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You want to see a leader? Forget the debates. Watch James Franklin

You want to watch a leader? You want to watch someone who gets it? You want to watch someone who understands his words and actions have consequences, so he chooses what he says carefully?

Don’t watch the presidential debates. The first one Tuesday night was a fiasco and embarrassing to our country.

Watch James Franklin from his news conference Wednesday afternoon.

He’s a leader.

There are a lot of football coaches around the country who, no matter how smart they may be, often sound like big, dumb jocks who only care about sports. Their entire focus is centered around the little bubble of a world they live in, where they are kings because they make tons of money and garner enormous attention.

But when times get tough, when situations arise that are difficult and aren’t at all about football, you can tell who really gets it.

Franklin, in fact, likes to say that a lot. When presented with a difficult or probing question, his response often is, “I get it.”

That says a lot about his understanding of the real world — the world everyone else lives in outside of football.

If you ask Franklin a question about society or big-picture issues — and I know, because I’ve asked him several of those over the years — you can always count on a thoughtful response.

Wednesday, Franklin was asked about diversity in college football. He’s a black head coach, and the question came up about whether he feels it’s important to consider diversity and give other minority coaches an opportunity whenever he can.

“As one of the few men of color in my position, I understand (why it’s important),” Franklin said.

He added: “I have a responsibility to make an impact in college football. … There should be diversity reflected in every hiring process in every position that we have.”

The coach offered some reasons why that’s important to him.

“When I’m making decisions, I can hear from multiple people — not yes men — but (people with) different life experiences and look at things from a different lens,” he said.

“At the end of the day, we’re always going to hire the most appropriate person for the job, the most qualified person for the job. If diversity also factors in and they’re the most qualified person, then awesome, everybody wins. But it all has to start with a process that is inclusive.”

Why is that important?

“When you’ve got a football team of 125 young men from all different backgrounds and all different perspectives, diversity is really important,” Franklin said. “Because I need to make sure that all 120-125 guys on that team have someone that they’re comfortable with and can connect with about a variety of topics and about a variety of subjects.”

On the COVID issue, Franklin has been a clear voice in the Big Ten and college football. He wanted all along to play football, understandably, but he also wanted to make sure the young men in his program knew what was going on at all times.

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Franklin wanted answers, and he was vocal at times because answers were hard to come by after the Big Ten initially postponed the season.

But instead of downplaying the impact of COVID and only thinking about football — as some big-name coaches did at various points — Franklin has stated repeatedly that safety is paramount to him.

Franklin said the most important thing people in the Penn State football program can do is focus on their own behaviors, doing things and making the right decisions to keep themselves and others safe.

“We can’t eliminate all risk, but how many variables can we control,” Franklin said.

“I still want to make sure we’re making all the other choices when we’re away from Penn State football,” he added.

The issue of voting also came up Wednesday. Franklin and members of the PSU program have been part of a social media campaign to remind people to get out and vote.

Somehow, in this twisted world we live in, people apparently looked at the social media messages and got upset at Franklin. Like he was trying to tell them WHO to vote for, which he said wasn’t the case at all.

“We’re not telling anybody who to vote for or what to vote,” Franklin said. “We’re trying to get our young people active in the process.

“What’s interesting is whenever we post anything, it is pretty interesting the reaction to that. I would hope that everybody in our country … we all want people in our country and students on college campuses to be involved in the process. That’s important whatever side of the aisle you sit on.”

Franklin still has things he needs to work on as a football coach and can open himself up to criticism with decisions or what have you. That’s the nature of sports.

He gets all that, too.

But whether we’re talking football or not, Franklin represents Penn State University in a tremendously positive way because he is an intelligent, thoughtful man who can speak on issues that are important to our country and is comfortable doing so.

That’s a true leader.

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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