The great thing about journalism is the joy of simply following the facts and being in a country where you don't get thrown in jail or beaten for doing so. Ask a great question, get the answer, check the documentation, verify that you're being told the truth or lied to and report what you find. When you ask great questions, regardless of the answer, you'll usually have a worthwhile story to report.
As we head to another fall football season, here are some worthwhile questions to ask.
1. Find a couple top lawyers and ask, what do they see as the legal liability universities may face as an increasing body of scientific evidence demonstrates that playing football causes brain damage? Indeed, research at Purdue University
shows that even among players who suffer no concussions, their performance in basic cognitive tests goes down as the season progresses.
2. A handful of universities make money on football. But at a large number of universities, football is a multimillion dollar budget hole, a fact well documented by the Knight Commission
. With universities across the country facing incredible budget pressures, why does the president of your local university think it's worthwhile to continue to support a program that loses millions of dollars and causes brain damage? By the way, I'm a real football fan (Go Green Bay!). But I have realized the sad fact that in public health terms, we are today with football where we were with smoking in the 1950's. My grandfather suffered severe dementia, and I wonder now if maybe a contributing factor was all the football he played? He played for Carlton College back in the leather helmet days.
3. During the recruiting process, are universities informing potential college athletes of the medical risks of playing football, a sport documented to cause brain damage? Ethically, do your local university officials feel recruits should be appraised of the risk? Sports injuries can have long-lasting effects. Who pays for the college athlete's need for medical care necessitated by the sports-related injury AFTER the athlete leaves college?
4. How much does the medical insurance for your college football team cost? Does the policy provide coverage for head trauma?
5. A couple years ago, the Post & Courier did an excellent piece on drug injections of college athletes
. It's a worthwhile topic for reporters in market after market to examine. How many athletes are getting pain-killing injections? What drugs are being used? Who is making the decision to inject the student athlete? What pressure does the student athlete face to allow the injection, and what happens to the player who objects?
As we examine the huge mess in college athletics, let's hope news management makes a journalistic decision and tells their local sports reporters to put down their pom poms long enough to pick up their pens like the Post & Courier reporters did and report stories of substance. Ohio State University tells me that prior to this year, it had never received a public records request from any Columbus media outlet for Jim Tressel's performance evaluation. After Sports Illustrated did a cover story on the OSU-Tressel mess, Ohio State got lots of public records requests. It didn't take the Associated Press long to find newsworthy information, like the fact Coach Tressel had been rated "unacceptable."
Go after the records! We live in a country where we can do that.