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PR Fail: Joe Paterno's Family Releases Yet Another Statement
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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Well, the cover-up continues from the Paterno family over the ballyhoo created by Jerry Sandusky's tragic child abuse right under the big ol' schnoz of the entire Penn State athletics department. Take this headline from PennLive.com and Central Pennsylvania's Patriot News: 'Victim lawyer calls Paterno family response a PR gambit.' Of course it is. The family wants to repair its image, tarnished as a result of its patriarch's chronic neck problem. You know? Turning the other way. 

The article discusses the investigation commissioned by Penn State and conducted by former FBI director Louis Freeh. The scathing — and third-party — report found Paterno, former President Graham Spanier, retired senior vice president Gary Schultz, and on-leave athletic director Tim Curley covered up child abuse allegations against Sandusky. Yet, the Paterno family claims those conclusions were unfounded. 

You stay classy, JoePa family. 

Seriously, you can't blame the Paterno family for their crisis communications efforts, but you can blame them for hiring a law firm to do it. Now, I wouldn't tell an attorney how to litigate, but legal beagles seem to have no problem telling PR professionals how to position a story and present it for public consumption. To wit, we have a textbook case of what NOT to do in terms of crisis for years to come. For instance, among the rebuttals to the Freeh Report (thank you, Deadspin) are that the report was "factually wrong" and the now-deceased coach "knew little of Jerry Sandusky's personal life." 

Everyone, even those who couldn't care less about Penn State, knew Joe Paterno WAS that institution. The chancellor didn't make a move without consulting Joe. He knew everything, including the actions of his assistant for more than three decades, Jerry Sandusky. So, yeah, I can understand how one can get that misconstrued with "knew little of his personal life." Even Freeh has come forward with a statement of his own.

The former FBI director said Paterno and three other former university officials showed no empathy for Sandusky's victims and chose not to report his conduct to authorities. "I stand by our conclusion that four of the most powerful people at Penn State failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade." In fact, Freeh's team concluded that the school's top administrators had "empowered" Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator for the football team, to continue his abuse. The report said the panel interviewed more than 430 witnesses.
To date, the Paterno family's feeble attempts to repair good faith, reputation, and image in the surname once beloved have been the following:
  • A full-blown media tour by Paterno's widow, Sue, and his son, Jay. 
  • A 238-page reply to the Freeh report
  • A website to help tout those claims of desperation...opinion
Regretfully, all Sue and Jay will have is on colossal bill to bone up when the aforementioned law firm, King & Spalding, comes calling. No one is going to listen to "Joe was a swell guy and he wasn't fully aware about Sandusky's short eyes." Consider your clients. You represent a business that employs someone who screwed up royally. Do you advise your client to turn its back and hope the issue fizzles or do you urge your client to find out everything, get in front of this mess, and make your fight a public one to salvage what reputation that company has left? Well, the Paterno law firm didn't agree with you, which is why we are blogging today about these deplorable efforts to save face. 

The silver lining of all this drama? Sandusky, 69, is appealing his conviction on 45 counts that charged he molested 10 boys over a 15-year period. He is serving a state prison sentence of 30 to 60 years. 


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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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