Now that former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky is behind bars and listening to his fellow inmates serenade him with Pink Floyd (“Hey, Teacher, leave those kids alone!), all he has to do is sit and wait to see just how many hundreds of years he is sentenced to or if his lawyers can somehow pull off a modern legal miracle and get him out on some technicality.
As his image is erased from Penn State's property, Sandusky sits and waits and hopefully begins to realize what kind of complete turmoil he has left in the wake of a child sex abuse scandal. It's more likely that he will instead try to slow time down and have his legal team throw every possible barricade into the mix to keep him from being chucked into another prison’s general population just yet. However, Penn State University is on the opposite track, trying to speed things ahead, eager to get everyone over this massive PR hump, and back to thinking of Penn State as Happy Valley again.
In downtown State College this weekend, artist Michael Pilato replaced the image of Sandusky that once graced a mural there with “a blue ribbon — a symbol for awareness of child sexual abuse” – and “a depiction of Dora McQuaid, a poet and advocate for domestic and sexual violence victims and issues” as well as a PSU grad, according to the Associated Press. And in one small glimmer of a turnaround, Cars.com indicated today it would once again advertise during Penn State college football game broadcasts.
One thing the trial did for the school was to remind people across the land that Penn State isn’t just a football team and that the surrounding area isn’t just filled with Nittany Lion-loving drones who will do anything to get their team back to a national championship. The jury was filled with people connected to Penn State and the firing (and then death) of Joe Paterno marked an end of an era that likely should have ended a few seasons back.
Now, though, PSU is moving along. While the Sandusky trial was still in session, NBC Philadelphia reports, the school’s massive pack of alums received an email that read, “We are ONE TEAM. Join us.” Then there was a link to buy tickets for next season’s games. The team will be led by a new coach, Bill O’Brien, who arrives at State College after having served as an assistant coach for the NFL’s New England Patriots.
O’Brien will be a continued selling point for the team and the university as it hopes to remind folks that the school is much bigger than Sandusky. While that is obviously true, the world will likely continue to be fascinated with a series of legal cases that will be traipsed out over the next few years that involve the school and its previous honchos. After the verdict, PSU sounded ready to settle with any victims of Sandusky who had been abused on the school’s grounds just so they could make some amends to one big trouble area in their new PR offensive.
Another part of that was the launching of a re-launch of an “Openness” website, which hopes to “ensure broader communications with key Penn State stakeholders, including current and prospective students and their families, alumni, faculty and staff, local communities, and state and national media.” In other words, keep everybody informed of what’s shaking on the legal front and on every other front imaginable so the world knows that (a) Penn State is working to fix its problems and (b) Penn State cares.
Before the Sandusky verdict came down, in early June the site changed from "Openness" to "Progress," an interesting marketing and semantic shift. “Openness was the first iteration of the University’s official online response and communications channel designed to address the difficult issues from last year and ongoing legal matters,” said Penn State President Rodney Erickson. “As the University continues to make progress on the initiatives it created and put into action in the last several months, shifting to ‘Progress’ is a natural evolution that allows us to build on the initial concept that the ‘Openness’ website conveyed with new focused content, functionality and technology.”
One of the next big hurdles for Penn State will be the appearance in July of the internal report being conducted by former FBI director Louis Freeh. More than 400 people have been interviewed for the report and it likely to spill a lot more dirty details into the public eye of how a big-time university goes about its business. But that is a report that the school wants the world to see. It is erring on the side of airing all its garbage in order to totally clean up its act. Now that is progress.