Opinion

Stories I’d like to see

The revealing Rutgers report, job number revisions, and Trayvon, Inc

Steven Brill
Apr 9, 2013 11:05 UTC

1. The Rutgers basketball coach scandal as a window on NCAA sports:

Some of the stories about the firing of Rutgers basketball coach Michael Rice after a video of him abusing his players in practice was aired on ESPN referred to a 50 page report the university commissioned from an outside lawyer after the videos were first brought to school administrators’ attention. It’s this report that provided the rationale for the school initially to suspend and fine Rice but not dismiss him.

For reporters and columnists (like the New York Times’ Joe Nocera) who have been highlighting how the NCAA has become a profit machine that abuses its unpaid players, the report is worth diving into. It presents an amazingly candid, and grim, view of college athletics, and it would be great to get university presidents far and wide on the record commenting about it.

The report — written by John P. Lacey, the outside lawyer whose firm conducted the investigation — describes the offensive scenes shown on the videos and declares that it is “not acceptable for any coach at any time in a university setting to refer to players using curse words accompanied by slang and derogatory references to homosexuals such as “fags” or “faggots,” etc.” So far, so good. But here’s how the report, whose recommendations the Rutgers administration fully accepted, rationalized not jettisoning Rice:

Based on the credible information provided to us, we find that many of the actions of Coach Rice, while sometimes unorthodox, politically incorrect or very aggressive, were within the bounds of proper conduct and training methods in the context of preparing for the extraordinary physical and mental challenges that players would regularly face during NCAA Division I basketball games. This permissible training includes screaming at players, cursing, using other foul and distasteful language and expressing frustration and even anger at times. It also includes physical contact during drills and unorthodox training methods to simulate the dramatic and unexpected events that occur during actual games.

Really?

The lawyer’s report also contains some fun illustrations of the legal gymnastics lawyers put themselves through at the sacrifice of common sense in the name of political correctness. One example: it seems not to be “harassment” to call someone a “faggot” if you don’t know he’s gay, because in that case you’re not knowingly harassing someone in a “protected class.”

Hoop academics, judging the GSA, Latin healthcare

Steven Brill
Apr 10, 2012 13:15 UTC

1. Hoop academics:

What’s one year of classes at the University of Kentucky really like for basketball stars?

Maybe I’ve been brainwashed by Taylor Branch’s fabulous NCAA article in the Atlantic last fall entitled “The Shame of College Sports” and by Joe Nocera’s compelling Op-Ed columns in the New York Times arguing that the NCAA is all about money and nothing about education. And I admit I’m drafting this after watching the feel-good NCAA ads profiling the teams’ scholar-athletes during the March basketball tournament. But now that the Final Four have come and gone and we know that all five starters on the University of Kentucky’s winning team are quitting to join the NBA after just one or two years at school, I’m wondering what a reporter will find if he or she digs into the education these freshman and sophomores actually received.

What courses did they take? How rigorous were they? What do the players’ professors and fellow students have to say about their participation in class? Did the players do the work? Did they lag or excel?

The New York Times becomes a video force

Steven Brill
Dec 6, 2011 13:43 UTC

The opinions expressed are his own.

1. The New York Times Goes Video:

Three different story ideas are prompted by the hours of interviews former Penn State assistant football coach and accused child molester Jerry Sandusky gave to the New York Times’ Jo Becker that resulted in a front-page Times story on Saturday.

First, by Saturday night I was seeing video clips of Becker’s interview on NBC, which credited the Times. This means Becker, a highly-regarded, hard-nosed print reporter, brought a video crew with her to make her Times report a multimedia event – which it was, with great impact, on the Times’ website. This left NBC’s Michael Isikoff, himself a print refuge from Newsweek, narrating a story on the Evening News on Saturday night using audio from Becker’s interview and the Times’ branded video package.

This, in itself, is a big media story. The Times‘ website, which now charges non-subscribers and is attracting hundreds of thousands of paying customers, is becoming an increasingly robust 24/7 multimedia platform. What are the prospects of the Times dispatching video crews more regularly to tape important on-the-record interviews? How will that change the reporter’s interview style and methods? (It sure would change mine, because it shifts the atmosphere and rhythm of an interview.) How might this affect the media chase to corral hard-to-get, high-profile figures for interviews? Might some feel better making their TV debut with a Times reporter than a conventional TV reporter? Leaving aside questions about their decision to talk to the press at all, it could be that Sandusky and his lawyer believed that by agreeing to this forum, they were minimizing the dangers of “gotcha” questions or of having sound bites taken out of context.

Obamacare word games, Arianna’s real deal, and Spanish power

Steven Brill
Nov 29, 2011 16:09 UTC

By Steven Brill

This is the second entry in a new regular column, “Stories I’d Like To See.” It’s the notebook of someone who still thinks like an editor but is over the thrill of managing a reporting staff – or the hassle of dealing with “great” story ideas that crash and burn when someone actually goes out and reports them and learns anew that even the best editors can’t hit much better than the best ballplayers (meaning three or four out of ten story ideas will actually work).

1. Obamacare’s Word Game Screw-Up:

As the debate over the constitutionality of Obamacare’s individual mandate moves toward an election-year climax in the Supreme Court, I’m surprised that I haven’t read a story recounting the deliberate but boneheaded decision by Administration officials to call the fine imposed on those not buying health insurance a “penalty” instead of labeling it a “tax.” Someone in the White House counsel’s office or the Justice Department must have spoken up and told everyone else what most constitutional lawyers who have looked at the current litigation now readily acknowledge: that there would be almost zero chance of opponents mounting a credible attack on the provision if it was called a tax. In fact, in one of the lower court skirmishes over the constitutionality of the law, conservative D.C. Appeals Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh seemed to enjoy tweaking the Obama people by readily conceding that the law would be okay had they simply called it a tax. Congress has a well-established right to tax anything or anyone.

Apparently afraid of burying the word tax somewhere in the 974-page bill, the Administration insisted on calling the fine – which, ironically will be assessed on tax returns and collected by the IRS – a “penalty” for not buying insurance. Did any of the President’s lawyers warn the former constitutional law professor about this?

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