By Frank D. LoMonte
If I were sitting in the newsroom of The Kernel, the University of Kentucky newspaper whose reporter was banned from a basketball-team interview session as punishment for phoning two walk-on players without permission from the athletic department, here's exactly what I'd say:
Guys, this is your lucky day. Kris Kristofferson was right, "Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose." The day that UK decided to yank your interview privileges was Liberation Day. You're free.
Let's face it, what were you going to get at UK's "special access" interview day? "We're gonna give it 110 percent?" "We're just going to take it one game at a time?" You could've written the story from your beach chair. Heck, you could've interviewed your beach chair.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
Where I'm from in Georgia, we reliably elect governors that are some combination of stupid, mean and corrupt. And sometime before the end of a four-year term, the governor just as reliably will stop granting interviews to the "lyin' Atlanta newspapers" who've poked under his thin skin once too often.
Does that stop the papers from writing about him? Hardly. They bombard his office with freedom-of-information requests for his emails and travel schedules. They dig relentlessly through his campaign disclosure forms and tax returns. They build a paper trail, more revealing than any interview, that tells their readers what the governor is really up to.
Guys, think of all the time you'll save not writing those "exclusive interview" stories about how it's time to bring the "A" game and get one in the "W" column. Here's what you can do with that time.
You can write about the program's academics.
The Associated Press just reported that varsity athletes nationwide tend to "cluster" in known low-stress majors, like general studies.
Where are UK's athletes enrolled, and are they seeking out extra-lenient professors with ties to the athletic department? What's being spent on tutors (or "academic coaches") — and who's doing the tutoring?
You can write about the program's finances.
The UK Athletics Association took in $78.7 million last year. How much of that came from the university — and how much was given back? (You'd be surprised how few athletics programs actually pay their own way. Most, even at big-time sports schools, are net money-losers.) More than $3.7 million of that went for legal fees. To whom? For what?
You can write about the program's ethics.
Who are the biggest financial contributors to the athletics department — and what do they get for their money? How many complementary tickets are given out, who gets them, and are they being re-sold? Who, besides players, gets to fly on the team airplane?
Who needs the sports information department? You're not covering a sport anymore, guys — you're covering a business.
By the end of the season, sports information will be begging you for that "exclusive" Sunday feature about the walk-on phenom with the wooden leg who's blind in one eye and grew up sleeping in the same bed with his 16 brothers.
Tell them to leave the press release in your beach chair.
Attorney Frank D. LoMonte, a former newspaper reporter, is executive director of the Student Press Law Center, a nonprofit in Arlington, Va., serving student media.