Houston Chronicle becomes Mike Leach’s judge and jury

Our local paper, the Houston Chronicle, wasted no time in acting as judge and jury in the case of the football coach who allegedly (the coach’s version)  made the mistake of giving insufficient playing time to the son of a prominent sports announcer.  Not a model of journalistic objectivity.

“His Way,” your January 9 editorial regarding the firing of coach Mike Leach, is a curious mixture of fact and speculation.  The first half of the piece appears to be a summary of the allegations made against the coach (the player was “forcibly isolated in dark rooms as punishment”), an acknowledgement that the coach had “denied he’d done anything wrong,” and a recognition that Mr. Leach had been an innovative and successful coach.  Your presentation might have been more balanced – other media outlets have reported that Mr. Leach not only denied wrongdoing but indeed denied doing anything “forcibly” or as “punishment,” and that both the player (who was wearing dark glasses at the time) and the team’s trainer were of the opinion that darkened conditions would be helpful to him as a concussion-victim, not harmful or punitive.  Nevertheless, so far, so good – an old-fashioned he said/he said dispute over differing recollections.

On the other hand, the second half of your piece seems to proceed entirely from an assumption that the allegations made by the player were factually correct, and that the counter-allegations made by Mr. Leach were not.  For example, you state that Mr. Leach’s “antiquated methods for disciplining athletes and refusal to accept guidance from his superiors created controversy and his eventual dismissal.”  Yet the only evidence you offer that Mr. Leach employed “antiquated methods for disciplining athletes” is that the player (and his famous father and the university) say it is so; clearly, Mr. Leach has said it is not.   Further on, you state that “his treatment of James was not only insensitive, it was irresponsible,” yet your only evidence of such treatment is that the player (and his father and the university) now say that it was; again, Mr. Leach has categorically denied all of this.  The rest of your piece is simply a piling-on of the opinions of people who have no direct knowledge of what actually happened between the coach and the player – namely, the university and one of your sports columnists.

If it is your opinion that the player is the one who is to be believed, and that Mr. Leach is not credible, that is certainly your prerogative, as a presenter of opinions(In that event, it would be appreciated if you would come forward with your views as to why Mr. Leach should be considered less credible than one of his players.)  But that is not what you have done.  You have leapfrogged that entire step, and you have simply adopted the player’s allegations as though they were fact.  A reasonable person certainly might agree that, if the player’s allegations were factually correct, the university was justified in doing what it did.  On the other hand, if Mr. Leach’s responses were the correct statements, and the player’s allegations were false, then the university most definitely was not justified in its actions – indeed, the university’s motivation might in fact have been that it was simply looking for an excuse to terminate a coaching contract that, with hindsight, it wished it had not signed.
[Posted on mecmoss.com 10 Feb 2012]

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