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AD Sandy Barbour Apologizes for ‘409’ Helmet Stickers

Sandy Barbour’s first public relations snafu as Penn State’s athletic director may have just happened Saturday morning in the form of an innocuous Tweet to a Michigan graduate. Barbour apologized to a Twitter user with fewer than 50 followers who made her displeasure known to Barbour about Penn State hockey’s decision to add a 409 decal to its helmets at Friday’s game to honor the late coach Joe Paterno.

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Sigh.

I have two thoughts on this relatively inane issue that I think are worth sharing. First, I have absolutely no idea what Barbour is thinking apologizing to a Penn State Twitter troll about her thoughts on Joe Paterno. Barbour Tweeted supportive messages about Paterno’s win restoration just last week — including retweeting this one — and has previously spoken affectionately about the former coach, including this bit at the Pinstripe Bowl media day just last month:

“Joe’s a big part of who we are, and he’s from New York. He’s from Brooklyn. That’s a connection that doesn’t go unnoticed. If you spend any time at Penn State, you can’t help but understand the importance, his importance, in our history. I’ve also had the opportunity to get to know the family a little bit. And he and his family are a big part of who we are.

“The impact that he’s had on that institution, and who we are as an institution, is important. It’s not just as a football program but who Penn State University is. He and Sue [Paterno] have been a huge part of that.”

I’m not sure how one reconciles calling 409 helmet stickers “inappropriate and insensitve” with her previous statements on the issue, and at best, it’s hypocritical. Besides, apologizing to irrelevant Twitter users who you don’t even work for seems like a violation of administrative PR 101. Appeasing a Twitter troll who probably has little context or understanding of this complex issue at the certainty of pissing off thousands of your Penn State followers seems like an unwise idea at the very least.

My second thought is this: Give Barbour a break. The Penn State Twitter swarm can be a vicious beast against anyone who speaks out of line, and I know these types of people have already descended on Sandy’s mentions. While these Tweets are no worse than those who disparage Penn State regularly on Twitter, this dialogue makes us all look bad and has turned off a number of well-intentioned and thoughtful Penn Staters from the entire thing. The unfortunate reality is, for so many Penn Staters on the Internet who just look for things to get angry about, Barbour has just lost their respect forever. Don’t let that be you. Everyone says things they regret sometimes. Thus far in her tenure, Barbour has proven herself to be extremely friendly an approachable on social media — this could simply be an instance of her trying to please everyone, including meaningless Twitter trolls with 45 followers. Take out your virtual anger on Keith Olbermann, if you must.

In short — everyone take a deep breath. It was a stupid thing to Tweet, but it’s just a sticker, and it will all be OK. If her track record is any indication, Barbour will have a thoughtful response to this issue soon enough. Go enjoy your Sunday nights.

UPDATE 9:31 p.m. — Barbour responded on Twitter, saying that she has great respect for Paterno’s legacy but failing to explain the sticker comment. And with that, I hope to never write about stickers ever agian.

About the Author

Kevin Horne

Kevin Horne was the editor of Onward State from 2012-2014 and currently holds the position of Managing Editor Emeritus, which is a fake title he made up. He graduated from Penn State with degrees journalism and political science in 2014 and is currently seeking his J.D. at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law. A third generation Penn Stater from Williamsport, Pa., Kevin is also the president of the graduate student government. Email: [email protected]

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