Haunted by the Ghost of Art Briles


As the college football season continues, the tantalizing specter of Art Briles will be dangled, almost mockingly, before college football fans desperate for offensive success.

The words of a few anonymous sources will be verbally whooshed into a flame as quickly and as substantially as the Toomer’s Corner toilet paper that caught fire after the celebration had subsided.

The fanbases that must endure such speculation comprise an impressive number of decent folk horrified both by what unfolded at Baylor and the ease with which the specter of Briles is summoned forth.

Perhaps that is the sentence of cheering for a struggling football program, but that makes it no less pleasant.  What could cause such anger directed by myself and others at such reports?

I can speak only for myself, but it seems that many in the audience share my feelings, and it would be wise to consider them as well.

To me, the supposed courting of Briles represents an insensitivity toward the women of Auburn, particularly our female students, and those of us who treasure them.

I will cite the one case I am most aware of and have discussed before. On June 25, 2014, Baylor football player Sam Ukwuachu was indicted for sexual assault for assaulting a freshman women’s soccer player. On July 3, he was arrested, and on July 9, he posted bond and was released.

From those dates, until Aug. 5, 2015, when the Waco Tribune-Herald announced his upcoming trial, almost none of Baylor’s female students knew that a young man facing trial on felony sexual assault was walking their campus and taking classes toward a degree that he completed in May 2015.

The Baylor administration did not tell them. The county district attorney and city police did not tell them.

The Waco Tribune-Herald — the most credible local news site entrusted with the mission of informing the community about more than football results — did not tell them, for whatever reason.

And Art Briles did not tell them.

It turned out that Ukwuachu was not the only one. Names like Tevin Elliot, convicted before Ukwuachu’s arrest, and Shawn Oakman, indicted after, indicated what many described as a “rape culture” on Briles’ watch.

The Pepper Hamilton report commissioned by Baylor went even further.  It accused the football coaches and staff under Briles’ leadership of “inappropriate involvement in disciplinary and criminal matters … that reinforced an overall perception that football was above the rules.”

Further, the report claimed, when the football staff “conducted their own untrained internal inquiries,” they “improperly discredited complainants” (also called victim-blaming or victim-shaming) “and denied them the right to a fair, impartial and informed investigation.”

Would it be wrong for female students at institutions like Auburn to feel insulted, even tortured, when Briles’ name is breathlessly mentioned just a few months later?

The revulsion at the mention of Briles’ name and what it represents — off the field, not on the scoreboard — within almost any college community reflects that community’s hopes for what its college considers important.

Such communities are troubled when they see Briles strategically set before an ESPN College GameDay interviewer, speaking vaguely enough to protect himself but emotionally enough to advance his brand.

Certainly a few folks who value football above everything else will advocate for Briles. They will seek cover behind easily granted anonymity, inflating the perception of their influence.

Personally, I would doubt that Auburn, or any CFB program, would take it further.  Before that perception is allowed to take flame, however, I would encourage everyone involved to consider the treasure that is entrusted to the Auburn campus — the young people, particularly the daughters, who populate our campus.

They and their families deserve to know that Auburn will do everything to protect them, and that includes shunning an offensive guru who, when in a position to influence and educate, took actions that diminished the security of the women at another campus.

That is why so many of us, who also comprise the readership of reports related to Briles, feel a certain torture at reading them.

Why I/We Hate Plagiarism

The whole Melania Trump-Michelle Obama speeches story has caused an outcry within the media.  For the record, here is the biggest of the plagiarisms–first, Trump’s excerpt, then Obama’s:


speeches2Most folks might find the Melania mania overblown, but it is happening for a good reason, one that has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with journalism:

While the media are reporting an important convention-related story, it’s more than that.  Because it involves plagiarism, we journalists are also reminding ourselves, by our strong response, just how repulsive we find the use of others’ words and ideas without credit.

Personally, as an academic and a journalist, I find plagiarism the worst offense against the printed word — worse than bias or even inaccuracy.  While I can’t speak for all journalists or all academics, I would predict it’s close to the unforgivable sin for both professions.

In the world of ideas, plagiarism is theft; it is the stealing of someone else’s communication of their thoughts, the essence of what sets us apart as humans.

Plagiarism is fraud; it’s a shortcut for someone who wants to be thought of as creative, enlightening and productive without actually being creative, enlightening and productive. It’s a lie.

Plagiarism is dumb; in the age of Google, it is so easily detected. It’s an insult to me that a student would even try. Do they really think I am as lazy and dumb as they are?

For all of the accuracy and bias accusations made against the news media (and often peremptorily discussed without sufficient response by journalists), plagiarism is dealt with quickly and severely. Whether by a professor or by an editor, the perpetrator is justly punished.

When is the last time you have heard of an accusation of plagiarism by a journalist that the defended the way that the Trump campaign is defending Melania? If one is out there, I’m not aware of it.

(And don’t mention Obama’s plagiarism of words by his friend, Deval Patrick. It was reported, Obama had a press conference to openly address it, and he admitted that these were ideas he and Patrick had discussed.)

Particularly in an age of social media, when we quickly and clearly see evidence of a journalist or an academic committing plagiarism, we want to move straight from evidence to sentencing.

I hear critics minimize the plagiarism as the stuff of politics, filled with bland platitudes that are certainly repeated, to everyone’s boredom. If that’s how politicians want to be, that’s their business.

But I won’t brush it off.  My personal ethic is to credit where I read things, even through h/t’s on Twitter. Even if I can’t remember the source, I will point out that the words are not original to me.

Ideas, and the words that express them, are too important. When an individual thinks and crafts words that move a reader or an audience, it is a wonderful process. (That we forfeit the wonder of reading such words to less intellectually stimulating pursuits is to our own loss.)

Whoever worked with Melania Trump so poorly corrupted what had been a special moment. To rationalize or breeze past it is a disgrace to any thinking human being, particularly one who aspires to be President of the United States.

The Punt-Away Juror: How I Missed Being a Juror in the Mike Hubbard Trial

The verdict is in: I’m an idiot.

I could have been in the jury pool for the Mike Hubbard trial in Opelika.

It all started when I received the following in early April:


Could it be? The Holy Grail of Lee County trials? The trial of Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard on 23 felony charges related to ethics violations?

Mind you, my excitement related more to being part of an event, a happening, something historic.

Yes, I have read my own tweets about the evidence and the delays. I harbored no illusions.  But still; this would be awesome.

I realize that Judge Jacob Walker III had mentioned an earlier trial that he would need to clear out before the Hubbard trial could begin, so I was also prepared for that.

Then, a couple of weeks later, I received a juror’s questionnaire. A long one. Lots of questions about crime, politics, the courts.  And the questionnaire cautioned that the trial could last three weeks. That was the tip.

So I sent it in and then prepared myself. I stopped tweeting about the trial and talked about it only a little. I told a few friends, when it was relevant, about the jury pool thing. They thought it was funny too.

Then my stupidity set in.

First, let me plead prior experience — and while I do so, sound like one of my own students after missing a class event.

I had been called to jury duty twice when I lived in California. You were notified that you were in the pool, then the day before, you were contacted and told whether to show up.

Then, I noted in the papers that jury selection would begin on May 16.  Yes, I KNOW that I did not hear anything from Trisha Campbell, court administrator. Yes, I KNOW that my most recent official instructions said May 9.

So, after not getting a call I wasn’t promised, I did what any know-it-all professor would do. I didn’t show up. I looked forward to the fun on May 16.

Friday morning, at our weekly Chappy’s crew breakfast, I even asked Sheriff Jay Jones about parking. He told me it would be catch-as-catch-can, but he pointed out a couple of less-used parking areas.

Then, the afternoon mail brought this letter:


I was mortified, more than usual. When I teach Reporting, I take my students to cover trials at Lee County District Court.  Trisha Campbell and her assistant, Rebecca, have always been helpful to my students — letting us know which trials were at a better point for coverage.

And now, I had blown her off. I e-mailed her immediately and apologized.

So on Monday morning, while Alabama news hounds focused on the T.K. Davis Justice Center, I typed this blog.  I also served on the jury for a master’s thesis defense, since I had lost my excused absence.

I would not march into Judge Walker’s court with 100-plus other prospective jurors and hope that Elizabeth White (WTVM) or Katherine Haas (Opelika-Auburn News) would see me.

All because I am a too-cool-for-school idiot who can’t follow directions. Don’t look at me. It’s too hideous.

We went to Price’s BBQ house for breakfast, to soothe the hurt. There I saw Dr. Gerald Johnson, another Chappy’s regular and a former political science professor. He was disappointed. “You could have been a footnote to history,” he said. “Now you are a footnote to a footnote.”

Or maybe ignorant foot fungus to a footnote.

I seriously doubt that I would have ended up on the jury. They hear “professor,” they hear “journalism,” and if it were possible, a spring-loaded chair would have boing-ed me back to the catch-as-catch-can parking lot.


Plus, I hear that employment at Auburn disqualified a few prospective jurors anyway.

But I have learned my lesson. So I can announce: if anything comes of the charges against Gov. Bentley, Roy Moore, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Queen Elizabeth, or anyone, I am willing to serve.

I’ve got this “show up at the correct date and time” thing down, I think.