Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sometimes Doing Nothing is the Best Move

There's a sign in my office that says: "Nothing is often a good thing to do and always a good thing to say." The man at the center of the Penn State scandal, former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, might have benefited from that advice earlier this week when he agreed to be interviewed by Bob Costas this past Monday on NBC.

Sandusky's performance was a disaster on every count. He did nothing to mitigate the damage to his reputation, or begin the work of balancing the scales of public opinion - two things that should be the primary goals of an interview like this. (Hard to see how that could even be achieved here, given the circumstances.) For good measure, Sandusky acknowledged behavior that created legal openings that any prosecutor in America could drive a truck through. Doing the interview was just a bad idea all around.

So why did he even talk to Costas? His communications counsel and attorney certainly advised against it. But Sandusky is not a guy who has heard the word "No" very often in his career, and his status at Penn State created an environment where (tragically) he could get away with anything and talk himself out of everything. The audience in his little world of Happy Valley was always willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, believe everything he said and look the other way.

In this regard, Sandusky reminds me of Roger Clemens, who insisted - contrary to a mountain of evidence - that he had not used steroids. Like Clemens, you can almost hear Sandusky overruling his advisors: "I'm Jerry Sandusky. I've been pulling it off for decades. Why should this be any different?" Clemens will stand trial in April for perjury. His first trial ended in a mistrial.

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