Penn State, Syracuse Universities Consult With Crisis Managers


On the surface, there are a lot of similarities to the situations at the two universities. The alleged crimes took place over a significant period of time and were allegedly perpetrated by men who had bosses who were responsible for what happened on their watch.

Both schools have storied athletic programs. Penn State has the seventh winningest NCAA Division 1 football team of all time and has won two national championships. Syracuse is the fifth winningest NCAA Division 1 basketball team of all time, with three appearances and a win in the national title game. Joe Paterno had the longest coaching tenure in Division 1 football history at 46 years. Boeheim, in his 34 years as head coach of Syracuse, is fifth on the list of division 1 basketball coaches with the most wins.

Both colleges have a lot to lose. Penn State has hired PR giant Ketchum Communications to help with its crisis management. Syracuse is consulting with alumnus Paul Verbinnen, president of Sard Verbinnen & Co., the firm that New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer hired after a scandal involving prostitutes led to his resignation.

After hearing the allegations of the young men in Syracuse, my heart goes out to them. Being traumatized in that way many times sets into motion a lifetime of dysfunction and potentially a cycle of abuse that is repeated for generations.

I'm okay with crisis managers doing their jobs to protect those affected by crisis and who are unwittingly harmed by it, but we have to do our jobs and make sure that no amount of professional steering absolves individuals or organizations of their responsibilities. Even though crisis managers might help organizations say the right things, the public must evaluate the words and help hold the individuals and institutions accountable for what they say.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Larry Woodard is a director on the Advertising Week board and chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies' New York Council.

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