PEE WEE GEE, We Hardly Knew Ye
Pee Wee Gee: I read the AP article in the Freep this morning which featured comments by President Gorden Gee of “The” Ohio State University. (Disclosure, for you Buckeyes: I’m not a rabid OSU-hater; in fact, I actively liked and respected JT ’til a few months ago. Now, I think he makes even RichRod look saintly.) Yes, I’m talking about the same Gee buffoon whose comment at the March 19 news conference held by Tressel, AD Smith and Gee wound up with Gee stating “I’m just hopeful the coach doesn’t dismiss me.” A Hall of Fame statement if I ever heard one. And the childish, squeaked high-register voice. The Bow Tie. Where, I’ve been wondering since I watched that March news conference, have I see this guy before? And I figured it out, for the first time, this morning: he’s a Pee Wee Herman doppelganger. Spitting image. And, come to find out, his first name is not Gordon. It’s Elwood! Yes, Elwood. I’m not kidding. But, really, no one wants to be called Elwood. So let’s everyone call him Pee Wee. Pee Wee Gee. After all, he’s small in physical stature, wears a pretentious bow tie, and horn-rimmed glasses. Who knows, maybe he wears his belt up around his sternum. And he seems profoundly….well, silly, and maybe even funny, like Pee Wee Herman used to be funny.
The AP article contained several Gee quotes, which fall into what I call the “plastic bouquet of flowers” category – the kind of quotes which sound good, but when you stop and study them, they don’t tell you anything at all. Fake. Things like:
“Any time that there is a mistake, or any time that there is an issue that flares up, and we go back through and scrub everything very, very carefully,”
Or “[We need to] make certain the procedures we have are best-in-class, and we are monitoring every one of those issues very, very carefully,” …..We’re going to make certain that we set a very high standard for ourselves.”
So, in the face of this plastic bouquet of words, how can one judge what Pee Wee Gee and “Oh-Ess-U” have done, and might do, as a part of Tatt/Tressel-Gate? Look for some pertinent background, to fill in those blanks.
More to See About Pee Wee Gee: And, it turns out, there’s more to see about Pee Wee Gee. And it’s not all funny. And some of it gives you a window of what he’s all about, and perhaps what he really means when he says that “we’re going to make certain that we set a very high standard for ourselves.”
In the late afternoon of January 17, 2006, a fire erupted in the West Virginia’s Aracoma Alma Mine #1, a coal mine operated by Massey Energy, a corporation with a home base in Richmond, Virginia. The fire endangered some 29 miners; 27 escaped injury; two of them, Elvis Hatfield and Don Bragg, apparently became disoriented by the smoke, and died, their bodies discovered days later after the fire was eventually put out.
This Aracoma fire took place only 17 days after the Sago Mine disaster, in which 12 West Virginia miners perished. So Sago killed more miners.
As some miners pointed out later, the larger Sago Mine disaster might have served as a wake-up call to any conscientious mine company. But not, apparently, for Aracoma’s owner, Massey Energy. A November 2006 preliminary report (http://www.wju.edu/aracoma/AracomaAlmaMineReport_November2006.pdf) to West Virginia’s Governor, assessing the causes of the Aracoma industrial deaths, found that the fire which caused the deaths of the two Massey miners occurred because (among other reasons) : 1) there was no water available; 2) the ﬁre extinguishers that were used were not adequate to douse the ﬂames; 3) Lack of an accurate mine map; and 4) Lack of well-known and relatively simple fire-prevention measures required by state and federal statutes, including installation of carbon monoxide sensors, frequent and regular examinations by supervisors, and use of mechanisms to remove (highly flammable) coal dust from around the conveyor belts. The report then made a damning summary conclusion:
“Conditions existed which caused the ﬁre to burn, creating dangerous smoke and heat which resulted in the deaths of two men and the endangerment of others. These conditions should have been detected and steps taken to remove the risks, but they were not. This ﬁre was preventable, but it was not prevented.”
At the time of these preventable deaths of Elvis Hatfield and Don Bragg in the Aracoma Mine owned by Massey Energy, one of the members of the Massey Energy Board of Directors was one Elwood Gordon Gee, who received $219,261 in 2008 alone for his service on that Board.
Now, imputing the apparent wrongdoing of a mining company’s in-the-field operators to a member of its’ corporate Board of Directors can be a little risky, if not unfair, for there are frequently things occurring in the field which are unknown to those corporate Board members. But keep in mind that Sago should have been a big red safety flag, even to a Board member, to make changes insure that any mining is safe and consistent with federal and state statutory mandates. Nonetheless, perhaps we give Gee somewhat of a pass on this one.
But maybe not. In a lawsuit later filed by the widows of the miners killed, they accused Massey CEO Don Blankenship of “personally engendering a corporate attitude of indifference and hostility towards safety measures which stood in the way of profit.” That suit was settled by Massey in 2008. Also in 2008, Aracoma pleaded guilty to 10 criminal charges associated with factors causing the mine fire. In addition, other findings in the Governor’s report raise eyebrows about the corporate “culture” at Massey, concluding that it had “made life difficult” for miners who tried to address safety and built “a culture in which wrongdoing became acceptable.” Corporate culture, most objective people would agree, is more clearly within the bailiwick of a corporation’s Board of Trustees, if only because it depends so clearly, in most instances, on a long pattern of behavior by that corporation – a pattern which a Board member has a duty to know about. And the report’s finding of negligence on the part of Massey derived at least partially from its’ finding of an unsafe corporate culture.
Massey also has come under great fire from environmentalists for being the primary coal company engaging in ongoing “mountaintop removal” coal harvesting, which most observers agree is the most environmentally damaging method of coal removal.
Nowhere is there any evidence that any of these items caused Pee Wee any angst. He never resigned from the Massey Board –not after the deaths, not even after the 10 counts of criminal wrongdoing pled to by the Company. In fact, he ran for re-election to that Board in 2009! We begin to see some evidence of a pattern: a cavalier bow-tie pattern of behavior.
Pee Wee Gee’s Place to Pee: Gee wasn’t too popular when he served, up through 2001, as Brown University President. He and his wife were alleged to have spent some $2 million renovating the President’s residence. He faced allegations that he sought to move Brown toward a more “corporate” orientation. He apparently left in a huff. In fact, he was apparently so unpopular that the Brown students still annually erect the “E. Gordon Gee Lavatory Complex”, a series of port-o-potties, at that campus’ Spring Weekend.
The Fee is Key for Pee Wee Gee: Gee has always seemed to land where the money’s good. Right now, he’s the highest paid public university President, with a total package worth $1.6 million. At Vanderbilt, prior to 2007, he is alleged to have been the highest paid private university President. We’ve already talked about his more-then-slightly remunerative $200G-plus salary at Massey Mining. He’s got a nose for money; let’s just say he’s not a commoner, by any means.
So what of this “High Standard” Pee Wee says he’s going to set for OSU?
“Going to?” First of all, I thought “The” Ohio State University was supposed to have had high standards. Well, let’s look again to that Massey Report, for two relevant conclusions:
1) “The story of Upper Big Branch is a cautionary tale of hubris,” the report concluded. “A company that was a towering presence in the Appalachian coal fields operated its mines in a profoundly reckless manner, and 29 coal miners paid with their lives for the corporate risk taking.”
2) In contrast to the Sago Mine disaster investigation, in which the owners voluntarily participated in the public inquiry into the disaster, management of Aracoma Coal Company and Massey repeatedly refused to cooperate with federal and state investigators. Again, this might or might not tell you everything about Pee Wee Gee; what we do know, however, is that during this entire era, he never resigned and never refused to be a part of the corporate stonewalling by Massey.
And then look for further guidance to what’s gone on at OSU. At the time of the March 2011 Press Conference, Gee had many relevant facts before him – the most damning ones, as regards Tressel, being that Tressel: affirmatively concealed material NCAA-mandated information, affirmatively lied on mandated NCAA forms, and wasted perhaps $1/2 million of OSU investigatory costs by failing to disclose pertinent data. (We’ll leave aside my notion that Tressel’s excuse at the March Presser was patently preposterous.) Despite all this, Pee Wee Gee remained %100 behind Tressel in March.
In contrast, Pee Wee now makes much of the fact that, once they discovered that OSU running back Jermil Martin had sold Rose Bowl tickets, and perhaps got a car, he made sure that OSU made an affirmative report to Ashland University – “as required by the NCAA”, to make sure that Jermil could not play at a Division II school. That’s Pee Wee, looking out for the common man, and protecting the guy with the $5 million salary.
One other point is pertinent here: much is made about the charges in the SI article, to the general effect that “memorabilia” has been sold off by at least 28 players since 2002. What I find significant is the extent to which SI has made OSU look like fools — not because of the facts shown, or alleged in the article — but because SI demonstrated how patently easy it was to develop, in a very short period of time, all of this new and relevant (and damning) information. The point?: OSU — and Pee Wee Gee — could have done the same kind of gum shoe work, to better assess the facts and charges starting in January — instead, OSU and Pee Wee have sat on their thumbs. They do not want to know, and have acted, and continue to act, to affirmatively conceal and control damage.
Recall the Aracoma conclusions:
—A “culture in which wrongdoing became acceptable.”
— A ….towering presence …. operated… in a profoundly reckless manner.”