History is replete with the devastating effects of decisions based on fear. Fear is usually driven by ignorance of the facts as one’s mind runs amok as to the infinite possibilities of worse-case scenarios.
Looking back at the 2001 incident regarding Jerry Sandusky, although much of the thinking of those involved must have been influenced by a desire to see facts (limited as they were) in a manner beneficial to those investigating, fear cannot be discounted. “What if?” is a primal motivator.
And as history is wont to do, it repeats itself when those in power do not learn from earlier mistakes.We see this in Penn State’s handling of NCAA-imposed sanctions — if we did not accept these, things could have been much worse. This decision seems to be grounded in fear as opposed to a thorough understanding of the facts.
Upon receiving the Freeh report, the NCAA pounced with lightning speed, so fast one wonders if the report was actually read.
In response, Penn State meekly accepted crippling sanctions under fear of more dire consequences. If the NCAA in its knee-jerk reaction did not fully grasp the facts, did Penn State officials have a sufficient understanding to make an informed decision?
Penn State received the Freeh report when the rest of the world did. What did it do in the interim while the investigation was ongoing? Was the university trying to get a handle on the situation or just sitting back awaiting word from on high?
As for Penn State’s concern with the NCAA, the university’s actions (or inactions) are illuminating.
The NCAA put Penn State on notice last fall that the university was under investigation for its handling of the Sandusky fiasco. A prudent entity would promptly seek counsel to aid in its defense.
Penn State, on the other hand, waited nearly eight months and hired its counsel only about a week before the sanctions were announced. On paper, Penn State hired a heavyweight in the NCAA sanction industry, an attorney named Gene Marsh.
Prior to being retained by Penn State, Marsh had been quoted in newspaper articles across the country that the Sandusky matter was not an NCAA issue and he saw no reason for sanctions to be handed down.
Talk such as this impresses and would entice a potential client to seek out your services. Penn State heard and Marsh was retained.
What type of representation did Penn State get from esteemed counsel?
Well, at the first sight of enemy fire, he dropped his briefcase and ran, telling Penn State to take the deal. With little time to analyze the situation and develop a strategy based on a strong understanding of the facts, fear seeped into his mind and Marsh started playing the “what if” game. Fearing the worst, he advised Penn State to wave the white flag.
From the beginning of the Sandusky mess, Penn State acted out of fear, which turned a mess into a disaster. A big lesson in crisis management is there for all to see: Before decisions are made, get a handle on the facts involved.
This is an essential element of effective leadership. Hopefully, one day, Penn State will apply this concept.
Louis Lombardi is an attorney and former New York City police captain who lives in Patton Township. He can be reached at email@example.com
or follow him on his blog at www.obpopulus.wordpress.com.