UNC-CHeats Achieve “Redemption”

 

If there were anything even approaching equal justice under the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the organization that enforces the rules by which member basketball teams supposedly play, the Tar Heels of the University of North Carolina would not even have been permitted to participate in the tournament that determines the national champion, either this year or last year.  They have been caught in a massive cheating scandal that dwarfs anything ever discovered at any other college or university.  In a scheme that began with the men’s basketball program but then expanded to include football players, women’s basketball players, and then other athletes and a disproportionately small number of just plain students, essentially sham classes were created in which “student-athletes” could remain eligible to play under the NCAA’s rules while doing basically no academic work and learning nothing, except maybe how to cheat.  The university has responded by hiring lawyers and public relations firms and hiring an outside consultant who they probably thought would perpetuate their ongoing cover-up but ended up spilling more beans, instead.  The expense of all that resistance so far, by latest count, has been a cool $17.6 million.

 

At least, through their shameless stalling tactics they were able to postpone punishment that, at the very least, should make them ineligible to compete for post-season honors for a number of years.  By doing so, they were able to make it to the championship game last year, only to lose on a last-second shot to Villanova and to win the top trophy this year against Gonzaga.

 

It was against this backdrop that I opened my Washington Post on the day of the final game and read the following headline on the continuation page of an article by Chuck Culpepper: “Tar Heels are seeking redemption in title game return.” I suppose I should not have been surprised.  It has been clear to me for many years now that The Post is not exactly a Christian newspaper; in fact, it is probably better described as a fiercely anti-Christian newspaper.  Still, I thought that they should have a better feel for the meaning of English-language words and the overall context in which they were using the word “redemption,” particularly as we approached Holy Week.  One of the definitions of “redeem” in my dictionary is “to deliver from sin and its penalties, as by a sacrifice made for the sinner.”  Even in purely sports terms, the use of “redemption” here is a stretch because the Tar Heels played well and mounted a valiant comeback last year in the game against Villanova, only to fall short against what was probably a superior team. 

 

I promptly registered my objection to the use of the word with a comment online, and to make sure he didn’t miss it, I called Mr. Culpepper’s attention to the comment with the following email:

 

Hi Chuck,

 

I know you don’t write the headlines, but you might have worked the subject of my comment into your article somewhere:

 

The continuation page headline for this article in the print edition has this very inappropriate headline: "Tar Heels are seeking redemption in title game return." There can be no redemption without confession and acceptance of the consequences of one's sins.  The March 31 NY Times headline was, by contrast, on the mark: "North Carolina's Dominance Fails to Cover Cheating's Stain."

 

That New York Times article has this memorable passage, speaking of long-time UNC coach, Roy Williams:

“When it all shakes out,” Gonzaga Coach Mark Few said, “he’ll be one of the Mount Rushmore types in college coaching.”

I’d genuflect myself, if only I could administer a mind wipe.

I definitely caught Culpepper’s attention, because he responded promptly with this email:

 

Hi Dave,

 

Many thanks for writing. 

 

The story to which you refer, by an author I admire greatly, did not mention the central facet to which the investigation might wind up distilling: that thousands of non-athletes took the courses. On this, the outcome may well hinge, via the NCAA rule book

 

As for a daily matter of writing about these teams, though, you just compared an opinion piece to a non-opinion feature. They aren't comparable, and that fact goes into the routine decision of what to include on a given day. 

 

I was talking to a bunch of close followers of the case the other day. I don't think you're going to get a desired outcome, even though your concerns and points are unquestionably valid.

 

The response was at the same time gratifying and exasperating.  It was gratifying because Culpepper explicitly acknowledged the worth of my objection to their headline and by praise of Michael Powell of The New York Times he acknowledged that what we see taking place is a profound injustice.  The exasperation comes from the fact that he and his newspaper seem to be okay with that.  And even though he invoked the authority of “a bunch of close followers of the case,” in speaking of the would-be extenuating fact that lots of non-athletes took the bogus courses he betrayed his own lack of knowledge of the latest developments in the case.  

 

Culpepper Reflects Post Attitude

 

Most troubling of all was his apparent blithe attitude toward the continuing miscarriage of justice.  That attitude had been on display in a puff piece by The Post’s Adam Kilgore a few days before entitled, “North Carolina never loses transfers, in an age when every team does. 

 

That article had produced a raft of outraged readers’ comments:

 

Read the Wainstein Report or any of Dan Kane's (Raleigh News & Observer) multiple articles on the subject and you'll get a better picture of why players rarely leave that place.

 

They pay well in Chapel Hill. Cash, Cars, houses for parents, fake jobs for parents, free drugs from a notorious Durham drug dealer fan boy, few or no classes and still basically guaranteed a diploma. Even when the draft value of UNC player goes down by staying a few extra years to play for them, those players are taken care of. Many still make NBA rosters, even though they are dime-a-dozen end of the bench players, due to the connections established via Michael Jordan. I have to credit Dean, the media, the UNC journalism school, the big money Alum, and the UNC administration for creating (and even sustaining after getting caught red handed) the largest scam in the history of college sports. Great work guys. Yeah, we won!

 

Roy is just as dirty as Dean. Roy ran the same scam at Kansas. He used Wayne Walden at both Kansas and UNC to run the no class scams, including AFAM at UNC. Among other major violations. All the while, the media kept publicly glorifying UNC as doing it "The Right Way" or "The Carolina Way". Let's just say they took cheating to an astronomical level and will most likely skate since they are THE most influential University in the NCAA.

 

Those are three separate comments by one “Mike Pack.” From his screen name we may surmise that he is likely to be a fan of the North Carolina State Wolfpack.  The forums of the web site for fans of NC State, Pack Pride, have consistently led the way in reporting on the various transgressions in the UNC athletic program, even ahead of the News and Observer’s Dan Kane.  Then we have from runnerguy45:

 

Well UNC handed out degrees where kids didn't have to even show up and received degrees in African American studies. Beautiful campus, pretty girls and you don't have to go to class and get a degree!!! It's a good deal if you can get it!!

 

That comment produced this reasonable follow-up from one DaytonMDJohn:  

 

Why doesn't the WP run an article on this? In my opinion it's possibly the biggest scandal ever in college athletics. The NCAA has not issued any sanctions what so ever against North Carolina for this even though it ran for many years and allowed hundreds of North Carolina athletes to maintain acceptable GPAs and then to graduate. The NCAA argument is that since half of the more than 3000 students who took the phony courses were not athletes the athletic program should not be punished. Total bull, and the NC argument that coaches and team academic advisors knew nothing about the phony classes is not credible. Look into it WP, the NCAA needs to step up and NC needs to be held accountable.

 

One nutstobolts opined:

 

Every win in the last 10 years should be taken away, as well as the current coach fired. They should be suspended from any type of sports for the same amount of time.

 

As of now, there have been only 22 comments, of which mine was third from the last:

 

You make it all sound so nice and "family." Don't you think the fancy cars, the payment of their parking tickets, and the various other under-the-table perquisites might have something to do with the players' willingness to hang around? See http://www.wralsportsfan.com/list-of-current-forme... and http://dcdave.com/article5/160107.htm

 

On the day of the championship game, which was the same day as the Culpepper piece ran this comment came in from “Mark Michaels”:

 

The NCAA allows UNC to cheat without punishment, that's a big advantage. UNC engaged in widespread academic cheating by over a thousand athletes over many years, if you don't go to class and still get passing grades, why transfer? Their final four appearance shows the NCAA plays favorites and is a stain on college athletics.

 

It was with that background in mind and other manifest failings by The Post that I responded to Culpepper:

 

Hi Chuck,

 

You know as well as I do that I was not faulting your article in particular but your newspaper for the way it has virtually ignored this enormous story, never having written anything even remotely comparable to that New York Times commentary or this one from CBS Sports.   Who at The Post is protecting the UNC miscreants?  And how about this latest foot-dragging from the perpetrators, on its face, of the biggest athletic/academic scandal in U.S. history? They’re able to get by with it because opinion molders like your paper, ESPN, and, yes, even CBS Sports commentators covering the games continue to look the other way.

 

As for the fact that some fraternity boys found out about the fake classes and got in on the gravy train, that’s one that left the station well before the Weinstein Report was made public and the case was re-opened.  You do know that, don’t you?

 

Get with it, Posties, and give this huge news the reporting it deserves.  If the “desired outcome” that you talk about is not forthcoming, surely you know that you and your colleagues would deserve a large part of the blame for not properly holding the NCAA’s feet to the fire.  Why have you left the job to concerned citizens like me and Professor Jay Smith?  

 

Dave

 

The “Jay Smith” reference was to the book, Cheated: The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports that Smith co-authored with Mary Willingham and I reviewed here.  That produced this prompt response from Culpepper:

 

Dear David,

 

You're serially inaccurate there, right from the top with, "You know as well as I do . . ." 

 

We've had a bushel of stories about it, including one today, written from here in Arizona (which was part of the reason I steered clear today), and a loud one last tournament, which caused a stir especially in the head of Roy Williams. 

 

I would say, though, that I can't remember one of our columnists sharing the adamancy of Michael Powell (even with the glaring omission in that column), so that could be a viable point, unless I missed an adamant Post column somewhere. Our columnists: Amherst, Duke, Duke, Stanford, Western Kentucky, Delaware.

 

What's not a point, though, is your irresponsible venture into the evidence-free conspiracy zone. Nobody among our writers or decision-makers went to UNC, which is about 95-percent irrelevant anyway, because once you've done this work for a while, those old rooting styles drain away for 95 percent of us. (Check out UNC graduate S.L. Price of Sports Illustrated after Dean Smith's death, for one sterling example.) 

 

Let's see, our department, off the top of my head and from the top of the department: NYU, Michigan, Kansas, Randolph-Macon, Georgetown, Nebraska, Amherst, Vanderbilt, Duke, Duke, Yale, Yale, Stanford, Western Kentucky, Barnard, Missouri, Georgetown, Syracuse, New Mexico, Almeda, Montana, Northwestern, South Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia. Three schools in there loathe UNC, and I spent my childhood loathing Dean Smith, but that's all gone. 

 

Chuck Culpepper

Washington Post 

 

There’s a lot of bluster in that response, but here is the key passage:  “I can't remember one of our columnists sharing the adamancy of Michael Powell.”  While denouncing me he is agreeing with me that The Post has not weighed in with proper censure of the outrageous actions of the University of North Carolina and the almost equally outrageous failure of the NCAA up to now to levy any punishment.  I emailed him again to agree with him that I had seen nothing like the Powell article and to take issue with his “bushels of stories” claim:

 

Hi Chuck,

 

I assume that this is the article today that you’re talking about with this really hard-hitting relevant passage:

 

With the looming potential of NCAA sanctions stemming from allegations of widespread academic fraud, Carolina’s recruiting has suffered at the highest level — the Tar Heels, despite wooing several candidates, have not landed a one-and-done player since 2007. Missing out on the best players, though, has meant assembling very good players who stick around. Those very good players have come to know and cherish each other’s idiosyncrasies.

 

I am still, amazingly enough, a regular subscriber and an avid ACC basketball fan, and I can assure you that that passage is as tough and revealing as anything that has appeared in The Post on the subject, unless it appeared when I was traveling overseas and I had my delivery stopped though The Post charged me anyway because I would have “access online,” which I did not.  You certainly could have fooled me about those “bushels of stories.”   Dan Kane of the Raleigh News and Observer has written bushels of stories and The New York Times and CBS Sports have written relatively hard-hitting pieces, but The Post has done neither.   

 

Rather, your coverage has been as I describe it in the article to which I linked in my email.  It bears this title, "NCAA Caves on UNC Corruption” and it has this subtitle, “Washington Post Blacks Out the News.”  Just like this week, The New York Times did a relatively honest job of reporting; The Post did not.  

 

If someone higher up hasn’t stuffed a sock in your mouth, then you explain it if I’m the “conspiracist.”   Could it be that the truth might hurt the sale of John Feinstein’s book beatifying Dean Smith?  I know that sounds like a reach, but there must be some explanation.

 

Dave

 

p.s.  ESPN’s Jay Bilas, like Feinstein, went to Duke, but he has been a complete shill for the Tar Heels all during this scandal.  Call me a conspiracist if you will, but I think the fact that he is a lawyer for a firm in the epicenter of Tar Heel fanaticism, Charlotte, goes a long way toward explaining his behavior.

 

That’s where matters stood in the Martin-Culpepper email war until a blatant act of news suppression on the UNC scandal front prompted me to email him again.

 

Post Cover-Up Participation Confirmed

 

Once again, it was the Raleigh News and Observer that broke the story, but other news organs like the Baltimore Sun and ESPN quickly picked up on it.  The Washington Post remained silent.  My email to Culpepper tells the story:

 

Hi Chuck,

 

Your very influential newspaper and your sports page, including all those non-UNC-connected (unlike me) colleagues, seems to be blacking out the huge news that the president of our local university in College Park has said that the NCAA would inflict the athletic “death penalty” on UNC for its “abysmal” scandal.  As you can see, the Baltimore Sun has recognized that his remarks are highly newsworthy.

 

At this point, as I see it, you have three options.  You can ignore this email, you can respond that I was right all along and agree that The Post is protecting the miscreants at UNC, or you can get on the stick and start giving this colossal scandal the coverage that it merits, starting by reporting what Dr. [Wallace] Loh has said.

 

Dave

 

Culpepper did not take option one and ignore my email.  He responded promptly the same day (Tuesday, April 11):

 

Dear David,

 

There has been an ongoing discussion between one editor and the beat writer about this, about how to proceed. The beat writer did not feel comfortable opining on the matter, so it shifted to me just moments ago. I was off today but would like to write something as I think this case will be important. 

 

As for your earlier messages, they remain completely irresponsible.

 

Chuck 

 

That’s quite some power and influence the beat writer on college sports seems to have at The Post.  The newspaper just ignores big news that happens to be outside his comfort zone.  It must be Feinstein.  I can see why Culpepper might feel some ill will toward me because I apparently ruined his day off work.  At 5 pm the same day his article entitled Maryland president ‘would think’ UNC gets death penalty.  One would think he is out to lunch” appeared on the Post web site.  It never made the print edition and after a day you couldn’t even find it on their web site unless you knew the web address. 

 

The title really says it all.  Hidden away though it was, enough “completely irresponsible” readers managed to find it to show their displeasure and disagreement with the sentiments expressed.  Here is one of the best by Rod_Johnson:

 

Ask yourselves what would happen if it had been UNLV, or Oklahoma admitting to providing athletes with fake classes for over 20 years. They would have been shut down in 3 months. But UNC continues to skate, and will continue to skate. Why? Because the NCAA and ESPN make huge $$$ off of UNC basketball. That’s it. This is not about being "tribal" or any rah rah BS. This is about a university being caught red-handed in the most blatant case of academic fraud (in fact, the textbook definition of it) and receiving no punishment. It sure would be nice of some sportswriters would discover their backbone and call out the NCAA. You know it won’t be CBS or ESPN, the only time they mentioned it was as a 'distraction for Roy'.

 

Having weighed in with an article, with my prompting, on the Loh observation, The Post was then able to link to it the next day with another online-only article, this time by junior writer Scott Allen entitled “Roy Williams suggests Maryland president is a ‘double idiot’ for ‘death penalty’ comments.” Williams was responding to a really incredible question on a satellite radio call-in show as to whether the NCAA men’s basketball championship the Tar Heels won earlier this month carried any “special significance because of all the junk the university has had to deal with” with regards to the fallout of the scandal.  Here was his response:

 

“It’s one of the reasons, there’s no question about that, because there has been a lot of junk and people have questioned my integrity,” said Williams, who fielded questions about the scandal throughout North Carolina’s NCAA tournament run. “Even since we won, people have come out and said some things without information. They’ve just gone by what somebody else has said, and I know what has been done, I know what the facts are. That’s been really hurtful. Some people in the media that I never thought would go out and say some things without having all the information. And then we have a president that says we should get the death penalty — a president of another university. I mean, to me, that’s just so silly. A guy told me one time, ‘If you get a little knowledge and it turns you into an idiot, but no knowledge, you’re a double idiot,’ and that’s about the way I look at that thing. But no, it was especially satisfying in a lot of different ways, and that was one of them.”

 

Roy Williams and probably a lot of UNC sports devotees believe that they have actually achieved redemption in every sense of the word simply by dint of having won the NCAA tournament.  And if one knows no more about UNC’s massive cheating scandal than what he might read in The Post, he might even agree with Ole Roy and think the allegations amount to nothing more than “junk.”  Unlike this writer and the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg Businessweek, after all, The Post didn’t even bother to review the Smith-Willingham book.  And in spite of my protest over their tone-deaf use of the word “redemption,” when the Tar Heels won, “North Carolina gets redemption…” was above the masthead on their front page the next day and “Tar Heels find redemption…” headlined their article on the front page of the sports section.  Sigh!

 

David Martin

April 13, 2017

 

See also “Silence Broken in UNC Athletic Scandal.”

 

 

 

 

Home Page    Column    Column 5 Archive    Contact