I always advise my clients to act with authenticity and transparency in the aftermath of crisis. Baylor University is a great illustration.
Baylor’s administration and its athletics department concealed information, covered up wrongdoing, and misled the public from the outset. That resulted in the firing of football coach Art Briles and the replacement of president Kenneth Starr and athletic director Ian McCaw. But the consequences from Baylor’s initial missteps continue to devastate its reputation.
Baylor would have been better served by releasing all the facts as the scandal unfolded. The bad news would have dominated fewer news cycles, and the university could have moved forward. Instead, a steady stream of ugly revelations has kept the story alive for two years.
Contrast the Baylor approach to that of my former client Penn State. Faced with an epic scandal, Penn State commissioned an independent external review by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, which was made public and prescribed major reforms. As a result of Penn State’s progress on more than 100 recommendations from the Freeh report, the NCAA scaled back sanctions two years earlier than scheduled.
Today at Baylor there’s a messy tangle of lawsuits and countersuits by victims, administrators, and coaches. Here’s an account from a defamation suit filed last week by a former Baylor coach: “The football program was a black hole into which reports of misconduct such as drug use, physical assault, domestic violence, brandishing of guns, indecent exposure and academic fraud disappeared.”
A recent lawsuit filed by a Baylor graduate who alleges she was a victim of sexual assault asserts that Baylor’s football program included “a rape culture that led to student violence.”
And this week the Big 12 Conference announced it would withhold 25 percent of Baylor’s share of the annual conference payout, a move that could cost the Bears more than $7.5 million this year.
Of course, it didn’t help that just this week new football coach Matt Rhule, who was hired to clean up the program, had to fire his new strength coach, Brandon Washington. Washington was charged by McLennan County sheriff’s deputies with prostitution solicitation at a Waco-area hotel.
The Baylor brand is likely to be under siege for years to come.
Sandusky Postscript (2/16/17): It was deeply disturbing to hear of the arrest of Jeffrey Sandusky, son of convicted child abuser and former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky. The junior Sandusky, 41, is accused of sexual solicitation of a minor and a dozen related charges. It appears that Jeffrey Sandusky has no connection to Penn State University. Nevertheless, I know the case is an unwelcome reminder of the earlier Sandusky scandal, which harmed many and tarnished the reputation of a great university.