Does it feel like a lot of recent high-profile crisis situations have resulted in the firing of staff? Just ask Joe Paterno. From the outside looking in, the line of thinking seems to go something like this:
Let’s respond to the public outcry (and hopefully minimize the PR damage) by swiftly removing the de facto “face” of the crisis from his/her position of power.
But, who does that actually help or benefit? Of course, someone who broke the law or committed major rules violations should be punished in the appropriate manner (and that sometimes is termination.)
But, is that the right response in every situation? Isn’t there a better response — one that could actually show the organization has learned from its mistakes and is using the opportunity prevent it from being repeated?
In the wake of the Penn State scandal, another prominent athletic program’s coach has been hit by accusations of sexual misconduct. Long-time Syracuse University assistant Bernie Fine allegedly abused former players. When the allegations initially surfaced, head coach Jim Boeheim told the 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.”
As more information becomes known about Fine’s alleged pattern of abusive behavior, there are whispers calling for Boeheim to be fired. Like Joe Paterno, we’ll never know exactly who knew what and when. But, what good happens from firing Jim Boeheim? If he really didn’t know — or even suspect — the molestation, should he lose his job? Terminating Boeheim doesn’t help the victims, nor does it help the current basketball players or broader school community. It also doesn’t stop abuse from happening, or help others in powerful positions know how to spot warning signs.
In crisis, true leaders emerge.
Instead of firing Boeheim, Syracuse University has an opportunity to start a much-needed national discussion. Be a leader. Boeheim has a large soapbox. Require him to receive training so going forward he knows what warning signs to look for to identify potential child molestation, domestic violence or other abusive situations. Then, organize a media tour. Make him available for interviews with ESPN, Fox Sports, Bob Costas, CNBC’s Darren Rovell and other leading sports journalists. Initiate a national discussion. Tell people that abuse isn’t a “private matter.” Remind adults that they’re responsible for protecting kids — even if that means reporting a friend or co-worker.
When I volunteered for a domestic violence organization, I co-facilitated weekly meetings for survivors. That group of women left such a lasting impact on my life; I couldn’t imagine not taking steps to help potential victims if I suspected abuse. But, I also realize most people haven’t had that exposure or training to know how to safely react when faced with those situations. Victims of abuse won’t be helped by firing yet another high-profile coach. But, we can all benefit if Syracuse seizes this opportunity to kickstart a national discussion about spotting and responding to abuse.