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When Athletics Departments Go Too Far

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One month ago, the Daily Texan reported that John Chiles was a 'suspect' in an incident on MLK Boulevard. We noted the paper's story here, but withheld comment because details were so hazy. The Austin Police Department subsequently dropped the investigation.

Now who, if anybody, is the bad guy here? There are only two potentially bad actors in this story: the person who filed the report or the Austin Police Department. One possibility is that someone wrongfully accused John Chiles of something to the police, who then correctly identified him as a person of interest in their investigation. The other is that the police inappropriately identified Chiles as being under investigation for something.

Apparently, though, there's a third possibility, at least in the mind of the University of Texas Athletic Department. That would be the Daily Texan. As the Texan reported on Tuesday :

When the Texan originally reported that APD confirmed Chiles as a suspect, assistant athletics director John Bianco wrote several threatening e-mails to Daily Texan sports editor and journalism senior Ricky Treon, calling him unprofessional and his reporting "untruthful." Bianco warned that other news agencies (and potential employers) "realize how you do business now," which "will hurt you in the long run." He also said that if the Texan's editors didn't pull the post off the blog, "John Chiles would understandably have an issue with the entire paper" which would be "unfortunate for the Texan's long-term working relationship with him."

Again, to replay the chain of events. The Texan has information that the APD is investigating John Chiles. The Texan contacts APD to confirm the information. APD confirms said information. The Texan reports nothing more, nothing less, than what APD has confirmed. When APD later withdraws its investigation, the Texan reports that as well.

All of which begs the question: what in the hell was John Bianco thinking?


The Texas Athletics Department in action.

 

I have some experience working with John, who as the AD for the football team was the point man in setting up my interviews with Duane Akina and Larry MacDuff for last year's football annual. I concluded the experience thinking two things: (1) that he was professional and helpful, and (2) that he would be all over me if I published anything from my interviews on BON.

So I'm both surprised and not at all surprised by this report from the Texan. I'm not at all surprised that John was working aggressively in his role as gatekeeper to the football team. But I'm shocked to hear that he handled this situation as he did.

It's inexcusable. Throwing up a moat and high walls around the football team is understandable.1 Bullying the media - the student newspaper, no less - is way out of bounds. Blurry as the line often seems, the Longhorns football program is not a corporation. It is an extension of the University of Texas.

It is not above the law. It is not immune from media scrutiny. It is not privileged to push around those who dare disturb the kingdom.

John Bianco and the Athletics Department have every right to be as protective of the players as they think proper. There's nothing anyone can do about that, and the media isn't owed any special access to these kids. But there has to be a line, and threatening the media for what was not irresponsible reporting crosses that line.

One of the most common questions I get asked as a Longhorns blogger is why I don't try to get access to the team.

Now you know.

1For the record, I'm not convinced it's the best approach, but that's another story.