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Washington and the media
Malamute, 23 May 2008

University of Washington football coaches have complained about the media for some time now. Even some prominent boosters have added their two cents, such as Roscoe C. “Torchy” Torrance some fifty years ago.

Current UW coach Tyrone Willingham feels that much of the media nowadays is making news rather than reporting it. He worries about reporters getting their facts straight and how mistakes in reporting can affect his players. Except for the first 25 minutes, Washington’s practices, by and large, are closed to the media. Occasionally, reporters are allowed to attend scrimmages.

Torrance and the slush fund revelations:

In 1956, former Washington football coach John Cherberg took to the airwaves and exposed a slush fund run by Torrance.

Although the local press had known about the slush fund all along, it backstabbed Torrance, treating it as a breaking story. Sports writers, who had been friends with him for years, left him twisting in the wind.

In his biography, Torrance wrote, “There was nothing devious about our organization. The leading citizens in our community contributed to it, and it was general knowledge to the newspapers because Charles P. Lindeman of the Post Intelligencer and Bill, Jack, and Frank Blevins of the Times all contributed to it…There were 75 or more individuals involved at one time or another. Some gave money; some provided jobs or both.

“The Times came out with stories about the slush fund as if nobody knew about it, and the Blethens had been contributing to it for years. I was terribly disappointed in Royal Brougham whom I had known well since 1919. When The Times started to tear me apart, he did nothing in the P-I to support me, and he didn’t even call to give me a boost when he knew that many things being written were untrue.”

Willingham and the media:

The following quotes by Tyrone Willingham were taken from the transcript of a meeting of the National Football Foundation and the Football Writers Association of America, held on May 15, 2008.

“My wife in her early career was a newscaster, and about the time that we had children she made a decision, one, because we had children to take care of them, but the other one was because the media at that time was changing. It was changing in the media what we thought, and we talked about it in our home, that it was changing from reporting news to making news, and to me that's a huge distinction between those two.

“...So therefore I don't have quite the trust in those that are making news as opposed to reporting news.

“But I do limit practice. I limit practice for this reason. In many cases, the error that is often reported by our reporters is not an error by the individual that they reported on. Some days my receivers drop a lot of passes, and yet it'll be written that our quarterback had a terrible day, okay, didn't have completions, didn't do this, and I'm the one that has to go back in there and build my quarterback back up when he's had that public embarrassment about what happened that day, and the accuracy of what is being reported is a problem with me. So therefore I limit that aspect of it, and then I can answer to what did or didn't happen at practice, et cetera.”

Don James and the Fruit-Basket scandal

During a recent interview, a reporter asked former UW coach Don James whom he blamed for what happened with respect to the "Fruit basket" scandal, the specifics of which were exposed in 1992. The severe sanctions leveled against Washington by the Pac-10 conference forced James’ resignation.

“Well for starters, I think it’s the Seattle Times,” said James. “I live in this community and I watch them beat up everybody, not just the football program. I’ve watched them beat up on Boeing and Nordstrom and all the great industries and businesses in this community. They all get beat up by the local press. Maybe that happens everywhere. But I have lived in a lot of places and I haven’t seen it elsewhere."

When James resigned the Washington Job in 1993, he had this to say, “I have decided I can no longer coach in a conference that treats its players and coaches so unfairly. We have suffered for nearly 10 months from media character assassination. By looking at the penalties, it appears we are all guilty, based in large part upon statements of questionable witnesses."

Neuheisel and what he perceives as a Seattle Times vendetta against him, according to Matt Hayes

A controversial four-part series, entitled "Victory and Ruins," recently found the front page of the Seattle Times. Published eight years after the fact (January 2008), it describes what the Times now regards as a winning-at-all-costs mentality associated with the 2000 Husky team that won the Rose Bowl in 2001. The Times alleges that Neuheisel and former AD Barbara Hedges accepted most of what was a "disturbing level of criminal conduct and hooliganism by the players on that team."

Recently, Matt Hayes of the Sporting News contacted Neuheisel to get his reaction to the Times series. ("Neuheisel's take on Seattle Times' series on Huskies.")

Hayes quotes Neuheisel as saying that "he refused comment to the Times on the investigation because he still feels the newspaper has a personal vendetta against him. He told me (Hayes) the same thing four years ago when I went to Seattle to write about his lawsuit against the NCAA and Washington."

During the gambling imbroglio, Neuheisel said the media has "created an image of me that I can't recognize…I wouldn't wish what is going on in my life to happen to anybody. It hit like a tidal wave that you can't get out from underneath."

Willingham's take on "Victory and Ruins"

On May 22, Dennis Dodd of CBS Sportsline interviewed Tyrone Willingham and asked him what he thought of the Times series on the 2000 Rose Bowl team.

(Reference the Dodd interview, "Q & A with Tyrone Willingham," for the questions that elicited the responses below.)

"I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed for all of football. Football has long carried a black eye for that type of behavior. It was embarrassing for the university.

"Why would someone not have trust for the media? Whoa, pretty easy.

"I'm still puzzled at what it accomplished. It did not help any of (the) individuals.

"One of the stories that came out of that was never quite looked at was the one about Curtis Williams. Curtis Williams has a little girl that had to read that story. Nobody ever told her that her that her father was a (a bad guy).

"There were some things in there that weren't quite right. No one ever ran a correction. Yet, coaches are supposed to be open and accessible and spill their souls to people.

"I've never dodged one question that's never been aksed of me."

Richard Linde, aka Malamute can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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