By now, everyone knows of the allegations of sexual abuse by former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and University of Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine. While there is plenty to be disgusted and shocked about, I was especially appalled by the actions and comments made by Syracuse’s head basketball coach Jim Boeheim when word first surfaced about the allegations against Fine. And keep in mind this was after the Penn State scandal had rocked the public for weeks.
One would think Boeheim might tread carefully following this horrific string of media reports. Instead, Boeheim’s ego and 45 year friendship with Fine prevented that from happening. For days, Boeheim painted the accusers as liars and actually dismissed the allegations as “a bunch of a thousand lies.”
He also told the Syracuse Post-Standard: “The Penn State thing came out and the kid behind this is trying to get money. He’s tried before. And now he’s trying again. If he gets this, he’s going to sue the university and Bernie. What do you think is going to happen at Penn State? You know how much money is going to be involved in civil suits? I’d say about $50 million. That’s what this is about. Money.”
Boeheim also proclaimed, “I am not Joe Paterno,” – meaning he did not know anything or aid in a cover-up (unlike Paterno). As the story continued to unfold, he acknowledged that he did not have all the facts of the case; yet that did not slow his dismissal of the accusations.
As a PR professional, I find this last statement especially interesting for several reasons. In the time of a crisis (which this qualifies in my opinion), immediately obtaining all the facts is paramount. Without them, you are doomed and have zero credibility moving forward. Regardless of how fast the crisis evolved, the university and Boeheim needed to roll-up their sleeves, dig deep for information, get the messaging right and then brief the media and public. After that, additional statements or briefings could occur on a case-by-case basis, if at all (due to the ongoing investigation).
Plus, why did the university give Boeheim carte blanche to run his media relations campaign? By not reigning in Boeheim and having him apologize right away for his statements, they only dug their collective PR hole deeper. His statements not only backed him into a dire situation, but it damaged the university’s brand and reputation.
Boeheim has since apologized for his comments and announced his intention to take a more active role in the McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center in Syracuse. This is after Boeheim and his wife Juli reportedly gave more than $20,000 to the advocacy center this past summer and where she serves as the co-chair for the center’s fundraising campaign. Given his alleged prior involvement with the organization, one would think Boeheim would have been more cautious and sensitive with his remarks about the accusers.
Suffice to say, Boeheim has to deliver a concerted, genuine effort to recapture his credibility and the respect of many, and based on his prior actions it will be interesting to see what happens as the story unfolds. Boeheim might not be Joe Paterno – like he claimed – but his insensitive, egotistical comments nearly landed in the same place as Paterno – fired.