Archive for the ‘ Organizational Culture ’ Category


OK, that title was too easy, but I have resisted reacting in a knee-jerk manner to the breaking Penn State scandal.  In full disclosure, I grew up in a Penn State family; my dad is an alum and it was a birthright – no, make that a birth-DUTY – to root for the blue and white on fall Saturdays.  In our home, Sunday may have been the day of worship for that other child-molesting organization (i.e. the Catholic Church); but Saturdays were reserved for JoPa and Linebacker U

A lot has been revealed of the sordid activities allegedly perpetrated by Jerry Sandusky… a Sports Illustrated expose in the Nov 21 edition does an excellent job explaining the key characters, timelines, etc.  I have been fighting like hell to avoid ‘piling on’ but the following cannot be denied:

  • Sandusky is a creep and deserves to spend the rest of his days picking up the soap in the showers at Graterford prison where all of his fellow inmates are certainly attuned to his transgressions and will be more than happy to ‘slide around the showers’ with him like he mastered with 10 year old boys.  His actions are despicable by any measure and the punishment cannot be severe enough.  He is public enemy number one in this story but won’t get much more attention beyond this bullet as it’s obvious that he is at fault and his actions are universally condemned.
  • Mike McQueary just confirmed for me why he sucked so bad as a QB at PSU.  McQueary played QB for the ‘Nits in the mid-90’s and I recall having an otherworldy disgust for his play at that time to the point of questioning my allegiance at all to the ‘Nits.  His decision-making was horrific as was a perceived lack of toughness/guts in crunch time.  Has such an opinion ever been more validated when he stared down the scene of a 60-year-old man sodomizing a young boy in a shower room and decided to do… NOTHING???!!!  Are you kidding me McQueary???  You’re 6’5″, I’m guessing 250 lbs (packing on at least 10-20 lbs since you stopped turtling from LBers rushing who you should have been tough enough to withstand a hit from) and you don’t confront that monster and save the boy???  And then you have the gall to send an email to your ‘boys’ after you go in hiding saying “I did do something – I stopped him from doing it again.”  And, “… you have no idea how it feels to witness something like that… hope that you never do.”  Sorry Mike, I would actually HOPE to walk upon an old dude banging a young boy because I know I WOULD STOP HIM!  It’s not as if you happened upon Mike Tyson on a ‘roid rage… he WAS A 60 YEAR OLD MAN!  Now in fairness, I must allow for the other side of this argument… check out this link from Jane Leavy regarding the “Plight of the Whistleblower” – well done but I obviously don’t agree.
  • The PSU Administration.  Included here are the University President (Graham Spanier) and the others who were in charge of keeping order at the University.  They clearly covered up past instances and they will have their day in court.  The gut feeling here is that this thing is rotten to the core and if these people knew of Sandusky’s transgressions so did NCAA officials.  This is just the start of the avalanche, friends.  Expect many more heads to roll.  (For more on the inconceivable malfeasance of how the investigation has been handled, check out the bullets from this week’s SI story).

Of course missing from the key players was one of my all time favorite octogenarians, Joe Paterno.  It’s still seems unreal to me that the keeper of all things good and wholesome could have known even rumors about his top lieutenant Sandusky and decide to simply say a few words to his superiors???  Perhaps his greatest attribute was Joe’s grandfatherly presence in Happy Valley especially on the recruiting trail when assuring moms and dads across the nation that their kids would play for a premier football program AND would graduate AND would keep their noses out of the sorts of scandals that continually plague other top flight programs (see Florida St “Sneaker Gate“, USC “Bush Gardens“, Ohio St. “Tattoo U.”, etc.).  These pale in comparison to the allegations in Happy Valley… unrivaled except for what’s unraveling at Syracuse (to be continued…).

My initial sympathy for Joe, heightened by the media coverage of a man obviously not able to even comprehend such a travesty at his age (e.g. his offer to retire at the end of the season, “say a prayer for the kids”, etc.) quickly turned into a boiling rage:  How could a man who is easily the most powerful icon in the state of Pennsylvania allow these unfathomable crimes to occur under his watch?  How did he not have the fortitude to sit his friend down and tell him that beyond never coaching again, the authorities are being called because beyond stealing the innocence of the child-victims, etc. – YOU Mr. Sandusky have just destroyed everything we stand for at this university in your actions of cruelty and selfishness.  In those fleeting moments of self-gratification not only did you destroy the lives of the boys you abused but you have also tarnished the reputation of EVERY student that has ever walked through these doors… those recent grads struggling to find jobs and those already out in society who now face public ridicule whenever their alma mater is revealed.  And the future?  Forget about it.  Try fundraising now:  PSU would find it easier soliciting funds for the Sandusky prosecution than they would for facilities, scholarship endowment, etc.

Joe fell victim to the insulation afforded those who rise to meteoric heights where the daily goings-on become secondary to the overall mission.  In his case, securing the all-time NCAA victory record and protecting his teams from outside influences that would prevent that accomplishment.  Stories are now emerging of other cover-ups that pale in comparison to the Sandusky affair but are troublesome nonetheless.  They follow a common theme; players break rules (or possibly laws), PSU administration approaches Paterno, Joe intimidates the officers into letting him handle it internally or else risk his removal from the fundraising process.  Classy Joe…

And here’s my personal beef:  Joe,  you stole my loyalty and a seemingly infinite amount of Saturdays rooting for your ‘wholesome’ principles.  I held off the detractors who said you were too old and the game has passed you by.  I defended the run-run-pass-punt offensive malaise (before you allowed Galen Hall to implement the spread) while allowing the defense to win games because I thought it was a throwback to the days where football was a metaphor for life; that hard work and a conservative mindset would ultimately lead to victory as you kept focus straight ahead at the ultimate prize…  that short-term failures only made you stronger.  Little did I know that this approach included ‘looking the other way’ when things didn’t quite mesh with your goal.  And perhaps if you ignore things long enough that they’ll just go away.   And those boring-ass uniforms… I accepted the brainwashing that they were actually ‘cool’.  They’re not… they suck and now I can admit it.

Lastly, a word on institutional culture and why these crimes were able to continue in the manner they did.  I wrote my master’s thesis on “Organizational Culture and it’s Effect as Business Strategy”.  (Yep… MBA from where else… PSU!).   The basic tenet is that successful organizations either purposely or tacitly craft the culture of their employees/members – everything from control vs. autonomy to office decor to the ‘norms’ of the daily work day – to align with their goals.  Forward-looking companies that have at their core innovation and advancement typically are characterized by autonomy where employees are given vast freedoms to try new approaches and where failure is almost expected in exchange for finding that one ‘eureka’ idea that can launch a business for decades (see Apple Computer).  Compare this to the rules-laiden, risk-averse, conservative/staid surroundings of the financial services – or legal – profession and you get my point.  Universities have a culture that is very insular… an ‘us vs. the world’ mindset where students rally around alums and their sports teams to show that they are ‘better than the rest’.  This can typically be chalked up to youthful exuberance that is outgrown when the students move on to other walks of life.  But those who are left behind (and don’t get me started on ‘tenure’) only naturally fall into the ‘spell’ that such rallying cries become reality… that there really IS something different about ‘us’ compared to those outside the quad.  Layer on top a figurehead that is larger than life (literally in JoPa’s case) and you have the makings of a sub-culture that exists to protect the figurehead… where the figurehead and the University becomes one, making it near impossible to separate one from the other.

This is what happened to PSU and JoPa.  His is the face associated with the acronym… with statues adorned throughout the campus… with fundraising letters ending with his signature.  It comes at no surprise then that his is the reputation that was continually protected and whose words were followed and who ultimately controlled the actions of the school.  So 1% of me actually feels sorry for Joe as he fell under his own spell.  It must be tough receiving nothing but accolades for 5 decades where all transgressions are swept under the rug.  But as for the rest of me… if Joe in fact did know… even JUST what McQueary told him, then I can’t see how anyone can exalt even the great philanthropic work he unquestionably has done.  Because when Joe had a chance to address the eye of the storm, when the most powerful man at the University and maybe the state was faced with the chance to save the innocence of youth, when a mere conversation with police would have started the beginning of the end for Sandusky… what did Joe do???? 

He punted.