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Free press vital to all – even in sports


08/22/18



 Today is a day of national recognition among newspapers across the country to protect and support the importance of the free press. It’s a push back to our president saying it’s the “enemy of the people” and possibly inciting violence by the band of Mensa candidates attending his rallies by calling the press “disgusting people” as he did in Tampa earlier this month.  

Now, I’m the first to say I include Mr. Trump in too many columns. But the free press is the bedrock of our democracy, and I came of age in the Watergate era, something that led to an instinctive distrust of people with a lust for power and an ego to match, and it clearly demonstrated the vital role the free press has in keeping in check those with such character flaws. Thus I’m willing to push back at a person whose actions that day in Tampa I think are disgusting as he tries to put the free press in peril. Especially when I know him to simply be a giant crybaby who is fine with the “free press” as long as they are licking his boots, as Fox News regularly does. 
But I do agree with the president a bit. The press doesn’t always gets it right and sometimes does it for the wrong reasons with dire consequences when that’s happened at times. They earn a harsh spotlight when that happens. Particularly when their coverage is done to boost ratings or circulation, the way ESPN does by leading with Tiger Woods in every golf story whether he does something or not. 
Now that is “just” about sports and, while annoying to me, it really doesn’t matter. But through the years the press has justifiably put the spotlight on wrongdoing in sport to bring needed change or put the bad guys involved where they belong. Below are examples of that, but first we’ll start with when they got it wrong:
Rush to judgment at Duke: The media was wrong here and has had blood on its hands for that. The Duke Lacrosse story of 2006 was a clear rush to judgment after a stripper hired for a private party accused three players of raping her. The media recklessly ran with the accusations as fact, inflaming public opinion and politically ambitious prosecutor Mike Nifong. The accusation was untrue and Nifong was disbarred for fraud and misrepresenting facts. But the genie was out of the bottle and the players’ lives were changed in ways that could not be undone. 
However, the media has far more often been right on important stories they helped uncover or give sunlight to. For example: 
The Michigan State sex abuse scandal: How this one could grow to 150 different minor female gymnasts being abused by MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar before gaining public attention is beyond belief. But in the end it led Nasser to spending life behind bars, where he belongs. 
NFL concussion story: Lawyers and the media brought to light the NFL’s attempt to ignore evidence of players’ brain trauma being caused by the violence of football. That new protocols were put in place and a massive settlement was reached with alumni is due to fears of future negligence and continuing media coverage, despite what Roger the Dodger says about “player safety concerns.”
The Penn State child sex abuse scandal: The Paterno family has rush-to-judgment complaints, but the facts are one-time assistant coach Jerry Sandusky sexually abused young boys for years at Penn State and there was indifference among those at the highest levels to protect PSU’s public image. It led to the arrest of its president and three others and the firing of legendary Joe Paterno for doing nothing to stop it after being told of Sandusky’s actions.   
Black Sox scandal: Eight members conspired in or had knowledge of a plot by the Chicago White Sox to throw the 1919 World Series. They did and amid rumors a grand jury was convened in 1921 and they were indicted. They beat the rap but were banned for life by Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, brought in to clean up out-of-control gambling. 
NFL player conduct: Roger Goodell gave Baltimore Raven Ray Rice a token two-game suspension over his conduct until a tape (the NFL had) surfaced showing Rice knocking his fiancée unconscious in an Atlantic City hotel elevator. The suspension went to six games to quell the public relations nightmare but the public outrage has led to far greater penalties going forward and Rice never played another down.  
Russia doping at the 2014 Olympics: Performance-enhancing drugs got their toehold in sports when the Eastern Bloc countries doped athletes as a propaganda device for showing the communist way of life produced better athletes than the decadent capitalistic ways in the West. It came back when a Cold War-era ex-KGB agent was running the country. It shows some people will always look for an edge to win no matter what is needed to be done. 
Urban Meyer investigation: This one happens in real time with a local angle. It could be complicated by inflamed MeToo Movement emotions. The question is what did he know, when did he know it and did he violate his contract relating to Courtney Smith’s claims of serious abuse by ex-husband Zach Smith while working under Meyer, whose wife was told of it by her in 2015? Amid a torrent of OSU fan social media backlash, it’s a good thing the media is on it, because given how good Meyer is, many in the OSU orbit want him to survive.  
The list it too long to put in this space. But others I took delight in being uncovered were pay-to-play schemes in Kentucky and Michigan in basketball and SMU’s Pony Express scandal in the ’80s. Folks in those places did not like the free press disrupting their good time. But it was doing its job and sport was better for it.
Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.  





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