Duck student-athletes not to talk to reporters without permission

Update: Reporter Jack Pitcher’s story on this is now up on the Emerald website, here.

3/20/2017: That has been the policy of the athletic department for years. Supposedly it will now change.

This post is related to UO General Counsel Kevin Reed’s investigation of the Duck Athletic Department’s efforts to intimidate student-reporters and prevent student-athletes from talking to the press. The UO Senate called for an investigation back in November, and President Schill commissioned it from the GCO. Jack Pitcher should have a story in the Emerald later today. Meanwhile here’s some history.

Back in 2011, Duck Football spokesperson Dave Williford took to the pages of the NYT to attack a research paper by 3 UO economists that showed a link between Duck football wins and declining grades for UO’s male students. President Lariviere made him apologize. Not clear how Pres Schill will discipline Williford over the Jacoby case.

Then of course there’s Coach Dana Altman’s successful effort to keep his players from talking to reporters after their #BlackLivesMatter protest. The GC’s report doesn’t investigate this. Odd.

Despite what the GC’s report claims, keeping control of the athlete’s ability to speak freely has been “a long-standing policy” for the athletic department for years. Below is a repost from 2012, back when the Senate was debating Randy Geller’s random drug testing policy for athletes. (Sorry the links are broken now, try the wayback machine.)

The GC’s office doesn’t seem to have obtained any emails or documents from the athletic department regarding those incidents that they do investigate – they simply rely on interviews (and one snippet from a Williford powerpoint). That’s a rather surprising lack of due diligence, given how eager the GC was to use the public records law to get copies of my emails with reporters about academic freedom.

That said, the GC’s report does make some helpful if milquetoast recommendations for improvements in the athletic department’s policies. It’s hard to believe they will be enforced however, given the GC report’s failure to hold the athletic department accountable for their efforts to intimidate Jacoby and other reporters – or even accurately describe the athletic department’s actual policies and practices.

10/9/2012 Teach your children well:

Posted yesterday on the UO athletic department’s website:

There is misinformation about the University of Oregon Athletic Department’s interview policy for student-athletes, coaches and administrators. To provide clarity to this long-standing policy, all interview requests are to be arranged through the Athletic Communications office.

The practice, which is the same at all Pac-12 member institutions, is in place to help manage the interview process for individuals. Student-athletes face the unique challenge of balancing extremely busy schedules involving class, studying, practice, training room and competition. Student-athlete welfare is paramount, and that includes eliminating potentially intrusive situations.

If contacted by a media member unaware of the policy or in blatant disregard for the policy, student-athletes and athletic department personnel are instructed to contact the Athletic Communications office to properly schedule the interview. In no way does the policy require student-athletes or department personnel to refrain from sharing their views or opinions on a topic.

It’s all about protecting the athletes from excessive talking. Orwell would love that last sentence – it doesn’t require they keep quiet, it just makes it real clear that the AD will know what they say and that there may be consequences. I’d interview some “student-athletes” what they think of having big brother Craig Pintens looking over their shoulder, but … .

From what I can tell Rob Mullens and his crew felt the need to re-iterate this policy after the recent public meeting on random duck drug testing, where the lone athlete present refused to speak with Register Guard reporter Diane Dietz:

University of Oregon tennis player Lena Macomson listened intently Wednesday at a sparsely attended public hearing on the university’s new policy to require drug tests on a random basis from student athletes.

And though she appeared to be the only athlete in the room – and so the only one potentially subject to the proposed requirement to give a urine sample – she didn’t take the floor to testify as to how she felt about the matter.

Macomson said afterward that she could not speak to a reporter without first getting the permission of Andy McNamara, assistant athletic director for media relations.

Dietz got one player to speak later on the phone, obviously he caught hell for it. I wonder who tells Craig and Andy what they can say to whom?

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15 Responses to Duck student-athletes not to talk to reporters without permission

  1. Anonymous says:

    So student-athletes do not have academic freedom?

    Student-athletes are students with no academic freedom and athletes with no pay – time for a new Prefontaine at UO…

  2. Anas clypeata says:

    Where the hell are Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain and George Orwell when we need them, to write something wonderful and pitch-perfect about student-athletes, and freedom of speech, and the peculiar institution that is the NCAA?

    I like that the policy applies to employees, whether paid or unpaid, of the university, but somehow members of the media are able to display “blatant disregard for the policy.” The propaganda arm of our athletic department is buried so deep in its own product that it believes that you can show disregard for a policy that does not apply to you.

  3. Oryx says:

    This is amazing: “Student-athletes face the unique challenge of balancing extremely busy schedules involving class, studying, practice, training room and competition.” This justifies “eliminating potentially intrusive situations” (e.g. talking to people asking them questions).

    The same logic should apply to students holding jobs, or students working in research labs: they have to balance extremely busy schedules involving class, studying, working, library, research lab, etc. Does this mean we prohibit them from freely speaking also, to “protect” them? I’d say this is appalling, and the answer is obviously ‘no.’ But apparently the Athletic office says ‘yes.’

  4. Anonymous says:

    I am not advocating for the Athletic department’s actions on anything, but a fair critique of this does need to acknowledge that, like it or not, some athletes face public scrutiny much more than most other students. This is a unique situation for some. So, how can we have a reasoned debate about policies that actually are about protecting our students – not about protecting the athletic department from some 19 year old saying something embarrassing to the team?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Mistakes and embarrassment are all part of the learning process. This is a university. We have open discourse so the accurate and truthful information has a fighting chance to emerge.

    • Anonymous says:

      Dog Says

      This an interesting concept that a University is a place in which truthful information has a “fighting chance to emerge”.

      Something is clearly wrong with a University if truth just doesn’t simply emerge as a result of normal University operations.

      Mistakes and embarrassment may be fine learning outcomes for students but I would hope that faculty and admin people have mostly learned all of this in the past.

  6. Anonymous says:

    The athletic department would probably prefer they could keep athletes from speaking to the cops as well, so that stuff like “we smoked it all” wouldn’t get out there. I wonder if athletic dept. reps have already spoken to newly-minted police force DPS about the “proper” procedure for dealing with athletes who are arrested/detained?

  7. Anonymous says:

    The fact that this is brought up as a free speech issue, is embarrassing for this blog and this school. This policy does protect student athletes. The tennis team had a player pass away a few years ago, and members of the team were receiving multiple calls a day from reporters. Its instances like this where this policy is needed. If students elect to give a statement, they are allowed, and they can say whatever they please, without any repercussions. Writing this just loses credibility.

    • UO Matters says:

      You are making a straw-man argument. So far as I can tell no one is saying that athletes be required to talk to the press, or that athletes should be prohibited from asking the athletics communications office to screen requests.

      • Anonymous says:

        “keeping control of the athlete’s ability to speak freely has been “a long-standing policy” for the athletic department for years”

        This would be the straw-man argument. Reading the report, multiple times, it is expressed that student-athletes are allowed to say whatever they please in interviews, and will not face consequences.

        The issue that is mostly discussed, is that an Emerald reporter did not follow protocol. As a child, when you break the rules, you lose certain privileges. How is this any different. There is no infringement of free-speech here.

        • UO Matters says:

          How do you explain Altman’s response to the #BlackLivesMatter protest, or the tennis player’s response to Diane Dietz that she she couldn’t speak about the drug testing policy without approval from athletics, or the fact that athletics has a former state police office (Tom Hart) on staff to monitor athletes use of social media?

          I agree that people should be punished for breaking rules. And so far it’s looking like Williford and Altman and Pintens should be punished for breaking the First Amendment, which is a fairly important rule in my book.

          • Anonymous says:

            Agree, the First Amendment is a pretty important rule. I know that tennis player personally, and she said her point was that she didn’t have advanced enough knowledge to comment.

            Altman’s response is one that, while I don’t agree with, is not incorrect. Their are rules that athletes at the University must abide by to play on their respective sports teams, and I don’t think its fair to speculate about the conversation that was had. At the same time, Altman never said that these players shouldn’t express their opinions. At the same time, I don’t see an argument being made about other views that people find offensive. Colt Lyerla went on a twitter rant saying that Sandy Hook was fake, and was punished. This is a fine line, and one that I think doesn’t come close to being crossed in this instance. There are plenty of things that the athletic department can be criticized for, this just doesn’t seem like one of them.

            • UO Matters says:

              “I know that tennis player personally, and she said her point was that she didn’t have advanced enough knowledge to comment.”

              I don’t believe you, Anonymous.

  8. Anonymous says:

    New general counsel is too smart to get fired over athletics shit, like Grier and Geller did.