Penn State Football Scandal

                                     Report Finds Paterno Aided Sandusky Cover-Up

In November of 2011 former Penn State football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested on 40 criminal accounts of child sexual abuse (Sandusky Timeline of Dates). During the trial that ensued it was discovered that Head Coach Joe Paterno and several other key Penn State school officials were aware of the abuse, but failed to report it to authorities. Many people wonder why. Why would people who were responsible for the safety and welfare of children on their campus allow such a thing to go on? The simple answer is social proof.

Social proof is the principle that the more people are doing something, the more likely you will do it yourself (Neil). Our textbook defines it as the tendency to see an action as more appropriate when others are doing it. “Paterno…along with PSU president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz ‘repeatedly concealed critical facts’ in order to prevent bad publicity for the school,” according to a private investigation report. In other words, multiple people with the authority to stop it agreed not to because it was better for the school to keep it quiet. If just one of them had not gone along with group conformity and social proofing Sandusky could have been stopped and therefore been unable to continue abusing young boys for years beyond the first revelation of his behavior. However, each of them apparently thought more of their school’s football program than they did of the young boys whose trust and protection Sandusky violated.

It is sad that this type of incident could have been stopped so much earlier, but wasn’t because of social pressures. Thankfully the NCAA hit Penn State with a $60 million sanction, a four-year football postseason ban, and a vacation of all wins dating to 1998 after the scandal to prevent such a thing from happening again.

Celebrity Credibility vs. Influence

The topic for our blog this week is why a specific celebrity is or is not credible. However, I don’t believe there is always a simple black and white answer; Therefore, I feel that I must first address the issue of celebrity credibility vs. celebrity influence.

As my roommate and I were discussing, any given celebrity has influence that can directly affect their credibility, but that doesn’t mean they equal each other. According to dictionary.com influence is “the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others.” That sounds a lot like credibility doesn’t it? But, a person may exert compelling force on or produce effects on someone or something without being believable or trustworthy. Gass & Seiter define credibility as “judgments made by a perceiver concerning the believability of a communicator.” Dictionary.com defines credibility as “the quality of being believable or worthy of trust.” Gass & Seiter state that the primary dimensions of credibility are expertise, trustworthiness, and goodwill, but the sad truth is that celebrities will often influence a population without exhibiting any of those things. A perfect example is when Obama first ran for President. During his election campaign the media interviewed random African-Americans and asked them questions about whether they approved of his vice president and statements he had made in his speeches.One person was asked if he agreed with Sarah Palin being Obama’s vice president. He got very animated saying how great it was and how he was such a supporter of Obama, but Sarah Palin was running against Obama for President! This guy wasn’t voting for Obama because he was credible, he was voting for him because he was black! I’m not saying that influencing someone without having credibility is always a bad thing, but it definitely can be and the two terms should not be confused with one another, and in today’s society they often are. A perfect example of this is Lindsay Lohan.

A celebrity that I believe holds no credibility, and very little influence on me, is Lindsay Lohan. As a child star she was a role model for me as well as many other teenage girls. She was pretty and she was a good actress and she could have probably sold me anything through influence alone. However, by last year she had already completed numerous stints in rehab and was arrested for driving under the influence twice. Last year she also reportedly shot a commercial for Beezid.com while on house arrest. The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) of persuasion states that there are two routes to persuasion, cognitive and peripheral. According to Gass & Seiter, credibility falls under the peripheral route. This means that credibility “tends to work its magic when receiver involvement is low” and no one will be consciously thinking “is this person credible or not?” every time someone tries to persuade them to do or buy something. This theory holds true for me in the case of Lindsay Lohan because I have no interest in Beezid.com and when I start watching a commercial with Lindsay in it I subconsciously have the natural inclination to say, “she’s a drug addict and alcoholic, why would I trust her?”  As my male roommate pointed out, if she were dressed in skimpy clothing and photo-shopped like other models and sat on a shiny, new corvette she could probably sell a guy a new car. Companies use celebrities to endorse their services and products like that on a daily basis because of the influence they have on the general public. But again, that does not make them a credible source.

Paul Christ says, “Many marketers are eager to spend their promotional money on celebrities because they believe a strong celebrity can quickly heighten awareness for a brand. ” He goes on to corroborate my example when he says, “However, such promotional techniques also pose risks if something negative happens to the celebrity.” If Lindsay Lohan wanted to boost her credibility she would need to have more positive publicity and have promotions for products and services promoting goodwill towards others, such as helping kids or donating to mission trips to third-world countries.

To sum up this week’s blog I can say one thing: A celebrity can have influence, credibility, or a combination of the two; whatever the case may be the two terms do not mean the same thing and both should be taken into account when evaluating a celebrity’s persuasive appeal.