Longtime prominent Kentucky sportswriter Billy Reed told University of Kentucky journalism students Monday that UK Athletics did a disservice to the university's mission in recently revoking the student newspaper's access to an invitation-only media event.
The panel discussion that also included editors from the student newspaper was to include UK Athletics spokesman DeWayne Peevy, whose actions were at the center of the controversy that has drawn attention from national journalism groups. However, Peevy on Friday canceled his commitment to appear because UK Athletics was holding its weekly football news conference Monday.
He told the Herald-Leader that he hadn't committed to a certain date for the panel and that when he learned it was the Monday of the week the Wildcats would play the University of Louisville, "that was a tough one for us not to use everybody we had available."
Asked why he didn't suggest a different date for the event, Peevy said, "I assumed it was something set in stone and not just around me."
Never miss a local story.
He said he suggested that the student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists instead invite a former UK Athletics employee, Eric Lindsey, who had been a Kernel sportswriter. Organizer Brooke McCloud said, though, that there wasn't enough time to reach out to Lindsey and that the organizers had wanted Peevy to appear.
At the panel, Reed, a former sports columnist for The Courier-Journal and the Herald-Leader, told the room of about 25 students and faculty, "The real issue isn't about them being concerned about interview requests. It's about control. They want to control their product ... because this is a big business."
The issue arose when Aaron Smith, a managing editor and sportswriter at the Kentucky Kernel, contacted two students who had been identified as walk-ons by UK basketball player Anthony Davis on Twitter, although UK Athletics had not identified them as such at that point. Smith found phone numbers for the two in the UK student directory and called them. After they confirmed they were walk-ons, Smith asked the players to discuss it further. That second question, Peevy has said, violated a written policy by UK Athletics requiring members of the media to contact media relations employees to set up interviews. Because of the sportswriter's actions, Peevy rescinded an invitation to the Kernel to have one-on-one interviews with the basketball players.
That angered local and national journalism groups, which said the move amounted to a violation of the First Amendment because Smith was essentially punished for what he reported and wrote.
"I certainly think (Peevy) has a right to set policies for how people get credentials, how they behave at the press table or press box at games or things like that," said Reed, who is now executive scholar in residence at Georgetown College. "But he is far exceeding his authority in thinking he can set policies for how reporters cover sports.
"It's preposterous to me that the athletics department thinks that they can prevent one student here from talking to another student. I mean, please."
Reed also said he was disappointed that Jay Blanton, the spokesman for UK's president, Eli Capilouto, declined to address the issue and deferred to Peevy.
"When it comes to the mission of this university ... it's a lot more important that this university turn out great journalists than professional basketball players," Reed said.
Blanton declined to comment Monday.
The Kernel's editor-in-chief, Taylor Moak, said she thought Peevy overreacted by pulling the Kernel's invitation to the event for selected media. "I think Peevy could have reminded Aaron, 'Hey, next time, give us a call.'"
Reed and the student journalists also questioned how the interview policy would have applied if Smith had contacted the pair on Facebook or Twitter because, Reed pointed out, UK basketball Coach "John Calipari gives out the Twitter addresses of his own players."
"For UK Athletics to tell us we can't talk to another student in essence because we're journalists, I think that's crazy," Moak said. "Any student on campus can go up and talk to them or Facebook them or tweet them."
The Kernel's editors said they think there won't be any long-term consequences from the recent incident.
"I don't see any problems long-term," said Kernel managing editor Becca Clemons, noting Smith and Peevy "had a good relationship before this, and I think they had a good relationship afterward now, too."
Peevy concurred Monday, telling the Herald-Leader "the Kernel and I have moved on."
"I don't have any issues with Aaron or anyone else with the Kernel," he said.