The horrific actions of former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky have gripped a nation since he was arrested last fall and found guilty of 45 counts of child abuse a month ago. Now it is Penn State’s turn.
The release of former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s independent report Thursday morning is a major blow to the PSU brand, with one immediate fallout: Nike immediately reversed its November decision to stand by Sandusky's former boss, the late Joe Paterno, whose name graces a childcare center at its global HQ.
Before the report's release, even with the Sandusky talk swirling before his trial and conviction, the University managed to raise millions of dollars. In fact, the 2011-12 fiscal year had the school bringing in the second-highest annual fundraising tally in its history: a whopping $208.7 million.
It remains to be seen how much money comes PSU’s way now that its former leaders are more in the public eye than Sandusky, who has now been entered into American criminal lore as one of the most clued-out offenders of all time — and protected. As the Freeh report on Penn State's role states in one damning sentence, "In short, nothing was done and Sandusky was allowed to continue with impunity."
Even as Penn State sought to rehabilitate its image, many graduates have argued that it was a select few involved in any cover-up, while other PSU supporters refused to believe Paterno had any knowledge of the sexual nature of the "horseplay" that Sandusky engaged in, under his nose, on his watch.
"Despite the things that have happened with Jerry Sandusky, Penn State never really lost the support of its alumni," school spokesman David LeTorre said, CNN reports. That may be true, but there are more challenges ahead in the coming year as the school’s former leaders get taken to court and the university strives to show that it can make changes to restore trust.
The school’s brand has so long been tied up in its Nittany Lions football program that school execs appear to have done everything they could to protect it, even if it meant that kids might be getting penetrated orally or anally against their will or being groomed for such a thing on Penn State’s campus by one of its public heroes.
Penn State issued a statement today in response to the report that acknowledged "full responsibility for the failures that occurred" and promised, "The focus of all of our actions going forward will be on driving a culture of honesty, integrity, responsible leadership and accountability at all levels and within all units of our institution."
One brand that saw the release of the report as a good moment to disassociate itself from the Penn State brand is Nike.
After declining in November to rename its childcare center at its global HQ in Oregon, in the belief that Paterno's legacy should be innocent unless proven guilty by the Freeh report, the sporting gear giant today announced it's removing the name of once-hallowed, recently deceased PSU football coach from its campus building.
According to USA Today, Nike chairman of the board Phil Knight had "expressed steadfast support for Paterno's response to the allegations during the coach's memorial service." But today, Nike released a statement from Knight that noted, "It appears Joe made missteps that led to heartbreaking consequences. I missed that Joe missed it, and I am extremely saddened on this day. My love for Joe and his family remains."
"I have been deeply saddened by the news coming out of this investigation at Penn State," added Mark Parker, president and CEO of Nike and a Penn State grad. "It is a terrible tragedy that children were unprotected from such abhorrent crimes. With the findings released today, I have decided to change the name of our child care center at our World Headquarters. My thoughts are with the victims and the Penn State community."