Finally, an example of swift and powerful leadership in the Penn State scandal. Finally, someone willing to take a proactive moral stance without pressure on the doorstep. Finally, someone strong enough to say we don’t have all the facts, but we’ve seen enough.
And from where? Corporate America.
Cars.com has expressed its outrage by refusing to attach its name to Penn State football games on ESPN over the next two weekends by pulling its sponsorships.
What is remarkable is Cars.com took action relatively early as the scandal began taking hold. It informed ESPN of its decision Tuesday morning, which seems like a lifetime ago as the story has raced ahead.
It could have waited to get a fuller sense of public reaction or what the Penn State administration would do. Many self-interested companies would have.
But, while debate percolated about whether the Penn State board of trustees should or would fire Joe Paterno, Cars.com effectively said the university can dither and do what it wants, we’re out.
Also notable, Cars.com apparently did not look for a PR gain from its sensitivity. It didn’t issue a press release with a self-righteous quote from the CEO. Many didn’t know about its action until word came on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” late Thursday.
(By the way, as speculation persists whether ESPN’s business interests influence its news operations, that reporting was an example of independence, for the report could have prompted other advertisers to pull out Saturday.)
Cars.com issued a statement Friday morning after a media inquiry that offered hope the Penn State horror will ultimately yield better perspective on college football’s role in university life and greater action by school administrations to assert control over the sport.
As an ESPN football sponsor, Cars.com said “it's important to us that we're building our brand in a way that celebrates the sport, its fans and the dedication of its student athletes.”
By moving off the two Penn State games, Cars.com is forgoing exposure to large audiences. There will be plenty of interest in the scene Saturday at Penn State's home game, while the Nov. 19 game against Ohio State could have Rose Bowl implications.
Cars.com did say it is not pulling back on any of its investment with ESPN and will simply move spots that would have run in the two games to other programming.
ESPN would not comment, but there is no indication that any other marketer has withdrawn advertising for the Penn State games.
Of course, a marketer that does so can't be accused of harboring any lack of understanding about the enormity of the scandal by a long shot. It just makes Cars.com’s action appear more impressive.