The Big Four

One of the premier college sports leagues in the US is called The Big Ten, which for the longest time included ten universities. It has since grown to more than ten universities, but they still call it The Big Ten.

Yet, what is terribly concerning and disheartening is four of the more prolific of these universities have two unfortunate similarities. They each had a major sexual assault predator and they each covered up their awareness allowing more students to be impacted. They are The Big Four.

Michigan State University employed a physician for its women’s gymnastics program who fondled young female athletes, sometimes right in front of their mother. The girls later testified they would look at their mother to see if what he was doing was alright. And, by hiding this doctor’s predator behavior, he also moved on to do the same for the US Olympic Women’s Gymnastics team.

Penn State University employed a football coach who would run camps for young football players enamored with Penn State. Sadly, he was a pedophile who preyed on these young boys, sometimes in his own basement den. The head football coach, athletic director and university president knew of his predatory behavior, but largely did not address the problem.

Ohio State University and University of Michigan are huge football rivals. But, each school had a physician who fondled male athletes or did rectal exams when unneeded. You go in with a cold and you would have to drop your pants. And, at each school, coaches were aware of the practice and did nothing. One Ohio State wrestling coach is now in Congress and denies ever being told about this, but six of his wrestlers say they told him. A Michigan player just appeared on Dr. Phil’s show and noted that the coaches would use going to the doctor as a threat.

When I saw the player make that statement, it just infuriated me even more. Coaches (plural) knew the doctor was violating their players and they not only did nothing about it, they used it as a threat? Really? That is not only bad stewardship, that is criminal behavior, in my view.

Let me be brutally frank. Young men, women, boys and girls were sexually assaulted by these men. By not doing anything about it, more young people were sexually assaulted. These universities have paid a price for their culpability, but well after the fact. Yet, if they acted when they first knew about it, they could have saved thousands of young people from being sexually assaulted.

Parents entrusted their kids to the coaches, staff and leadership of these universities. The breach of trust is staggering in its irresponsible nature. It is not unlike the Catholic Church, Southern Baptist convention, British youth football organization or Boy Scouts of America hiding and covering-up for their sexual predators that numbered many more than just a few. All in the name of protecting their brand. Yet, what each entity did was far more harmful to their brands. They valued their brands more than the people who treasured those brands.

I have purposefully avoided mentioning the names of these predators. Preying on young adults, teens and, in some cases, adolescents is inexcusable. But, it is also inexcusable for those in the know who failed to act or chose not to act as they did not want to upset the powers that be. At the end of the movie about a very famous head football coach who did not act, there was a phone call made to a hotline telling them that this victim had raised the issue twenty years before the police investigation said it started. It was chilling that he had let someone know that many years before. And, nothing happened, except more molestation of many more kids.

The unlearned lesson

Institutions have a bad habit of not learning lessons. The unlearned lessons may even be from their own history, yet they go unlearned or unheeded. Examples continue to pile-up like a stack of unread reports or emails.

To compile just a short list of such examples, consider the following organizations and what each failed to learn: the Catholic Church, Toyota, VW, Wells Fargo, Penn State University, Michigan State University, The Ohio State University, Congress and the current President just to name a few.

The Catholic Church has known about a significant problem for many decades with pedophile priests. Yet, protecting the institution was the first motivation, not stopping the abuse of children. Even after major scandals occurred in Boston and Ireland, signicant change did not occur to prevent future molestations.

The unlearned lesson is you focus on the abused as you fix the problem, not protecting the institution. When you address the problem openly and painfully, that is how you protect the institution. Cover-ups eventually fail, because the truth has a way of getting out.

Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State are major universities and sports marketing franchises. Leaders within Penn State and Michigan State have known for years that there was a sexual predator in their midst. Yet, they chose not to act, trying to hide it from the public. As a result, more young boys, girls and teens were molested. By not addressing the problem, they brought appropriate shame to their marketing brands.

Ohio State has a similar issue with a physician who worked with the wrestlers. It has been known for years by athletes and coaches to avoid this doctor due to his practice of checking for testicular cancer for any visit, such as the flu, cold, fever, etc. Yet, nothing was done until several men came forward about their experiences.

For-profit companies are notoriously protective of their brands, but the better solution is to come clean and remedy the problem. Toyota was very slow on their floor rug braking problem. VW purposefully cheated emissions tests and were very slow to fess up after discovery. Many car companies who used Takata air bags also were slow to reveal a massive and deadly problem.

But, it is not just car companies. Banks and financial entities have experienced issues with aggressive and even illegal sales practices. Wells Fargo has justifiably gotten a lot of press for setting up false accounts as staff tried to keep jobs and earn bonuses. Bank of America and American Express have been fined for selling products and services that people did not request or need. And, pay-day lenders have a business model of excessive usury.

Even our governments have a hard time learning lessons. When the incumbent dishonors the office, the institution must penalize the incumbent. It matters not what party the incumbent belongs to. This applies to local, state and federal levels of government. It must apply to Congress and the White House. The punishment can vary from formal rebuke to censoring to removal from committees or from office.

Trust in institutions has waned. Some of this mistrust is due to hyperbole, such as what the current President has done to protect himself, but much is due to institutions not dealing with problems openly and appropriately. It also is due to them being more concerned with image than substance.

On this latter point, another unlearned lesson is the best way to keep your job is to do your job. And, when others don’t and/ or harm people, the institutions should fix the problem and let people know that they have. It is the right thing to do and avoids covering up and abetting criminality.