The apology tour proved to be futile. The "remediation plan" never quite reached its apex.
Ohio State University president Gordon Gee has announced he will officially retire on July 1, leaving a path of controversy behind and a valuable lesson for others to follow.
In an era of new media, a whole lot of good can be erased in an instant.
As first reported by the Columbus Dispatch, Gee sent an email to faculty members, students and staff revealing his decision to step down as president. Shortly after, the university sent out a press release including an explanation from Gee on how he came to this decision:
During my days away, I also spent some time in self-reflection. And after much deliberation, I have decided it is now time for me to turn over the reins of leadership to allow the seeds that we have planted to grow. It is also time for me to re-energize and refocus myself.
Gee also posted the following message on Twitter:
As my time as president draws to a close, know that my love for Ohio State will continue to grow. #HowFirmThyFriendship— E. Gordon Gee (@presidentgee) June 4, 2013
Gee, never shy in front of a microphone, has often made headlines on his own.
In the past few years alone, he’s called TCU and Boise State “Little Sisters of the Poor,” referenced the Polish army in a failed joke while speaking at the Columbus Metropolitan Club and referred to the NCAA investigations into his program as a “year-long colonoscopy,” just to name a few.
In fairness, the last one is actually rather difficult to dispute.
His comments stemming from a December 2012 meeting with the school's athletic council, however, proved to be the last straw. These remarks took distinct shots at Notre Dame, Kentucky, Louisville, Catholics and the SEC. Former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema also found himself in Gee’s crosshairs once again.
While saying the SEC couldn’t read was likely enough to cause a frenzy, the most damaging blow likely surfaced when Gee discussed his previous dealings with Notre Dame.
The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they're holy hell on the rest of the week. You just can't trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday, and so, literally, I can say that.
Gee has since handed out apology after apology, hoping to remedy the situation. Although university trustees reportedly gave him a "last chance" ultimatum, saying one more public slip-up would likely result in his termination, it never came to that. Gee has instead decided to “retire,” although the term certainly comes with mixed feelings for the 69-year-old.
His second tenure at Ohio State ends with a fizzle.
The incredible fundraising efforts, broad university successes and other countless achievements that took place under his watch will be mentioned alongside an avoidable asterisk.
He was an exceptional university president—one the Ohio State faithful have appreciated and will continue to appreciate long after he leaves. His legacy, however, won't just reflect his incredible work.
One evening, one moment, one rant that spiraled casually out of control. That’s all it takes, especially in an age where information moves at lightning speed and no quote is seemingly off the record.
Gee’s demise is a lesson for universities as they attempt to control the news cycle in an age where it's becoming increasingly difficult to do so. Once you lose control, it’s seemingly impossible to repair the damage.
It doesn’t matter how important a person might be, how good they are at their job, how much power they hold or their history up until that blunder. The presence of both Twitter and other social media outlets creates a forum where comments are scrutinized and dissected, sometimes to an utterly unfair degree.
In the case of Gee, his words required no further interpretation. They traveled at warp speed, and this was national news only moments after the AP posted its story. His history of saying outlandish things didn’t help his case, but the comments from last December elevated his already quirky and vocal profile.
Being good at what you do is no longer the only job prerequisite. In an era in which public perception is crucial, even one slip-up in front of a microphone can cost you, and your employer, dearly.
For college football, it is another valuable lesson learned. And make no mistake about it, this will be a teachable moment. Administrations will discuss the power of their words among themselves and their coaches, and coaches will share this same message with their players.
The room for critical error is none.
At a time when social media is becoming more and more a constructive part of the sport, this same social outlet can also be a university and athletic department's worst nightmare.
Gee is the latest to learn its power, although he certainly won’t be the last.
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