Tag Archives: football

When Points Destroy The Game

In 1956 my Jamaica high school basketball
team played Far Rockaway, a league rival. At the end of the first quarter I had
19 points and our team was ahead by twenty. The result of the game was already
determined. I felt confident of breaking the school scoring record and perhaps
the city record as well, but to my dismay the coach took me out of the game. I
was furious. Yet in retrospect, he was right.

Had I broken the school record, it would have
come at the expense of a marginal team. Moreover, it would have embarrassed the
other players. My coach understood what I did not.

Now we hear the story of Grinnell College
sophomore guard named Jack Taylor who scored 138 points in a recent game
against First Baptist Bible College. While this point total obliterated the
college record and even pro stars like LeBron James are eager to see the video
tape, I find this story depressing. Why didn’t Grinnell’s coach, David Arsenault
bench his star player who took 108 shots – missing 56 – in a game won by 75 points?
 

The once decent standard of not embarrassing
a rival has been interred along with giving bench-warmers a chance to play in a
one sided victory. “Kicking” an opponent when he is down was something college
athletes were once told to avoid. That, of course, was yesteryear when
competition counted and records were set that had real meaning.
 

As I see it, there isn’t anything reasonable
about one player taking 108 shots in a game whose outcome was not in question.
Whatever happened to sportsmanship in college sports? Instead of applauding
this performance as television hosts have, it should be criticized. Imagine
“pressing” all game in a 75 point margin of victory.

During college basketball and football games,
there is the ritualistic suggestion by the NCAA that athletics build character.
After this performance at Grinnell that bromide should be a source of
embarrassment. It is bad enough that players routinely preen in front of the
television camera after a dunk. It is sickening to hear players curse at one
another and engage in verbal intimidation. Exploiting weak athletes by piling
on is yet the latest perversion in college sports. My guess is Jack Taylor will
be a model, a source of emulation. And a coach, who should know better, is also
likely to represent a new bench standard.

College basketball is a game that can build
character when talented players restrain personal ambition for team goals. It
happened last season at Kentucky with six teammates drafted into the professional
ranks. Of course, at Kentucky academic life is a meaningless after thought
since what happens on the hardwood is all that counts. Yet Coach Calipari,
despite his reputation for challenging academic standards, does teach something
about team play.

Jack Taylor, by all appearances, seems to be
a sensible young man. Perhaps he is embarrassed by all the attention. He should
be. The game in this instance was converted into a gladiatorial event with the
opposition gored into submission. Some may call that basketball; I call it
exploitation.

The Spanier Indictment

In a move that should come as little surprise, former
Penn State president Graham Spanier has been indicted for perjury, conspiracy,
obstruction of justice, and child endangerment. The indictments come in the
wake of the Freeh Report’s revelations
that–after Penn State’s former athletic
director proposed not reporting to police an allegation against Jerry
Sandusky–Spanier had e-mailed administrators to say that “the only downside for us is if the message
isn’t ‘heard’ and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having
reported it. But that can be assessed down the road. The approach you outline
is humane and a reasonable way to proceed.”

The basics of the grand jury
indictment against Spanier mirror the conclusions of the Freeh Report–that senior
Penn State administrators, claimed the state’s attorney general, participated
in a “conspiracy of silence” regarding Sandusky’s crimes,
“working to actively conceal the truth, with total disregard
to the suffering of children.” The presentment makes
no claims against Paterno, the attorney general said, because Paterno’s death
marked “the end” of any potential legal ramifications for his behavior.

The grand jury presentment
went into greater detail than did the Freeh Report on two matters. First, in justifying
the perjury charge, the document claimed that “Spanier has repeatedly
misrepresented the level of his knowledge about the investigation.” Both at the
time and in his media barrage this summer, Spanier portrayed himself as
detached and essentially unaware of matters relating to Sandusky, whether in
1998, 2001, or 2011. But the grand jury document indicates that the former
president specifically requested updates from the former Penn State counsel,
Cynthia Baldwin, about the progress of the grand jury inquiry–and seemed
concerned about former coach Joe Paterno hiring his own counsel during the
investigation. According to Baldwin, Spanier mused with her about what type of
information Paterno could be providing to the grand jury.

Second, Spanier’s repeated
excuse as to why he didn’t keep the trustees informed–that he was bound by
grand jury secrecy rules–appears to have been an outright lie. According to the
presentment, the grand jury foreman had told Spanier that the president was
free to discuss his testimony publicly.

Beyond the specifics of the
case, the indictment raises questions about two other entities. First: the NCAA, which leveled draconian
(but appropriate) sanctions against Penn State after the Freeh Report’s
release. Yet while the organization often comes down hard on student-athletes
(or, less often, coaches) who violate its rules, nothing in the sanctions
applied to Spanier, at one point an influential figure within the NCAA. ESPN’s
Jay Bilas has been the most outspoken figure on the NCAA’s apparent double
standard in not sanctioning the college presidents who make up its membership, and
he tweeted after the indictment to wonder why the NCAA hadn’t held Spanier
“accountable” based on the Freeh Report’s findings. Spanier, of course, is
entitled to a presumption of innocence on the criminal charges. But the NCAA doesn’t
use such a standard, and routinely punishes student-athletes on the basis of
far less damaging information than what was presented about Spanier in the
Freeh Report.

Second:
the Penn State faculty leadership, especially the University Faculty Senate. In
late August, more than two dozen former leaders of the senate issued an open
letter sharply criticizing the Freeh Report.
“As a document in
which evidence, facts, and logical argument are marshaled to support
conclusions and recommendations,” they wrote, “the Freeh Report fails badly. On
a foundation of scant evidence, the report adds layers of conjecture and
supposition to create a portrait of fault, complicity, and malfeasance that
could well be at odds with the truth.”
As with many critics of the Freeh Report,
these faculty leaders declined to identify any errors in the report, even as
they used space in their letter to celebrate their research abilities.–“as scientists
and scholars.”

Now, however, the state Attorney General
has filed charges along lines very similar to those identified in the Freeh
Report. Will these scientists and scholars have the courage of their
convictions and denounce the indictment as they denounced the Freeh Report? I’m
guessing they’ll choose silence on this occasion.

Yale’s New Low and the Sad Saga of Wendy Murphy

Few figures involved in the Duke lacrosse case behaved more disgracefully than Wendy Murphy, an adjunct professor at the New England School of Law. A  frequent TV commentator on the case, she  earned a reputation for defending Mike Nifong’s prosecution through myriad errors of fact, misstatements of the law, and deeply offensive statements such as her betting that “one or more of the players was, you know, molested or something as a child.” To Murphy, there are no false accusers of rape–so as soon as an accusation is made, a “victim” exists. The presumption of innocence, she has maintained, is no more than a presumption that the “victim” isn’t telling the truth.

That bizarre conception of due process is right at home at Yale. The university’s troubling new policies toward sexual assault allegations reached public attention through the New York Times‘s attempt to smear former Yale quarterback Patrick Witt, who was caught up in the university’s Kafka-like “informal complaint” system. (In this procedure, designed to give the accuser maximum control of how the process plays out, the accused student doesn’t even have the right to present evidence of his actual innocence, much less cross-examine the accuser or have legal representation.)

The Witt affair turned out to be the tip of the iceberg regarding due process–an internal report revealed that the “informal complaint” policy allowed Yale to set up a monitoring program for at least one faculty member without even telling him he’s under investigation. The allegation of sexual harassment alone was sufficient for the finding of guilt.

Now these sorts of arrangements will be the norm. Yale has entered into a consent decree with the Office of Civil Rights, ensuring the “use of the preponderance of evidence standard in determining whether sexual misconduct occurred”; promising an informal complaint procedure in the future in which no accuser has to face cross-examination from the person she accused; and creating a double jeopardy system in which the rare accuser who doesn’t get her way at the lower level can appeal a not-guilty finding.  So it’s almost fitting to see the commentator renowned for denigrating due process and the university that celebrated its own denigration of due process paired up in a race to the bottom.

The triggering event was a Title IX lawsuit–generated, Murphy claimed, by the Yale-OCR settlement–filed by her and another attorney, John Williams, on behalf Susan Burhans, who formerly served as security education coordinator for the Yale Police Department. The filing’s basic thesis: over the course of a decade, Burhans recommended a variety of policies which, if adopted, would have ensured that the OCR had no grounds for acting against Yale. But instead of Yale accepting her wise counsel, Burhans was fired.

 

A Connecticut Superior Court already appears to have dismissed Burhans’s case, for reasons that aren’t hard to discern, given some of the claims the lawsuit offers. Murphy and her co-counsel maintain that Burhans discovered that Yale accusers were “revictimized during sexual assault grievance procedures,” and demanded that her supervisors institute new procedures. (The complaint doesn’t reveal what these new procedures were.)

 

Burhans “experienced an increasing number of colleagues avoiding her,” which Murphy and her co-counsel suggest constitutes evidence that Yale violated Title IX. And the complaint wants to hold Yale liable for posting a $129,000 job in the security department requiring “qualifications Burhans did not possess.” Finally, the complaint reveals that Burhans applied for around 50 other jobs at Yale and didn’t get any. Again, it’s not clear how this is evidence of a Title IX violation.

 

Continue reading Yale’s New Low and the Sad Saga of Wendy Murphy

Critics of Freeh Report Fire Blanks

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Over the past several weeks, high-profile criticisms of the Freeh Report, which examined the Penn State administration’s failed response to a report of inappropriate sexual behavior by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, generated more heat than light. Nearly identical missives from a handful of renegade PSU trustees, the family of ex-coach Joe Paterno, and a handful of former Penn State football players all slammed the Freeh Report as biased and filled with factual errors–but were unable to identify even one specific way in which the report was biased, or point out even one factual error that made the critics’ case.

In the last few days, however, two new attacks–one explicit, one implied–on the report have emerged. An authorized biography of Paterno by sportswriter Joe Posnaski bent over backwards to present the late coach in a favorable light and imply that the Freeh Report’s claim that Paterno knowingly participated in a cover-up couldn’t be true. And Penn State’s disgraced ex-president, Graham Spanier, kicked off a public relations campaign with two interviews and a press conference by his attorney. Ironically, through their weaknesses, these ostensibly more substantial critiques of the Freeh Report wound up further confirming the report’s conclusions.

Continue reading Critics of Freeh Report Fire Blanks

The Freeh Report and the Failure of Trustees

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The past few months have been troubling for those who
believe that Trustees must exercise more aggressive oversight roles on today’s
college and university campuses. At the University of Virginia, the board of regents (temporarily,
it turns out) sacked President Teresa Sullivan, yet struggled to articulate a
reason for doing so. Then, when they did so–seeming to demand more on-line
classes, seeming to criticize the German and Classics Departments–the board’s
vision conflicted with defenders of high standards. At University of Southern
Maine, meanwhile, the board stood aside amidst a
slow-motion coup against President Selma Botman–an effort that aimed, as one of
the plotters privately admitted, to show that “the faculty really are the
center of the universe.”

Continue reading The Freeh Report and the Failure of Trustees

The Times Doubles Down Against Patrick Witt

In a column posted Saturday, New York Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane concluded that the paper
had gotten it wrong
when it went after Yale quarterback Patrick Witt.
Brisbane wrote “that reporting a claim of sexual assault based on anonymous
sourcing, without Mr. Witt’s and the woman’s side of it, was unfair to Mr.
Witt. The Times thought it was a
necessary part in its exposé of the feel-good sports story. But the impact of
the ‘sexual assault’ label on Mr. Witt is substantial and out of proportion for
a case that went uninvestigated and unadjudicated.”

But Brisbane’s intervention came much too late: the original
article by Richard Pérez-Peña cannot be undone; replete with extraneous information
about Witt’s “minor arrests” and framed in such a way that a fair-minded reader
would conclude that Witt’s probably a rapist, the Times savaged Witt’s reputation. A February 5 Google search for
“Patrick Witt” “sexual assault” yielded 37,800 results. And, as espn.com’s Jemele
Hill pointed out
, the Times’
publication of the article probably ended any chance that Witt had of being
drafted by the NFL.

Continue reading The Times Doubles Down Against Patrick Witt

Media “Watchdogs” Foul Up the Mess at Yale

In an ideal world, Richard Perez-Pena and the New York Times would have been subjected
to widespread condemnation, even shame, for the character-assassination frame
the paper gave to the Patrick Witt story. Kathleen Parker, most prominently, has
spoken with moral clarity
on the issue, translating the Times argument as, “We don’t know
anything, but we’re smearing this guy anyway.” But far more common have been
defenses of the Times–or even claims
that the Times should have done more
to portray Witt in a negative light.

Continue reading Media “Watchdogs” Foul Up the Mess at Yale

Second Thoughts About Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno.jpg

Some Penn State alumni, outraged over the Board of Trustees peremptory firing of Coach Joe Paterno, are organizing a campaign to elect three new trustees.  The objective of Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship is, ultimately, to oust the current Board.  The Board fired Paterno, two University officials and the University President for not responding forcefully to accusations of child sexual abuse in the football-team shower room.  Many alumni, including hundreds who met with the new President at hotels in the Pittsburgh, New York City, and Philadelphia areas recently, were outraged that the Board had not verified the accusations before acting.

According to indignant alumni, the Penn State Board of Trustees confused two separate, unequal cases.  One case was possible perjury before a grand jury by Tim Curley, the Athletic Director, and Gary Schultz, the senior vice-president in charge of the Penn State Police.  The second case was the charge against Jerry Sandusky that he possibly sexually molested a young boy in the Penn State football-team shower room.

Curley and Schultz were suspected of lying to conceal discreditable behavior damaging to the reputation of the Penn State football program.  Guilty or innocent, they face enormous legal costs to mount a defense against the perjury charge.  If convicted, they will probably go to prison.  But the evidence for the indictment for perjury is weak.  It rests entirely on the grand jury testimony of assistant football coach Mike McQueary in the fall of 2011 about what he saw nine years earlier when he was in his early twenties.  McQueary remembered being shocked when he accidentally observed in the shower room of the Penn State football team what appeared to be a former coach sexually molesting a pre-adolescent boy.  Here is how the Washington Post described McQueary’s account of the 2002 incident when called as a witness in a District Court hearing last December 16:

In his testimony at the preliminary hearing for Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, McQueary said he believes he saw Sandusky sexually molesting a boy in the shower but was not 100 percent sure it was intercourse.

McQueary said he peeked into the shower several times and saw Sandusky with his hands wrapped around the waist of a boy he estimated to be 10 or 12 years old. He said both were naked, the boy was facing the wall, and that the last time he looked in, Sandusky and the boy had separated.

“I know they saw me,” McQueary said. “They looked directly in my eye, both of them.”

Tim Curley and Gary Schultz have both insisted publicly that, when McQueary told them in 2002 what had disturbed him, he did not mention anal rape, as some newspaper accounts reported.  McQueary had told his story first to Coach Paterno in 2002, and Coach Paterno’s recollection of their meeting characterized McQueary’s report similarly.  Here is what Joe Paterno said on November 6, 2011, about their 2002 meeting:

As my grand jury testimony stated, I was informed in 2002 by an assistant coach that he had witnessed an incident in the shower of our locker room facility. It was obvious that the witness was distraught over what he saw, but he at no time related to me the very specific actions contained in the Grand Jury report. Regardless, it was clear that the witness saw something inappropriate involving Mr. Sandusky. As Coach Sandusky was retired from our coaching staff at that time, I referred the matter to university administrators.

The grand jury accepted McQueary’s graphic report as a faithful account of what happened and what he told about it to Paterno, to the Athletic Director, Tim Curley, and to Gary Schultz, the senior vice-president.  Curley, Schultz, and Paterno remembered the conversations with McCreary differently.  According to all three of them, McQueary said nothing about anal rape, only that Sandusky and a preadolescent boy were showering together in the shower room and “horsing around.”  Because the grand jury believed that McQueary was telling the truth and that Curley and Schultz were lying to minimize disreputable behavior at the University, it indicted Curley and Schultz for perjury.  Whether or not they committed perjury has nothing to do with whatever Sandusky did or did not do to a boy in the shower room.  (The grand jury did not explain why it did not also indict Coach Joe Paterno for perjury; his report of his conversation with McQueary was identical to the accounts given by Curley and Schultz.)

Questionable Indictments

The Board of Trustees apparently considered the indictments of Sandusky, Curley, and Schultz evidence of guilt.  On the evening of November 9, the Vice-Chairman of the Board, John Surma Jr., made a vague public statement explaining why the Board fired Joe Paterno, the Athletic Director to whom he reported, the vice-president to whom the Penn State Police force reported, and the president of Penn State University itself.

We thought that because of the difficulties that engulfed our university, and they are grave, that it is necessary to make a change in the leadership to set a course for a new direction.

A jury would have to believe – despite an absence of corroborating evidence — that Coach Paterno and the two administrators lied independently to a grand jury about what McQueary told them in 2002 or conspired with one another to lie in order to protect the University from bad publicity.  The jury would also have to believe that reputable University officials chose to cover up the rape of a ten-year-old boy.  More plausible is faulty memories rather than lies.  McQueary stumbled on what seemed to him improper and upsetting sexual behavior between a coach and a pre-adolescent boy, but he did not remember exactly what went on nine years earlier.  Surely the defense attorneys will raise questions about how McQueary reacted to what he saw and what he heard during the 2002 incident.  He did not claim to have heard the boy cry out, “Help!” although he said that the boy saw him. He did not claim to have himself shouted, “What’s going on here?”  All he did was peek into the shower room three times and then go home and telephone his father.  Paterno, Curley, and Schultz all deny receiving explicit information about an anal rape.

The perjury indictments have little to do with football at Penn State, only with the accusation that two reputable University administrators lied to a grand jury (for which they are potentially liable to be given long prison terms).  The collateral damage of the perjury indictments – inflicted by the Board of Trustees — was the firing of Coach Paterno and of Penn State President Graham Spanier. Perhaps a prudent Board of Trustees should not have rushed to administer punishments.  As one of my former students, now a senior executive of an organization in the professional sports field commented about the uproar at Penn State in an email:

Where is the adult in the room who says, “Hold on. We have a legal process and we need to follow it in the most routine cases and even for the most hideous ones. This case is no exception.”

The American system of criminal justice does not usually imitate the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, who enunciated the principle of “Sentence first, verdict afterwards.”  Maybe current members of the Board never read that criminological classic or understood that Lewis Carroll was ridiculing arbitrary punishments.  Maybe Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship should distribute copies of Alice in Wonderland to all members of the Board of Trustees as well as to the new members they succeed in electing.

Will The NY Times Apologize to Patrick Witt?

The denouement of the Times’
coverage of Duke lacrosse came when then-sports editor Tom
Jolly apologized
for the paper’s guilt-presuming, error-ridden articles on
the case. Will the paper ever get around to giving former Yale quarterback
Patrick Witt an apology? With a few days perspective, it’s become clear that
the Times‘ mishandling of the Witt story
was, in two specific ways, even worse than originally believed.

Continue reading Will The NY Times Apologize to Patrick Witt?

Paterno: Sentence First, Verdict Afterwards

Why did the Board of Trustees of Penn State University put a humiliating end to the unblemished career of 84-year-old football coach, Joe Paterno?  In announcing the Board’s decision to fire him on the evening of November 9, the Vice-Chairman of the Board, John Surma Jr., spoke vaguely about the need to “make a change in the leadership.”

Continue reading Paterno: Sentence First, Verdict Afterwards

The Penn State Trustees React to the Stench

The Board of Trustees acted properly in cleaning house at Penn State, by firing president Graham Spanier and longtime football coach Joe Paterno. The inaction of the duo, along with similar conduct from now-suspended Athletic Director Tim Curley and now-retired VP Gary Schultz has exposed the university to potentially massive legal liability, as well as prompting an extraordinary public relations backlash.

Continue reading The Penn State Trustees React to the Stench

Raunchy T-Shirts Recalled at DePauw

The football rivalry between DePauw University and Wabash College usually comes with all the trimmings–a traveling trophy, angry and intoxicated fans and vulgar T-shirts.  This year’s shirts read “You’ve had our Dick” on the front and “Now here’s our Seaman” on the back, a reference to two conveniently named DePauw stars, former quarterback Spud Dick and current quarterback Drew Seaman.

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Football Teams with Colleges Loosely Attached

The 2010 college football season ended with Auburn’s dramatic victory over Oregon for the national championship and with the usual meditations on how important the sport is for the colleges that play it. Athletic directors and coaches, attempting to dispel all doubt about the value of football, proudly point to gate receipts, increased alumni donations, legislative largesse and more student applications to schools with good teams.
More institutions trying to keep up with the joneses are lining up to field football programs. The National Football Foundation proudly boasted in May that “six new college football teams are set to take the field for the first time this season, with 11 more programs set to launch between 2011 and 2013.”
The belief in the benefits—financial or otherwise– of having a football team is widely assumed. Lamar University Athletic Director Billy Tubbs said, “Football is almost a religion in Texas and a lot of the country, and when we dropped football we lost 2,000 students” said. But Cornell economist Robert Frank has found “not a shred of evidence to suggest that cuts in across-the-board spending on athletics would reduce either donations by alumni or applications by prospective students.”

Continue reading Football Teams with Colleges Loosely Attached

College Sports – A Very Useful Fetish

Is it just me, or have others noted that “Big-Time College Sports” (basketball and football, primarily) have recently taken yet another leap into a qualitatively different zone? In my neck of the woods, we have the very controversial new Big Ten Network, which hopes to make gobs of money from advertisers if cable companies ever come around to accepting it. And presently we are witnessing an enhanced version of the national game of Coaches Musical Chairs, with coaches jumping to new schools that offer them packages in the previously unimaginable realm of 3-4 million dollars. And if you have had the pleasure of attending a major college football or basketball game in recent times, you no doubt will have been bombarded by a new level of advertising accompanied by relentless appeals for funds.

Observers have debated the propriety of Big Time College Sports in institutions of higher learning for a long time now, and I do not wish to contribute to this growing literature. I must confess that I am a life-long basketball and football enthusiast. I played a year of college basketball, and I can tell you off the top of my head who beat whom (and by how many games, if it was a series) over the last 50 years in the championships of the NFL, the NBA, Major League Baseball, and NCAA Division I Basketball, as well as the A.P. Division I college football champion. (I kid you not.) To me, this knowledge is far from constituting “trivia;” it’s championships we are talking about, after all. So my concern (even chagrin) at the present state of Big Time College Sports does not derive from an anti-sports attitude.

Continue reading College Sports – A Very Useful Fetish