March Madness. April Fool’s. It seems the madness of fools is an apt way to describe the unhinged behavior of ex-Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice in the videos that made headlines last week. But that distinction is not borne by Rice alone. It is shared by the organization that surrounded him, the organization that apparently thought the lessons of Penn State and countless other institutions, athletes, politicians, CEOs – need I go on? – didn’t apply.
We have a robust Issues Management practice at Devine + Partners. Our counsel nearly every time is for the client to get ahead of the story – to be first with the facts and proactively manage the issue. But here’s the thing. People like me don’t get the chance to help manage the communications around a problem if an organization’s leadership doesn’t lead. Rutgers’ president has said that he knew about the Rice video but had never watched it until this week. Why not? Understanding all of the facts helps organizations manage with integrity. It might actually create positive change in a negative situation – in this case, relieving those Rutgers athletes from playing under duress and doing so before Rice’s distinctive style of coaching became known around the world.
Head-in-the-sand strategies don’t work, especially in an era of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, smart phone cameras and video and 24/7 news commentators.
My 14-year-old son hopes to have his own March Madness moment some day. I only hope it’s with a coach and a university that understands that.