Tom Bradley and the Penn State Scandal: Handling Crisis Communication

21 Nov

The sex abuse scandal that has enveloped Pennsylvania State University and the Penn State football team has been an unprecedented and unfortunate situation for all involved, especially the victims of this tragedy.  I will not going into much detail about the scandal, so if you need some background information, click on the link at the bottom of the post.

Such a situation is a haven for rumor-mongering and controversy-seeking by the media.  Every means of external communication from the university needs to be streamlined and effective to prevent this scandal from becoming even more damaging.  Interim head coach Tom Bradley’s initial press conference with the media on November 10th was a prime opportunity for the media to force Bradley into a corner to divulge some sensational information.  For an assistant coach being thrust right into the middle of one of the most controversial issues of recent memory, Bradley performed remarkably well in this press conference and displayed some great strategies to employ when in a moment where proper crisis communication is required.

Proper Tone

To start off the press conference, Bradley’s voice was very subdued and somber when discussing his sorrow for the victims of this tragedy.  By using such a tone, Bradley was able to provide believability towards his case.  He also addressed the victims and offered his condolences and prayers to them, only further adding to the believability for Bradley.

Deflect Tough Questions

As expected for such an important press conference for Penn State’s image, there were numerous questions posed by the media attempting to catch Bradley off guard with the hope of getting a scandalous quote for their news article.  He was well aware of the media’s tactics and continually deflected those tough questions.  When questioned about what he knows about an incident in 2002 as well as to comment upon his relationship with Jerry Sandusky, the subject of the scandal, Bradley declined to comment because of the “ongoing investigation”.  Reporters also asked whether he thought head coach Joe Paterno was fired fairly, or if it is appropriate to have assistant coach Mike McQuery to remain on the coaching staff.  For both instances, Bradley wisely chose to state these decisions were made by administration and he had nothing further to add. By deflecting these questions, Bradley was able to ensure that the key messages that Penn State wanted were covered and that any future controversy was avoided.

While facing such an unprecedented scandal with very minimal preparation, Tom Bradley gives us a great example of how to conduct ourselves in a stressful and uncomfortable press conference.  The techniques he employed allowed him to appear mournful while still ensuring that he was not pushed around by the media into giving them scandalous material for the evening news.  These are great suggestions to draw upon if you ever find yourself in a position similar to Mr. Bradley.


by Doug Guilfoy


2 Responses to “Tom Bradley and the Penn State Scandal: Handling Crisis Communication”

  1. Elisabeth Green November 28, 2011 at 10:14 pm #


    I completely agree with you, and I believe Tom Bradley’s tone is very appropriate. In Bradley’s recent press conference, after Penn State’s loss to Wisconsin, a reporter asked if the team was “emotionally drained.” Bradley immediately deflected this question as well, and he stated this was not an excuse or a part of their loss. Bradley went on to say that none of the current players were involved, and he explained that he was proud of the way his players have handled the recent situation with Penn State.

    Bradley’s tone and responses force the reporters to focus on the players and the game, rather than the scandal.


    • Robert Knapel November 29, 2011 at 6:40 am #


      I think that it is interesting to note that so much of the focus in this whole situation was on Joe Paterno rather than Jerry Sandusky. As a result of this, Paterno was forced to address the situation much differently than he would have had the focus not been on him.

      The same could be said of Tom Bradley as well. He was thrust into the spotlight and he had to replace the most iconic coach in college football on incredibly short notice. He had to find a way to address his players and motivate them. That did not work out well as team was beaten badly by Wisconsin.

      On the other hand, Bradley did a good job when he communicated with the media. He was able to keep the focus on his players and his team once he took over and tried to separate them from the scandal.

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