You’ve heard it often: “Learn from your mistakes.” Parents demand it and preachers preach it. So do coaches, teachers, mentors and administrators.
As important is learning from the mistakes of others. You hear that a lot too.
In theory it is foolproof: “See what happened over there? Don’t do what they did.” In reality, it's not that simple.
Otherwise, those in charge at Michigan State would have come clean the second the Jerry Sandusky scandal surfaced at Penn State, or certainly when the Baylor sexual assault scandal came to light.
Even if — as is alleged — the pattern of sexual assault and abuse began at Michigan State prior to news of those high-profile atrocities, either of those cases should have sounded an alarm in East Lansing.
It should have been a call to report previously unreported incidents, provide full disclosure on what was done or not done and change protocol moving forward. That is, take the athletic department out of the equation in regard to the disciplining of athletes/coaches alleged to have committed such crimes.
Joe Paterno fell short at Penn State, blinded by his loyalty to longtime friend and assistant coach, Sandusky. In announcing his retirement in November 2011, Paterno said in a statement, “This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”
They were telling words from a man who for decades had been the most respected coach in America. He ran a clean program, we said. He won big and did it the right way. We were sure of it.
Then, amid the weight of the scandal, he was telling us he knew enough about Sandusky’s sexual abuse of young boys he should have “done more” to stop it.
For so long Paterno was the voice for all that was right in college athletics. How ironic that his words of regret went unheard at other big-time, big-money programs.
That one sentence — “I wish I had done more” — was a chance for all of them to learn from his mistakes. It should have resonated at every university. Intended or not, Paterno was telling them to not let loyalty, reputation and/or revenue stand in the way of doing what’s right.
Now here we are … another scandal at a power-five program driven by greed, friendships, self-preservation or all of the above.
Like at Penn State and Baylor, this one is a result of trying to protect a brand. Sexual assault is a crime. It reflects badly on your athletic program and the university, particularly at a time when sexual violence against women is experiencing long-overdue scrutiny.
Victims are being heard from Hollywood to East Lansing, confronting the likes of convicted abuser Larry Nassar, former doctor for Michigan State athletics and USA Gymnastics.
ESPN’s "Outside the Lines" report on Friday exposed a culture of preferential treatment and cover-ups in regard to Michigan State athletes accused of sexual assault. The university president and athletic director have stepped down, and many others must answer for what they knew, when they knew it and what they did or did not do to report it.
None of that is good for the brand, but here’s the thing. If protecting the brand means suppressing information, ignoring innocent victims and allowing criminal behavior to go unpunished, the brand is not worth protecting.
Football coach Mark Dantonio could lose his job. Sexual assault allegations have been lodged against 16 Spartan football players during his 11-year tenure.
Longtime basketball coach Tom Izzo, a Paterno-like figure with a reputation for winning “the right way,” could be done as well. At least three of his former players and an ex-student assistant coach have been involved in alleged sexual assaults on female Michigan State students.
The fallout has just begun in East Lansing. It may be months or years before we know its full scope and impact. Already, this is clear: a lot of people should have “done more” to protect victims, not the brand.