Saturday, November 12, 2011

Coming to an Athletic Department Near You

Nate Allen of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette puts hit take on the increasing secrecy in college sports with Sometimes Lockdown Leads to Lock Up. The column is behind the ADG pay wall, but you can likely find it cut and paste elsewhere.

What is the significance? Because Allen joins a chorus around the country - Arkansas isn't special in this - of sports writers asking for more transparency. And regular political writers as Max Brantley joins in with his Arkansas Blog entry today. (Check the commentary and a link to another story from New York Times).

Again, what is the big deal? Remember how no one was interested in cell phone records until bloggers started to go after coaches (Arkansas one of the first, North Carolina one of the latest)?

Once upon a time, I was told by a colleague "what right do THEY have to see our cell phone records or read out emails."

My answer - because we are state employees, and if he didn't like that, maybe he should move into the private sector.

Am I implying I know something about UA because I worked there for over 20 years? That is not my point. I know the media there, and they can be quite indicative of trends. Watch and see if all sports media begin to probe deeper and not accept the answers of limited access - which if you can't find Allen's full column is the heart of his point. Quoting from Allen:

As coaches’ salaries and power increasingly escalate, so does the remoteness of athletic departments to the universities of which they are supposed to be a part and not apart.

The University of Arkansas’ Broyles Center was once as open as since retired Athletic Director Frank Broyles’ always open door, but now it is routinely described in comparative “lockdown” by alumni and others who were once accustomed to visiting it.

Just imagine when the UA’s football operations center is completed. The football fortress might be more forbidding than Fort Knox.

It took the political shock of Watergate to inspire a generation of reporters to ask harder questions, not accept answers and begin to go after raw data like budgets or committee reports.

Get ready, fellow PR and information professionals, for a wave of same in sports.

And I highly recommend not reacting with a closed door attitude - especially for those of us working for public institutions.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Four Refections on the Penn State Crisis

There is no time in the present, and the speed and scope of what has transpired in the last 72 hours at Penn State reinforce that statement. In a week, the organization went from celebrating one of it's most anticipated hisotorical moments, the ascension of it's iconic coaching legend into the record books as the all-time winningest, to the unquestionably lowest possible incident for an education institution, the violation of youth whom it is entrusted to protect and teach.

We must remember that as bad as this appears, we have had these kind of events in our American and human past. What separates us in the 21st century from those great tragedies is the network and the speed at which it moves. We can all become a part, if we choose, not only in reading distant news or passive viewing of the live events as they happen, we can participate in the event through our social media tools.

Maria Sciullo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette provides a succinct article on the impact of the internet on the story. Scuillo gets to the heart of the matter quickly:

Maybe, some harrumphed, this was just a case of overreaction? But the detailed report accessible to anyone with a computer, tablet or smartphone told a different story.

The indictment tells all. You can read it yourself. And as Sciullo or Pittsburgh native Dennis Miller said on his radio show, when you read it the doubt disappears.

We will now stare at the car wreck for the next days, months, years. There are some immediate lessons that will not change:

- If you think you have time to gather yourself in a major crisis, you are already doomed. It took the administration at Virginia Tech 48 hours to understand their crisis did not end when the shooter went down. It took the governor threatening to immediately relieve the president of the school to get the message through to open the school's emergency operations center and invoke their crisis plans.

The truth is very few of us have worked for an educational institution that believed these things could happen, much less would happen. And precious few of them will look at what happened elsewhere and become motivated to begin to prepare for the inevitable. Unless you are touched by these type events, you can sleep at night without drills, detailed plans or hierarchies for response.

- If your excuse for the first point is "it won't happen here", let me refer you back to the events of the first decade of the 21st century. Did anyone think airplanes could crash and bring down a 110 story building? Twice? In the same day?

Be honest - who among you could have ever imagined Penn State and Jo Paterno in this type of crisis?

- If you have discovered something so destructive, so heinous, so damaging that your only solution to protect the institution is to at best slow walk the process and more likely just cover it up, the net will get you. Eventually, people will know, and if it really is that big a problem, time will not heal the wounds and allow it to be swept away. The truth will out.

- Last of all, I was reminded by a former student of one of the prime directives I taught and lived by: the Watergate principal. No matter how bad the crime, the coverup is worse.

Arguments will be made - not this week or even this year because the nerves are too raw - that in Happy Valley they were moving through a process, that they intended to do things in good time, that this would be brought to prosecution. To outsiders, it will all look like what it is perceived to be today - a cover up at best, a perverse inverted German soldier defense (I was doing my duty by passing the information up the chain of command; I was not responsible) at worst.

Once again, the axiom is true: even a crime as reprehensible as this - especially in an education setting - the only thing worse than being the perp is being seen as someone who knew and did nothing.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On the Heels of Protest

We have an episode on the occupy movement in perspective, but here's some more.

Granted, I'm reading the Sunday Chicago Tribune for more details about the events and Penn State and the cover-up by administration (let pause and remind you all - in all circumstances, the crime is bad; the cover-up is much worse - and this one is, well, hard to even consider).

Big full page story on the start of the commentary section: 10 things you might no know about Chicago protests.

Oh, a history piece on the long and significant history of Chicago in labor and social unrest.

Um, no, a snarky and shallow look at the minor upsets in the city from the mid to late 20th century.

In other words, Haymarket Square is not mentioned. Not once. Even though it figures TWICE in the history of protest in Chicago.

Somewhat akin to saying, let's review the great Super Bowls, and leaving out III - I don't know, because it's OLD or a long time ago.

I just re-read the piece to make sure the authors, Mark Jacob and Stephan Benzkofer, didn't slip it in and I missed it. Nope. In their lead:

"Occupy Chicago protesters are writing another chapter in a long history of dissent in this city. Here are 10 demonstrated facts:"

Briefly, Haymarket is the original anarchist event in U.S. history, a seminal moment in the labor movement and known world-wide. Why guess what, there is even a Haymarket statue and a monument to the police killed at the late 19th century labor protest turned bombing.

But we did learn about protest #4 on their list - a person who wore a tuxedo to the Mercantile Exchange to protest new dress rules. And a protest against a mini mart in the suburbs.

Oh, yes, the 1968 Democratic Convention managed to make the list. And Martin Luther King's ill-fated march.

But the original - nope. The Days of Rage? Nah-ah. The attack of the Haymarket statute? Not quite top 10.

However, a 1958 high school banning the wearing of dog tags with Elvis' birthdate and name by girls? That's number 10.