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I Would Hate To Be the Penn State Football Coach

by on September 08, 2015 5:50 AM

I would hate to be the Penn State Football coach.

As Penn State’s efforts against Temple started to go south on Saturday, social media started to come alive with complaints, commentary and suggestions for not only Coach Franklin but for the players on the team. 

Onward State even posted comments on Twitter by former players. Although some of it was positive and supportive, most of the commentators were pretty critical if not downright unkind. I might even go so far as to use the word mean.

It never ceases to amaze me what people can and will say with a keyboard and the distance and safety of the internet.

It was clear from Saturday’s game against Temple that the Nittany Lions have some work to do in preparation for their next game.   However, I doubt that Coach Franklin and his staff are going to look to Twitter, Facebook and other internet sites to find those solutions.

I wonder how the most hostile of the internet critics would feel about opening up their on-the-job performance to the barrage of criticism to which those who work in the public arena find themselves subjected to?

Think of it like this. You are at work, in your office or other work space. You go about your day doing your best. Not everyone is perfect so there will be days that you mess up. At the end of the day, you go to a website or open social media to find people who have evaluated your performance, highlighted your mistakes, have written personal and even hurtful comments about your efforts and your person and did so under a pseudonym or, surprisingly, put their real names on it.

Access to a keyboard should require manners and decorum.

There are many ways in which we offer feedback in today’s technological culture. If you visit a restaurant or other public business there are sites like Expedia, Trip Advisor and Yelp which allow you to post a review. People who travel use the feedback on those sites to make decisions on where to eat and which hotels to avoid. Looking to buy a book, a couch, a car, a dog, an appliance? There are reviews for that product on the internet. Doing business with a restaurant, a plumber, a dentist or even getting your hair cut? You can read about what people thought of their experience with that professional. Some businesses even include a spot on their business website for people to offer reviews.

Unfortunately, with the increased use of the “internet review” as a tool for consumers, manipulation of the sites by businesses have also increased. People have made a killing getting paid to write “false positive” reviews. Businesses have offered customer incentives for people who go on the internet and make positive comments after their experience. Most consumers have learned to use the internet review as only one tool in making their decision to buy or stay or eat at a particular business.

But what about the personal attacks and disrespectful commentary? As both a faculty member and as a person who puts my opinions and ideas out for public viewing every week, I have developed a fairly thick skin when it comes to feedback.

Said another way, I am sympatico to Coach Franklin and his staff. People can be very kind and very supportive. People can also be downright rude.

Within the past several years, Penn State has followed other universities in offering on-line Student Rating of Teaching Effectiveness (SRTEs). During the last week or so of the semester (before grades have been posted), students are encouraged to go to an internet site to complete a rating scale (Likert 1-7 score) and offer narrative comments about the course, the teacher and what can be improved. Most of the comments are helpful and offer suggestions about tests, the textbook, assignments and how the teacher delivered the course materials. 

Some are not quite as helpful. Over the years, I have seen some beauties. From my hair to my clothes to suggestions that I be terminated immediately, some of the students use the SRTEs to express their frustration and their anger. One of my favorites was “Lighten up and have a beer.” It’s hard to take some of that stuff seriously. I generally look at the numbers and read the comments once to pull out what I can use to improve my performance and then put them away. (Unfortunately, we have to pull those out again later in the year as we are required to include the actual SRTE scores on materials we send to our Department Heads for our annual review).

Similarly, each week when I write this column, if there are any comments, I read them and then “put them away” after the first day. The purpose of public commentary is to open a dialog to discuss community issues so the comments can serve a meaningful effort to that end.  It’s neat when someone offers a perspective that I didn’t think of or that is different from mine. However, when the same nasty people come back each week with the same nasty comments, I tend to dismiss those as I do with the students I know are frustrated and angry.   (I have learned over the years to never bring up Pit Bulls and that any reference to Joe Paterno is going to bring out people in droves on both sides of that conversation). 

The Sandusky scandal and Penn State’s response to it could be a case study on the insanity of comments on social media.

I am guessing by now that Coach Franklin and his staff have developed their own tricks for managing the helpful hints from fans and the personal attacks from those who aren’t as friendly.

Saturday’s game was a tough loss. Like so many other fans, the first game often sets the tone for my excitement and enthusiasm for the season. I’ve never played football so my post game commentary is limited to my passing knowledge of the game and is influenced by my enthusiasm as a Penn State alumnae. A comment on Facebook or Twitter from me probably isn’t going to do much. But then, does it ever?

Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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