In his “Stories I’d like to see” column, journalist and entrepreneur Steven Brill spotlights topics that, in his opinion, have received insufficient media attention. This article was originally published on Reuters.com.
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’s 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.
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.”
2. Understanding those jobs numbers:
Friday’s release of March’s lower-than-expected new jobs number, accompanied by significant upward revisions in the previously reported tallies for January and February, cries out for a story explaining exactly how the closely-watched numbers are counted (and revised later).
In this space a year ago, I tipped my hat to a terrific Washington Post feature about how the staff at the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics takes elaborate pains to keep the market-moving information secret until its public release at 8:30 on the morning of the first Friday of each month. But the piece did not spend much space nailing down exactly how the jobs survey is done, what its weaknesses and strengths are, and what its track record is vis-a-vis subsequent revisions — an especially pertinent question in light of last Friday’s significant upward adjustments for the prior two months.
I’d even like to know who gets surveyed and how, perhaps by seeing or reading an account from a reporter who watches the BLS people conduct the surveys.
3. Trayvon, Inc?
There were news reports last week that the parents of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teen killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer last year, settled a lawsuit, perhaps for as much as $1 million, that they brought against the homeowners association at the housing complex where their son was shot.
A story about the lawsuit might shed light on how highly-publicized tragedies in America almost always result in settlements like this no matter who, if anyone, is at fault or what the actual legal claim for damages would be. (After all, parents typically can’t claim lost earnings for a deceased child.)
This in turn suggests a broader story for which, sad to say, there is now a lot of fresh material: It would zero in on the curious economics of tragedies like this, focusing on Americans’ apparent impulse to send money to people they sympathize with even if they don’t need the money for anything related to the tragedy and it won’t alleviate their pain.
We saw it with the more than $15 million sent to the families of the Newtown, CT, children — and you can see it here at a website called “JusticeTM,” which solicits contributions for the “Trayvon Martin Foundation.” The purpose of that foundation, its website says, is to “pursue justice on behalf of Trayvon Benjamin Martin.”
What does that mean? The foundation’s required annual filing with the IRS isn’t due yet and won’t be publicly available for at least a year, but the website accepts donation by smart phone of as little as $10. What’s the money used for and how much has been raised?
4. Covering the AUVSI:
What’s the AUVSI? It’s the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. In other words, it’s the drone lobby. And if you think it’s got to be a new organization because drones have only recently become a big deal, think again. It was founded, according to its website, in 1978, although it went international, adding the “I,” in 1996. According to the website, AUVSI lobbies on issues from “air space” to “frequency spectrum.” Its “Diamond,” “Platinum,” “Gold,” and “Silver” level members include corporations from Boeing to Raytheon to GE to Lockheed Martin to companies you’ve never heard of but that sound pretty out there — such as Blue Fin Robotics, whose website says it makes “autonomous underwater vehicles.”
Any news organization looking for a window into this hot industry and all the regulatory, technical and policy issues associated with it, should drop in on the folks at AUVSI and see what they do all day.