Thursday, December 07, 2006

Journalistic ethics vs. personal ethics - Updated

On Tuesday December 5th TMH published an article entitled "The only game in town" by sports reporter Brian Costa. The story is about the Lakeland High School football team, the Dreadnaughts. Ostensibly it portrays Lakeland as the kind of football-crazed town that is depicted in the book/movie/TV series Friday Night Lights.

But toward the end of the article Costa reveals a bigger story about one of Lakeland's star players, Chris Rainey:

Then there are the rewards that come with recognition. Rainey said a local clothing vendor recently gave him a bag full of sports jerseys and jewelry in exchange for his autograph. Another time, an elderly woman approached him at a restaurant, gave him a hug and handed him a wad of cash.

''I didn't even count it,'' Rainey said. "When I walk around, people are buying me food, giving me money. I'm like, damn, I'm glad I'm Chris Rainey. It's real nice to be me.''

The same day that the article was published the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) opened
an investigation on Rainey and the gifts he received.

I should, in the interests of full disclosure, mention that Chris Rainey has made a verbal commitment to attend my alma mater, The University of Florida, and that I am big supporter of UF athletics. I even have a Gator blog.

It's obvious that Rainey was ignorant of the FHSAA rules that prohibit the acceptance of gifts, otherwise he wouldn't have mentioned it to a reporter. What's more, considering the way he boasted about it, it's pretty apparent that Rainey didn't really have an inkling that this might be considered questionable behavior.

I'm not going to get into what Rainey should have known beyond saying that a school with a high profile, like Lakeland, needs to do a better job teaching its athletes about the rules, the violation of which could jeopardize their amateur status and thus their eligibility at the high school level and beyond.

I don't really have a problem with the story. It's pretty straight forward. What disturbed me was the audio of the interview. In it, we can hear Costa himself being very friendly with Rainey and saying "that's awesome" in response to Rainey's unwitting confession and continuing to probe into what gifts Rainey received.

I'm not sure that Costa knew the exact rule, but it would be hard to believe that his antenna didn't go up when he heard the account. Here we have a young man with, potentially, a very bright future ahead of him being egged into confessing a violation by a man, presumably older and wiser, with the power to ruin his future with a few clicks of the keyboard.

Much ado was made of journalistic ethics, by TMH, in the wake of the Martí Moonlighters affair. Costa didn't violate any code of journalistic ethics in this case. He did what good reporters do, he uncovered wrong doing, and used his guile to get the wrong-doer to confess the details. It's times like these that I'm glad I'm not a journalist. If I were Costa I don't think I could live with myself.

One last note. The transcript of the interview as published on The Herald's web site ommits the "That's awesome" line which is clearly audible in the audio file. I wonder if that's ethical?

Update: Brian Costa told Herald Watch in an email that he did not know Rainey's taking of money and gifts was a violation of FHSAA rules at the time of the interview.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's funny. I'm not a big sports fan, let alone a sportswriter, and I knew players weren't supposed to take gifts like that, simply from being exposed to stories on that topic previously. Maybe Costa needs to read more sports coverage.