Student journalists discuss their experiences covering college sports
- A 12-person college journalist panel on their toughest stories, interference from AD officials and much more, plus the best journalism of the week and other sports media news.
The first item of this media column is absent a familiar voice:
Hold your applause, please.
Instead, I’ve empaneled 12 college students from around the country who are currently working as sports editors for a college publication.
The panel agreed to answer a series of questions including whether athletic officials and athletes are forthcoming with them; how they consume and watch sports news; whether they have been threatened with credential pulling, and much more. Below is Part 1 of the panel. Part 2 will run on Monday on SI.com.
• Danielle Allentuck, sophomore, Ithaca College. She is the sports editor of The Ithacan and is studying journalism and sports studies.
• Malika Andrews, senior, University of Portland. Andrews is the editor-in-chief of The Beacon and a former sports editor of that publication. (Column note: Andrews is not currently a sports editor but has extensive sports editing experience on her campus, so we wanted her in.) She is an organizational communication major.
• Betelhem Ashame, junior, University at Michigan. She is a sports editor for The Michigan Daily and a double major in screen arts and cultures and communication studies.
• Courtney Baumann, junior, University of Iowa. She is the assistant sports editor for The Daily Iowan and double major in journalism and mass communication and international relations.
• Callie Caplan, senior, University of Maryland. She is an assistant sports editor for Diamondback Sports and a multiplatform major.
• Charlotte Carroll, senior University of Illinois. She is the sports editor of The Daily Illini and majoring in journalism, with minors in French and public relations.
• Olivia Hummer, senior, Stanford University. She is a managing editor of sports for the Stanford Daily and majoring in history.
• Kenny Jacoby, senior, University of Oregon. He is the senior sports editor of The Daily Emerald and studying mathematics and computer science.
• Emily Polglaze, senior, University of Minnesota. She is the sports editor of the Minnesota Daily and majoring in professional journalism, with a minor in fashion studies.
• Daniel Radov, senior, Columbia University. He is the sports editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator and majoring in European history.
• Jelani Scott, senior, Hampton University. He is the sports editor of The Hampton Script and a journalism major with an area of emphasis in marketing.
• Kendall Valenzuela, junior, Arizona State. She is the sports editor of The State Press and studying sports journalism.
The only requirement the panel was given was to keep the answers tight. They were free to skip any questions. I think you’ll find this interesting.
How forthcoming are the athletes and coaches on your beat?
Allentuck: It depends on what sport I am covering and how long I have been covering it. Some teams are very open and engaged during interviews, while other teams see it as a chore and try to avoid being interviewed or give short answers so they can get it over with. Postgame interviews with athletes and coaches can also be challenging, especially if the team lost, as they sometimes avoid me or walk in the opposite direction.
Andrews: I have built up strong working relationships while covering the Portland Pilots men’s basketball team over the last three seasons. Generally speaking, the players are cooperative and forthcoming, but they usually “play by the rules” when it comes to their media interactions. Still, I’ve written multiple in-depth profiles of players and coaches, across multiple sports, without getting more than the usual pushback. Athletic director Scott Leykam has been available to discuss pitches and has been supportive of my work throughout my time at UP, which has been a big factor in my storytelling efforts. This season, former NBA player and coach Terry Porter took over as head coach of the men’s basketball team. Porter has served as a television commentator and done countless interviews over the years, so he’s been very accommodating and understanding when it comes to access. His predecessor was on campus for years, though, so there’s still a transition when it comes to establishing a close relationship.
Ashame: It’s hard to say because it can be difficult to read how much an athlete or coach is holding in or letting out, but I feel as though the Michigan men’s basketball team speaks pretty freely in press conferences. If someone had a poor performance or made a bad play, for example, the team has taken the liberty to address the issue without necessarily calling them out on it.
Baumann: When I first started covering the big, revenue sports for Iowa, I was pretty worried I wouldn't be taken seriously, since most of the reporters—the people who write about the team, at least—are male. I knew I was going to be one of the first female sports writers a lot of the athletes had talked to, but to my pleasant surprise it didn't seem to make a difference at all. With football, you can kind of tell there are some things the players are told not to discuss in depth too much. But I love talking to the Iowa wrestlers. Those guys love to talk about themselves and say exactly what's on their mind, which makes them so fun to write about.
Caplan: As I’ve progressed through non-revenue beats to covering football and men’s basketball at Maryland, the access to coaches and athletes has become much more restricted. The competition with professional outlets, rather than just other student publications, has increased, too. Football and basketball players and coaches have comprehensive media training, and the constant coverage creates media exhaustion. I focus on asking questions and picking angles to take them off interview autopilot.
Carroll: As sports editor, I wrote columns during the football season and am helping out with basketball coverage. I first started in club sports, so when I switched to a university beat, there were notable differences. They’re clearly [media] trained; it really depends on the person I’m talking with. Illinois’s football coaching staff, headed by Lovie Smith, is notoriously tight lipped, but athletes can be easy to get talking about the right stuff.
Hummer: In general, athletes and coaches are terrific about opening up to us when telling stories. Many of my best interviews with athletes have come when talking about personal situations or experiences, such as their childhoods or their athletic struggles.
Jacoby: It really varies from person to person on the Oregon football team. I’ve had a few great, in-depth interviews with players and coaches, but they’re far outweighed by the dry, empty interviews I’ve been a part of. Oregon instituted a team rule that forbids coaches and players from discussing injuries with reporters, so, at least in that regard, they’re not very forthcoming.
Polglaze: The student perspective is a huge advantage for us at the Daily. Our desk covers every university sport in every event, so our reporters are usually the ones that athletes and coaches are most familiar with, which allows for a great rapport. I previously worked on the volleyball, women's hockey and softball beats, and their staffs were excellent to me. Students are often way more comfortable with you than a TV camera. Some of the bigger sports can be a little more closed-off at times, but that comes with the territory.
Radov: I covered football during the fall and was generally pleased with how forthcoming athletes and coaches were. A lot of that stemmed from the fact that head coach Al Bagnoli has been in the business for years, so he always provides quite a bit of material for stories. That said, given Columbia’s relatively small profile, very few athletes are comfortable speaking at length to the media, which makes our job far more difficult. So, we have to be really selective in finding the right coaches and athletes to speak with.
Scott: Scheduling interviews has always been difficult to do whether I was a staff writer or the sports editor. I have dealt with instances of athletes and coaches backing out of interviews at the last second or not showing up, and it can obviously impact the progress of a story. Most of the interviews are conducted through email, which I don’t prefer because you lose the subtle nuances that body language can provide to emotions of a story. Fortunately, I have been able to establish a relationship with some players and coaches from the basketball, football, soccer and tennis teams, and that does make things easier when I need to get a quote or be directed to someone who can help. However, the communication could be better.
Valenzuela: In the experiences I’ve had with talking to coaches and athletes, they have all been forthcoming and open to speaking with me. Covering the women’s soccer beat this past fall was a great experience because the athletes would schedule meetings with me outside of normal media days for feature pieces, and during away games the coach would let me call his cell afterwards for quotes.
How do you watch sports? Be as specific as you can when it comes to the devices
Allentuck: When I’m home, I watch sports on TV in my living room. At school, I do not have a TV so I watch sports on my laptop or iPhone.
Andrews: I mostly watch games on my laptop and follow along with the conversation surrounding a game on Twitter. Occasionally, I will watch a game on my phone.
Ashame: I don’t have a TV in my apartment, so I usually watch games on my laptop; however, we have a TV on the wall across from the sports desk at the Daily that almost always has a game on. So I tend to watch sports there as much as possible.
Baumann: I prefer just watching it on TV if I can. If I'm not able to do that, I'll watch game trackers on either my iPhone or Mac. But when The Masters is on, I'm watching just about every second of the tournament on my laptop.
Caplan: If I’m not at a game, I still prefer to watch everything on a TV. This way I can use social media at the same time. It’s more compelling to watch something happen on TV while also engaging with the reactions on Twitter. That’s harder to do when I’m watching sports on my laptop or phone.
Carroll: I don’t have cable at my apartment, so if I’m watching a game it’ll be on my laptop or at a friend’s place. For big games, I usually head to a campus bar with friends. Sometimes, I’m not even watching the game, rather following along via Twitter.
Hummer: I primarily watch sports online, through live streams such as Sunday Ticket or Pac-12 Networks. During baseball season I am almost always watching baseball on the MLB At-Bat app on my phone.
Jacoby: I mostly stream games on my computer. Sometimes I watch on sites like Watch ESPN using my parents’ cable subscription. Other times I watch games on Twitter. I have an MLB.TV subscription, but Giants games are blacked out in my area.
Polglaze: Working for a student newspaper, I'm most interested in college sports, hockey and volleyball in particular. The Big Ten Network offers free and unrestricted access to their online content while on Minnesota's campus wifi, so I utilize that quite a bit to watch games on my laptop. Since my desk reports on Gophers sports, I follow most all of those accounts on Twitter to stay in the loop. As far as professional sports go, I catch what I can on TV or otherwise rely on social media for the NHL, AHL or NWHL. The only team I make an exception for is the only one I'm forever faithful to—the Red Sox. I have an MLB TV subscription to watch them.
Radov: I watch almost everything on my computer usually through Reddit, though I’ll stream some Premier League matches on my phone. It’s very rare when I’m watching any sport on TV.
Scott: Whether it’s basketball games throughout the week or football games on Sunday, I make a concerted effort to be in front of a screen on game day. When I’m away at school, I utilize my laptop to watch ESPN, ESPN2, NBC Sports and TNT via the Verizon Fios website using my parents’ login info. I also check the Bleacher Report app on my Samsung Galaxy S5 regularly for updates, highlights and clips from games I don’t have access to. At home, I stick to the tradition of watching games on TV on the same channels, but I also have access to NFL Network, NBA TV and ESPN News to get even more information.
Valenzuela: On Sunday I usually stream NFL Sunday Ticket off my computer so I can watch all the games. Otherwise, I watch SportsCenter and other games on television.
What has been the toughest story you have worked on, and why?
Allentuck: The toughest story I have worked on was a profile of an athlete who struggled with anxiety, depression and body image. During the interview, there were multiple times when she was clearly uncomfortable sharing details, especially ones about her past. I had to find the line between being a good journalist and writing a great story, and respecting her and the pain she has endured.
Andrews: The toughest story I have worked on, which came out last week, concerned a female student who reported being sexually assaulted by another student on campus. She sent out an email to family and friends saying she believed the university’s student conduct board failed her when it concluded that her alleged assailant was “not responsible” for his role in the incident. While reporting the story, I discovered that the university’s public safety department did not include the incident in the crime log, which was a violation of federal law under the Clery Act. This story had numerous twists and turns, and it produced a major response from other media organizations and from students on campus, including a protest and rally. I’m proud of our reporting because it was thorough and it put a very complicated situation into context while raising major questions about the university’s processes.
Ashame: Back in October, I covered the Fab 5 at 25 panel discussion at the Hill Auditorium, and I had never written about a news event as opposed to a game before. It was about two hours long, so I had to really think about how to frame the story in order to hit all of the important points they talked about regarding race, class, amateurism in college sports and their legacy at the university.
Baumann: I wanted to write a longer piece on one of Iowa's defensive linemen, somewhere around 1,500 words or so. The deadline was a Tuesday night so it could go through a few people for edits, and I pretty much had the whole thing written by Tuesday morning before football media availability that afternoon. I was planning on getting what I needed from the athlete that day and just filling in where I needed it. As it turned out, he decided he didn't want to talk to media that day, so I had to search through about 20 recordings for quotes from him that would make sense. I don't know if it was the toughest story I've worked on per se, but it was definitely the most frustrating.
Caplan: I wrote a feature story this season on Maryland’s defensive end Melvin Keihn. He was born in Liberia and lived there until he was eight years old before moving in with his dad, who had escaped and received political asylum in the U.S. years earlier. Keihn hasn’t seen his mom in 13 years and has made it his mission to support her in the United States. The story was emotionally moving, but the biggest obstacle I found was not being able to visualize and relate to his scarring childhood conditions. I relied on background research and follow-up questions, and it was a valuable reminder to have story and source diversity because his prowess on the field was secondary to his upbringing.
Carroll: I was studying abroad my sophomore spring after just covering my first year of Illinois football when news broke about coaching abuse allegations within the program. I remember sitting halfway across the world, wondering what would happen, as a former player tweeted these allegations. This led to the craziest year I think The Daily Illini has ever gone through and me struggling to stay up to date for when I returned in the fall. I attended at least five major hiring/firing press conferences, and the end result was Lovie Smith’s hire. Not only did we have to provide game coverage, but we were constantly on the lookout for developments from the investigation. To make it even more complicated, both the women’s basketball and soccer programs also opened investigations into their teams for coaching abuse and injury mistreatment, respectively. We broke some aspects of the story such as interviews with former players, but at times it was challenging trying to get access, when we were competing with national media.
Hummer: The toughest story I have worked on was a longer feature about one of our football players. It wasn't necessarily a difficult subject, but a short deadline forced me to work overtime and build a compelling story from limited interviews. In the end, with the help of some other tireless editors, I was able to turn it into a strong piece.
Jacoby: A few fellow reporters and I spent upwards of two months investigating tips we had received about violent acts committed by Pharaoh Brown, a star tight end on the football team. We found Brown had been investigated by local police for allegedly strangling his girlfriend, though no arrests were made or charges were filed. We also learned he had started fights with two teammates while alone in the locker room, giving one of them a concussion. None of the three incidents had been previously reported, and we found no record of disciplinary action taken against Brown by the school or university. The hardest part about confirming the locker room fights was getting former and current football players to break the mind-set of ‘what happens on the team stays on the team,’ and potentially betray their teammates’ trust and jeopardize Brown’s future in the NFL.
Polglaze: On our second deadline of the school year, the second day of classes, the head wrestling coach of almost 30 seasons, J Robinson, was fired. We knew a termination was coming (he was being investigated for an alleged cover up of Xanax abuse and sale [of the prescription drug] by his athletes) but we just didn't know when. The news broke in the afternoon and since our reporters are also students, we really had to scramble to make sure every base was covered from briefing, to the press conference, to calling wrestlers for comment. We pulled it all off, but I've never been in the office that late.
Radov: By some distance, it was the recent Columbia wrestling scandal, in which certain student-athletes participated in a racially and sexually explicit group chat. We had to compete with local and national outlets to break pieces of this story. I’d add that in light of the wrestling team’s old coaching staff—which had made real strides in creating a more tolerant environment for student-athletes—I think the entire incident caught a lot of people by surprise, including former coaches and wrestlers.
Scott: The toughest story I have worked on would have to be my investigative report on Hampton’s forgotten baseball team. The university has experienced successes with its softball team over the years but from the late 1880s to 1972, baseball thrived as one of the campus’s most prominent sports. In order to properly tell this story, I had to go to the university’s museum to access the archives where old newspapers and other news clippings are housed. In addition to this, I had to go to the Peabody Collection, located in our campus library, to access old yearbooks that contained pictures, student accounts and stats about the baseball team. I also had to read several books about the history of Negro League Baseball and HBCU baseball teams to gain more knowledge about the subject. It was a fun story to tell and it gave insights to our readers about another interesting chapter in Hampton’s history. It became one of the more popular stories on our website and did well on our social media pages.
Valenzuela: The toughest story I have written was a soccer feature on a redshirt senior named Lucy Lara. Going into the interview I planned on simply writing about Lara’s knee injuries that sidelined her more than once during her soccer career. However, when Lara and I sat down for the interview she spoke to me for 33 minutes and completely opened up about violence she encountered through her childhood and all the obstacles she faced in order to play college soccer. Immediately, I knew this piece was bigger than anyone expected, and I felt a duty to tell her story right. It took many weeks and lots of editing, but that piece is one of my proudest works because Lara personally thanked me for writing an amazing piece.
How often, if ever, has a school administrator/athletic department staffer/athlete asked you not to report on something?
Allentuck: I have been asked on multiple occasions not to report something. Like other athletic departments, the school is focused on producing only good news, so they try to stop us from publishing things that don’t portray them in the best light possible. When this happens, they usually try to block us from talking to coaches or other members of the athletic department.
Andrews: That happens occasionally. Given the age of the athletes, college sports can be emotional: Teammates might bicker or a disagreement might take place in practice. There have also been situations where there might be a gray area between what is “campus gossip” and what’s newsworthy. More often though, there have been situations where my reporting or analysis has prompted blowback from coaches and players who disagree with my view of what happened during games or the direction of their teams. Usually those situations have resulted in face-to-face conversations and “agree to disagree” resolutions.
Baumann: I don't recall a time where I've ever been asked not to report on a certain story, but I have been restricted from talking to certain athletes. I was covering women's soccer, and whenever I asked to talk to one of the girls who started and played most of the game, I was told she would not be speaking to media. It didn't matter if it was after a win or loss or during practice—the coaching staff and athletic department staff wouldn't let me talk to her.
Caplan: An SID will ask me a few times a season to not write a story, withhold information or not talk to a source. The sports information staff obviously has the team and athletes' best interests in mind, and sometimes my work and ideas don’t fit with that. Compromising is key because I don’t want to have the athletic department dictate my reporting, but I don’t want to burn my trust with the team. Almost every time the situation has come up, I’ve been able to work around it and accomplish my original idea.
Carroll: I’ve never had it happen to me as an editor, but I’ve seen it happen to other editors when I was a younger reporter. Once, my old editor called someone within the athletic department to get confirmation because he was actually checking reports and uncovered information, and the university asked him to wait a little with the story in exchange for being able to break something in the future. However, I’ve seen a difference in accessibility/preference when it comes to the perceived real media versus us as a student organization. While we work just as hard to break stories and develop relationships with sources, it’s often the established people in town who are constantly given tip-offs [on stories].
Hummer: This has never happened during my time as editor. In fact, the opposite has happened, as I've been contacted in order to help the athletics department get a press release published in the paper.
Jacoby: It’s happened a few times. Last year three out of the nine players on the women’s tennis team were dismissed at the same time. Our women’s tennis reporter went to interview the current players about the situation, and the sports information director told him he wasn’t allowed to ask them questions about the dismissed players. Interestingly, another one of our reporters had set up an interview with the dismissed players, but the day the interview was supposed to take place, they canceled it. Around the same time, one of our reporters asked a women’s lacrosse player a question about her head coach stepping down, and the SID who was monitoring the interview said the player wouldn’t be talking about the coach. A different SID also asked a previous sports editor to remove a section of his story that detailed a player getting a traffic ticket—after the story had been published.
Polglaze: The Daily is a student organization, but we are independent from the university. This gives us a lot of freedom in what we decide to publish, but the athletic department usually works well with us. Occasionally SIDs will ask about the nature of a story, or for examples of questions, but rarely is something totally off-limits. Regardless, we're going to publish what we believe is a good story, even if we don't have a comment.
Radov: It’s happened several times. One instance that comes to mind centered around a student-athlete that we learned had concealed concussion symptoms. We ultimately couldn’t report the story because the athletic department had restricted our interview access, limiting our avenues to finding out the details of what exactly had transpired.
Scott: I would have to say that I also have not had to deal with this issue, thankfully. If I were faced with this scenario, though, I would feel the need to fight for my right to tell the story that I feel needed to be told. Last semester I wrote a piece recounting the story of Marcus Dixon, a former HU football standout who was falsely accused of rape when he was in high school in 2003. The case affected Dixon’s chances of going to college until Hampton decided, after reviewing the circumstances, to give him a chance, and he excelled at the school from 2004 to 2007. I wanted to share the story with this generation of HU students because I felt that it was a cautionary tale that would remind athletes how they need to constantly be aware of their surroundings and who they deal with. I wasn’t met with any issues but I feel that, had I gone through administration for interviews with anyone who may have been there at the time, they would not have wanted to speak on the issue.
Valenzuela: I have never been told to not report on something. I always go through the sports information director and sometimes have been asked to put a piece or feature idea on hold, but that’s as far as it has gone.
Has a school administrator/athletic department official ever threatened to take away your credentials? If yes, please describe in detail what happened
Allentuck: No one has ever threatened to take away my credentials.
Andrews: No. I’ve been lucky enough to avoid that type of situation. New men’s basketball coach Terry Porter has tightened up some of the access, but there’s never been a threat or a denial. Portland is a smaller school and the student-run Beacon is the major source of consistent coverage for the school’s athletic teams. That reality probably helps both sides—the school and The Beacon—realize that it’s in everyone’s best interest to avoid clashes.
Baumann: I've never had anything like that happen to me.
Caplan: No one in Maryland’s athletic department has ever threatened to revoke my credentials. I do my best to cover teams with fairness and transparency, and I think that approach has helped create respectful and productive relationships with the SIDs.
Carroll: No, that hasn’t happened.
Hummer: This has never happened during my tenure as editor. In general, we as a sports staff do our best to maintain a strong professional relationship with the athletic communications department. Unfortunately, we fall short from time to time, but it has never threatened our credentials.
Jacoby: Yes — it’s happened to at least three sports editors at the Daily Emerald in the past four years, including myself. During our reporting of the Pharaoh Brown story this year, I directly called the football player whom Brown concussed, rather than requesting an interview with him through the athletic communications office. I had previously interviewed him within the athletic department’s interview guidelines, but one of the sports information directors was standing nearby during the interview, so I wanted to give the player a fair chance for final comment. After I called the player, the SID called me into his office. He said in his mind there were no exceptions to Oregon’s interview policy, and if the Daily Emerald continued to break protocol then the only recourse would be limiting our access. He said he was ready to pull our credential to the Civil War game on Nov. 26 but would let it slide one time with the expectation that it wouldn’t happen again.
The university senate caught wind of the athletic department’s threat to revoke our credential. It requested the UO’s general counsel to investigate whether the athletic department’s interview policy and threat against the Daily Emerald were in violation of UO’s polices on freedom of inquiry and free speech, and on academic freedom. The latter policy states, “members of the university community have the right to investigate and discuss matters, including those that are controversial, inside and outside of class, without fear of institutional restraint.” The president of UO agreed to let the general counsel investigate the potential free speech violations; that investigation is ongoing.
Polglaze: This has never happened at the Daily to my knowledge.
Radov: Yes. We received warnings from an SID about restricting our access in the aftermath of the wrestling scandal. That was initially shot down by a different SID before it became clear that some of our interview requests weren’t being addressed by [athletic] communications. That was something we dealt with head on, and hopefully we’ve made progress in restoring our relationship with athletics, which has long been very positive.
Scott: Fortunately, I have not run into this issue as either a staff writer or sports editor, and I don’t feel that my university's athletics department would make this threat unless the credentials were mishandled at the event they are designated for.
Valenzuela: Thankfully, no administrator or athletic department official has ever threatened to take away my credentials.
How would you assess your university’s athletic department when it comes to issues of sexual assault and violence?
Allentuck: To my knowledge there have been no problems in my college’s athletic department when it comes to issues of sexual assault and violence.
Andrews: As a private university, Portland and its athletic department usually refuse to comment or issue form statements in response to our requests about sexual assault. While I understand and respect that UP has legal obligations to not comment on individual cases, I believe—and The Beacon's editorials have pushed for—the university to be more transparent with its student conduct process. That is not an issue specific to athletics, it is something the university as a whole needs to look at.
Ashame: We haven’t had any reported instances of sexual assault or violence since I’ve been a student at Michigan, so while I can’t speculate as to whether or not there have been incidents that have gone unreported, I think the athletics department has taken a serious stance on these issues in an effort to create a culture in which those offenses are inexcusable.
Baumann: There have been a lot of issues floating around in the UI athletics department with gender discrimination. That's been kept relatively hush-hush even though there's an ongoing investigation into hiring and firing practices, as well as unequal opportunities between male and female athletes. That's definitely a different topic than sexual assault, but I feel as though the athletics department likes to handle things internally, so it's hard to give a fair assessment when I'm not sure what goes on.
Caplan: There hasn’t been an example I’ve dealt with in my time in school, but the athletic department has been pretty timely and responsible in communicating about other crime news. If a situation with sexual assault and violence happened, though, I wouldn’t rely solely on the athletic department and let it dictate the message.
Carroll: We’ve had several athletes under investigation for such while I’ve worked for the paper. Within a span of about two months earlier this year, two basketball players were accused of domestic abuse and another for pulling a knife at a bar. In our experience, the athletic department has suspended players while the investigation occurs, and then makes a decision off the final court verdict. This is the right move, and in one case, a player was kicked off the team for the guilty verdict. This is the right decision, and I’m glad the university didn’t put one of its star basketball players ahead of the law and consequences of sexual violence. Since then, the program has had speakers talk to the team about sexual assault. The issues were handled well because law enforcement got involved. I just hope people feel comfortable coming forward in the future.
Hummer: There have not been any particular issues in this department during my time as editor. However, I am aware that the department was forced to handle some particularly tough issues as the Brock Turner case became national news. As far as I know, Turner was primarily disciplined through the university in general as he was summarily dismissed from the school as well as the swim team.
Jacoby: I think it’s fair to say it’s hard to get the department to talk about issues of sexual assault and violence. It seems to keep its cards pretty close to its chest until the news gets out and it has to address it publicly. And when officials have to talk about it, they don't say much. This year alone, two football players were suspended indefinitely from the team over accusations of violence against women, one of whom was arrested after allegedly touching a woman repeatedly and punching her in the face. But the team made no public statement about either player until after the Daily Emerald broke each story, and then-head coach Mark Helfrich didn't say much. Two other players, including Pharaoh Brown, were accused of violent acts but remained on the team. Helfrich said he didn’t read the story about Brown and did not offer details as to whether he was disciplined internally; Helfrich did say the other player was disciplined internally but did not specify how.
As for sexual assault, the athletic department kept very quiet in 2014 when three men’s basketball players were accused of gang-raping a female student. Two of the players being investigated by police played for Oregon in an NCAA Tournament game before the allegations surfaced, while coaches at the time were instructed not to discuss the situation with reporters. After the Ducks’ tournament run ended, all three players were dismissed from the team. An athletic department representative made a threat to a reporter from the Oregonian who was investigating the incident to watch where he “swims.” So the athletic department is not very open about it.
Polglaze: The university had a scandal last year when former athletic director Norwood Teague resigned after being accused of sexually harassing women in the department and one local reporter. The department was pretty forthcoming about that one and it was big news. There have been a couple of incidents concerning athletes over the past year or so, but no charges were brought.
Radov: The athletic department would loop in Columbia’s office of gender-based misconduct for issues of sexual assault and violence. It isn’t a situation whereby Columbia athletics would independently oversee or adjudicate individual cases.
Scott: I can honestly say I didn’t know how to answer that question prior to reading it for this article and I am not proud of that. Like most universities, we do have a Title IX office on campus and this would be the first place I would go to address a problem like this. I haven’t had to thus far, thankfully, and I hope that it stays this way. I feel that my campus could do a better job of publicizing the way to handle stories like this and I’d like to bridge the gap between the sports section and the Title IX office before I graduate in May so that a plan is in place should a situation ever arise.
Valenzuela: I have never had to deal with an issue of sexual assault and violence since becoming a reporter, so I cannot personally assess the athletic department on how it handles those cases. I would hope that the athletic department would handle the issues with the utmost care, urgency and compassion.
What person do you most respect in sports media and why?
Allentuck: I respect [ESPN’s] Lindsay Czarniak the most because she is my idol and the reason I want to be a sports journalist. Before she was hired by ESPN, she worked for my local NBC station and I watched her every day. Growing up, a lot of people thought I was crazy for wanting to be a sports journalist, but she inspired me and showed me that women can be successful in this field.
Andrews: While it is hard to pick just one person, I am going to go with The Undefeated's Marc Spears. He has an eye for fresh stories and angles that almost no one else thinks of and is always able to push his subjects to go past the surface, which is something I admire and work to emulate. A person would be hard pressed to walk into any basketball arena in the country, mention Marc's name, and not have at least one person begin to gush about how talented and professional he is. Plus, he is always willing to reach back and help the next generation of journalists.
Ashame: During my summers growing up, I spent many weekday mornings watching ESPN’s SportsCenter, and seeing Rachel Nichols on such a regular basis always struck a chord for me. As one of the few women I could see making a name for themselves in the predominately male industry, Nichols provided me with an important example of how women could rise in the ranks of the respected sports media. Representation matters, and seeing her made me feel less uncomfortable about being a girl who liked sports and writing more than fashion and shopping.
Baumann: I love [ESPN’s] Sarah Spain. As a woman, it's empowering to have a strong female to look up to in sports media who isn't afraid to say what's on her mind.
Caplan: Christine Brennan of USA Today. She’s become one of my mentors, and to know the hardships she endured because she’s a woman and wanted to write and talk about sports is so motivating. She’s created opportunities and communities for women in the field that have helped me build my career’s platform. The passion and strength in her columns and TV appearances is inspiring, and I’ve never ended a conversation with her without feeling energized and supported.
Carroll: Erin Andrews. I really respect that she fought back and didn’t let someone get away with violating her privacy. It’s easy to maybe let something like that go away quietly and not generate more attention, but standing up for yourself is so important. Women in sports media, especially TV personalities, can get so much flak and it’s admirable when these women show it won’t be tolerated. Hopefully their actions show others that times are changing, and women can most definitely cover sports just as well as men.
Hummer: There are so many people I could list here, but the first that came to mind is [FS1’s] Katie Nolan. From her uncompromising stance on domestic violence and sexual assault to her great sense of humor, I think she brings a fantastic human—and female—perspective to sports coverage that is desperately needed.
Jacoby: I really enjoy reading [NBC's] Joe Posnanski. He writes about sports but also about life and the intersection between the two. When making a point, he has the unique ability to present the facts in simple terms and let the reader come to his or her own conclusions.
Polglaze: I'd have to say Laura Gentile, the founder and senior vice president of espnW. Gentile was a collegiate athlete and was very motivated to create a space for women's sports media that wasn't all dolled up. Its coverage is about real women doing real big things in sports that smash gender barriers. She's taken what she believes is the potential of women's sports media and is running with it at full speed. To have someone show such passion for female sport and its power is really inspiring.
Radov: It’s tough to pick out a particular person, but I’ll be a little different and not default to [ESPN’s] Wright Thompson. I’ll say [ESPN’s] Seth Wickersham. His profile on [Redskins GM] Scot McCloughan and his piece about Bill Walsh’s book are two stories that stand out. I could name several others, but I think the diversity of his content is impressive—his Matt Ryan piece is far different from his inside look at the Rams’ move to Los Angeles. I try to preach that sort of versatility to my staff, and Wickersham really embodies that.
Scott: The legendary Stuart Scott was one of the most pivotal figures in my life when I was growing up because he did something I was fascinated by in an interesting way that was true to who he was—and that’s tell sports stories. His style, however, would inherently make these “human” stories and they would transcend the confines of numbers and trends. He provided the inspiration that guided me to discover my passion for sports journalism because he was someone who looked like me (and just so happened to share my last name) who was having fun in a profession where I wanted to be. I vividly remember the day I learned of his passing and I can recall how emotional my reaction was: I couldn’t believe that this vibrant, charismatic, funny, strong and intelligent man was gone. I was able to translate this hurt into a “Thank You” letter of sorts on my blog that, to this day, remains my most viewed story. His voice provided the backdrop to many sports memories for me, with one of the last being on Father’s Day 2014 when, in the midst of his battle with his disease, Mr. Scott was providing excellent coverage of Game 7 of the NBA Finals and I was able to watch the game with my dad and my little brother. I’ll never forget that day, and I’ll always attribute whatever successes I have in this industry to Mr. Scott and his shining example as someone who paved the way.
Valenzuela: I respect all women who are in pioneering roles within sports media. The person I respect the most is [NFL Network’s] Andrea Kremer because she does it all! Between her two Emmy awards, her position as chief correspondent for the NFL Network and being arguably one of the best sportscasters, I couldn’t think of a better role model.
The Noise Report
(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)
1. Verne Lundquist stepped away from college football on Saturday after 42 years of calling the sport, including the last 17 as the lead broadcaster for the SEC on CBS package. Here is how he signed off for the last time on a college football broadcast:
Lundquist will continue to call the NCAA tournament and The Masters until his body (or CBS) says he cannot.
1a. Here’s a 3,000-word piece I did last month on Lundquist, including some exclusive video on how he prepared for games.
1b. This was a terrific opening tease for the Army-Navy game. The piece was produced by Pete Radovich and Dave Anerella.
1c. The 5.6 overnight rating for Army-Navy was the highest overnight rating for the game in 22 years, since a 6.5 rating in 1994.
1d. ESPN announced its college football bowl schedule, including its announcer assignments.
2. NBC’s Thursday Night Football broadcast this week (Chiefs-Raiders) averaged 17.4 million TV-only viewers—the first time this season that consecutive TNF games averaged at least 17 million viewers (21.8 million for Cowboys-Vikings last week).
2c. On Sunday, CBS insider Jason LaCanfora reported: “Rex Ryan could be fired as soon as Monday with a lopsided defeat to the Steelers today. According to league sources, odds of him remaining as Bills coach in 2017 are bleak. It would take a near perfect December to stay in charge, and QB Tyrod Taylor could be benched as soon as Monday as well.” We’ll see if his info turns out to be right.
3. Episode 92 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features ESPN broadcaster Joe Tessitore, who along with Todd Blackledge and Holly Rowe will call the College Football Playoff semifinal game between Alabama and Washington on Dec. 31.
In this podcast, Tessitore discusses why versatility can be strength for sports broadcasters; how he prepares to call his college football assignments; the appeal of Tim Tebow and Paul Finebaum as sports broadcasters; working in Hartford with Gayle King as a local broadcaster; the skill set needed to call blow-by-blow boxing; why he’s not envious of Chris Fowler; the impact of the “Tess Effect,” which is a term used for all the close college football games he has called; why he loves hosting horse racing; working with analysts Teddy Atlas and Blackledge; the value of good producers; and much more. A reminder: You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.
4. Non sports pieces of note:
• The Boston Globe’s “The Power Of Will” series.
• Via Asma Khalid: What It Was Like As A Muslim To Cover The Election.
• For The Marshall Project: An inmate talks about prison fighting.
• The Columbus Dispatch obit for John Glenn.
• From Current Affairs: The necessity of credibility.
•Seven writers on their favorite bookstore.
• From L.A. Magazine: A Shot In The Dark: The Unknown Story Behind L.A.’s Most Celebrated Photograph.
• 41 Murder Scenes. 57 Bodies. 35 Days in Manila. A Photographer’s Perspective.
• From Politico's Mikhail Zygar: Why Putin Prefers Trump.
• High on Hitler and Meth: Book Says Nazis Were Fueled by Drugs.
• Via Julia Prodis Sulek of the Mercury News: The last hours of Oakland’s Ghost Ship warehouse.
Sports pieces of note:
• SI’s Greg Bishop tracked four NFL players on what Mondays are like for them.
• The Indiana Daily Student’s Brody Miller had a blistering report on Indiana football players being denied treatment, blamed for injuries and shamed for reporting them.
• Ian Frisch, writing for Vice Sports, goes inside the WWE’s financials and succession plan.
• Vinay Krishnan, for Slam Online, on OCD, anxiety, and watching LeBron James play basketball.
• Via The Washington Post’s Kent Babb: Liberty University’s new AD isn’t sure why God led him here. Neither are some students.
• SI’s Jon Wertheim on the rehabilitation of Jayson Williams, with an assist from Charles Oakley.
5. Barstool Sports signed a deal with SiriusXM to produce a national daily show. The show, Barstool Radio, will premiere Jan. 3 and air on the SiriusXM Rush channel.
5a. HBO Sports announced it will air a docu-series on this year’s University of Connecticut women’s basketball team. The show— UConn Huskies: March To Madness—debuts March 1 (10-11 p.m. ET/PT) with an hour-long edition, followed by half-hour episodes on subsequent Wednesdays.
5b. The Undefeated’s Mike Wise reflected on the late sports journalist Bryan Burwell.
5c. Richard Sandomir, who covered sports media and sports business for The New York Times for a quarter-century, wrote his last sports media column on Sunday.
5d. Cubs play-by-play analyst Pat Hughes has released a special edition CD reliving the radio story of the 2016 world champion Cubs as heard on 670 The Score.
5e. An eye-catching rating from last Tuesday:
WWE Smackdown: 2.48 million viewers.
Florida-Duke college basketball (ESPN): 1.42 million.