’t try to help the victim. In contrast, they alerted Sandusky about the victim’s allegation against him. Furthermore, Sandusky continued to have the access to the University’s facilities, where he kept committing molestation till 2009.
The administrators could have redeemed themselves in this crisis. If they had taken the witness’s report seriously, followed by a transparent investigation with constant update to the public in 2002, they could have won over appraisal. Even after arresting Sandusky, if they had collaborated with the enforcement authorities without lying, condemned Sandusky’s crimes, and apologized to the victims, the university community, and the public, they might have been forgiven to some degree. Regardless of what they did, due to the initial tacit collusion, their leadership roles had to be terminated; however, if the administrators sought forgiveness in these ways, they could have carried on their athletic and academic careers, given their significant contributions to sports and academia in Penn State. For example, Spanier could have continued teaching as a professor in Penn State or other colleges, since he was one of the most outstanding sociologists in the world. However, choosing to cover up the crime closed every vent-hole for them to breathe and landed their careers in jail.
Beyond individual lives, the damage was also devastating to the athletic teams and the image of Penn State. Harsh sanctions were imposed on the football program of Penn State in 2012, including “a $60 million fine, a four-year postseason ban, scholarship reductions, and a vacation of all victories from 1998 to 2011.”1 These sanctions were intended to ensure Penn State would never again place football, according to NCAA President Mark Emmert, “ahead of educaton, nurturing and protecting young people”.2
In contrast to Penn State, the NBA presented a perfect crisis management regarding the racial discrimination conversations of the Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling in April 2014. On April 25th, 2014, racial discrimination conversations between Sterling and his girlfriend Stiviano were posted on TMZ.com, provoking nationwide detrimental protest against the league. Four days later, the commissioner of NBA, Adam Silver, who just assumed the office on Feb. 1st, 2014, issued Sterling a permanent life ban to the Clippers and to the NBA, as well as a $2.5 million fine. The quick, severe, and decisive punishment of Sterling without any coverup reinforced the position of Silver as a qualified commissioner of NBA.3
No doubt this child sex abuse scandal is the most expensive, unforgettable lesson for Penn State. If there is any other crisis in the future, they should know how to quickly respond to it with transparent, honest, empathetic, and constant communication.
- “Penn State Child Sex Abuse Scandal.” (2021, December 8). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penn_State_child_sex_abuse_scandal#:~:text=The%20Penn%20State%20child%20sex,of%20at%20least%20fifteen%20years.
- Kane, Colleen (July 23, 2012). “NCAA punishes Penn State”. Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Illinois: Tronc.
- Shreffler, M. B., Presley, G., & Schmidt, S. (2015). Getting Clipped: An Evaluation of Crisis Management and the NBA’s Response to the Actions of Donald Sterling. Case Studies in Sport Management, 4(1), 28-37.
Shenjie Qiu is a first-year Evening MBA student in Baruch College from China. He is also a CUNY alumnus with a Ph. D. degree in Chemistry from Graduate Center. Before joining Baruch, Shenjie worked as a chemist and coauthored several peer reviewed publications in various journals including Science. In his spare time, he plays soccer, watches TV shows and cooks for his family.
Published December 21, 2021