Ray Ratto

Paterno puts 'the brand' ahead of human decency


Paterno puts 'the brand' ahead of human decency

The shrapnel from the Freeh Report on the Penn State scandal is still raining down on State College, but youd probably do yourselves a great big favor by worrying about the longterm fallout in your neighborhood too.

RELATED: Freeh Report -- Paterno, Penn State officials 'concealed critical facts'
Not because child molestation happens everywhere, but because hero worship does. Hero worship, and devotion to the brand.The report basically blows the former Penn State administration to bits, including the previously bulletproof Joe Paterno, for putting the safety of the brand ahead of human decency. Theres no elegant way to put this, so well say it -- sexually brutalized children were deemed collateral damage in the greater goal of protecting the institution.And it is that general instinct of the powerful and high-ranking to protect their systems no matter what the cost might be that is the danger we all should heed.That the Penn State nightmare happened under a sports umbrella should not surprise us, because there is no institution that understands the value of branding quite like sports. The temptation to blame this on Penn State for being Penn State is wrong, but the idealized version of Penn State is very much why Jerry Sandusky went unchecked hell, unsupervised, more like.And to argue exactly the extent of Joe Paternos knowledge of the crimes, and when he fully understood them, is to miss the greater point, which is this:The brand cannot be put ahead of people, ever. The brand is in and of itself an offensive concept, because it reduces all human endeavor to marketing and imagemaking. At Penn State, the brand was everything, and the football program was integral to the brand. The thousands of students who learned there, and hundreds of teachers and staff who worked there, and the jobs that were created around there, they were not the problem.The brand was the problem. A stupid reductive term became over time the raison detre for the schools existence in the minds and actions of those who controlled the institution, even in the face of one of the most monstrous crimes humans can devise.It is easy to understand why Penn State students, alums, faculty and even fans are going to be very defensive about the Freeh report, because it speaks to the greatest of the myths constructed around them. But neither Jerry Sanduskys crimes nor the fevered cover-ups that ensued were theirs, or their work, or their beliefs. They were victims, too, in a much smaller way.So yes, this was Sanduskys crime, followed by a level of moral and ethical cowardice by his superiors that may result in other convictions. But other than Sandusky, the crime was protecting the brand, at a time when the brand would have been far better served by a loud, public and aggressive defense of its most defenseless.This was not a difficult choice, either. A wrong was committed. There was one right thing to do. It wasnt done, because the people who needed to do it put the brand first, and only.And we all live with the curse of branding. Every sports team we have is a product of branding, and the imagery takes on its own life over time. When we prioritize stadium construction over public services, when we look the other way at bad or illegal behavior because we need the center fielder or running back or point guard too much, we are reinforcing the instincts of the Graham Spaniers, the Tim Curleys, the Gary Schultzes, and if the Freeh report is an accurate assessment, the Joe Paternos.No, the lesson here is the lesson for all. The brand is only as valuable as its willingness to serve those in its care its employees, its fans, its fellow citizens. If the brand is taking more than it is giving, it is unworthy of its status. If more effort is put into protecting the brand that it puts into protection, it isnt worth defending. And it should go even further. When you read or hear of a team or an athletes brand, the person who writes or says it must be regarded as a part of the problem. And the problem is everywhere. Penn State is getting it now because it defended the indefensible for more than a decade, but were all in the same boat. When we forget that the brand is to serve and not be served, we head down the same disastrous path.

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy


Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

Dusty Baker’s face tells a lot of different stories, but there is only one it tells in October.

Disappointment. Deflating, soul-crushing, hopeless disappointment.

With Thursday night’s National League Division Series defeat to the Chicago Cubs, the Washington Nationals have reinforced their place in the panoply of the capital’s legacy of failure.

But Baker’s agonies extend far further. His 3,500 games rank him 15th all-time, and only one manager above him, Gene Mauch, is not in the Hall of Fame. His 105 postseason games ranks seventh all-time, and his nine postseason appearances ranks sixth.

But his postseason record of 44-61 and no World Series titles curse him. He has been on the mailed backhand of eight series losses in 11 tries (plus a play-in game loss in 2013), and been marked by the media-ocracy as an old-school players’ manager who doesn’t wrap himself in the comforting embrace of statistical analysis.

He is now Marv Levy and Don Nelson – the good manager who can’t win the big one.

Only Levy and Nelson are in their respective halls of fame, and Baker probably won’t be. Having no World Series titles (his bullpen dying in 2002 being as close as he ever got) dooms him as it has doomed Mauch, although Mauch made his reputation as a brilliant tactician with bad teams.

But even if you take Baker’s worst metric – the postseason record – he still ranks in the 90th percentile of the 699 managers in the game’s history, though even then there’s the caveat of the 200 some-odd interim managers who you may choose not to count.

This is not to claim he should be in the Hall of Fame. This is to claim he should be discussed, if only to determine if reputations in the postseason are the only way managers are allowed to be evaluated. Because if that’s the case, Dusty Baker’s world-weary October face makes that conversation a very short one.


U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance


U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance

So Bruce Arena resigned as the U.S. National soccer team coach Friday. Big damned deal.

Oh, it is to him. He probably liked the job, and might have wanted to keep getting paid.

But whether he’s there or isn’t doesn’t matter. In fact, whether the people who hired him are there or not doesn’t matter either. U.S. Soccer is the definition of sporadic interest and patriotism-fueled frontrunning, of imbedded self-interest and general indolence, all born of inexcusable arrogance.

Bruce Arena didn’t bring that to the job, nor does he remove it by leaving. He’s just another head on a spike, like Jurgen Klinsmann was before him, and Bob Bradley before him.

But that would also be true if the head of U.S. Soccer, Sunil Gulati, quit or was fired too. Even the people bleating that the U.S. shamed itself by losing to Trinidad and Tobago display the same kind of blinkered ignorance and arrogance that dogs this sport in America.

Being in CONCACAF is a gift from the heavens, and the U.S. has decided as a national collective to replace that with actual achievement. Beating Germany in friendly is proof of long-term worth. The fact is, we don’t know how to evaluate America’s place in the soccer world except as an audience, let alone how much massive structural change is required to change that.

And change must be massive, and can’t be evaluated by the next cheap win or the next galling loss, or television ratings. America is good at watching soccer, good enough to catch on the actual chasm between its national team and development structure.

But that’s where it ends, because knowing what’s bad because you just watched it, or what is actually good (like, say, a UEFA or CONMEBOL qualifier) is light years from knowing how to fix a system built on the flawed concepts of work rate without creativity and money as a solution to crippling organizational problems.

So Bruce Arena does the decent thing given the circumstances, falling on a sword that should actually be a kebab skewer. But it makes no difference. The American soccer structure needs to get what it needs before it can get what it wants, and there are no more shortcuts to take in a short-attention-span world.