Keep the Foy Trophy, Remember the Foy Legacy

The careless debacle that was Wednesday night’s Foy-ODK Sportsmanship Trophy presentation was sad on so many levels.

What’s saddest is that the actions by the participants reinforced a lack of awareness of who Dean Jim Foy was and what he represented — a memory the trophy is supposed to preserve.

First, let’s talk about Dean Foy. He was born into an Auburn family, but graduated from Alabama. His family moved to Tuscaloosa after his father died, and he worked three jobs to finance his education there. He and Bear Bryant were Sigma Nu pledge brothers.

He became dean of men at Auburn in 1950, a title later modified to dean of students. Foy served 28 years before retiring in 1978.  I was honored to serve as Plainsman editor his last year; he allowed us to break the news of his retirement.

He was known for leading War Eagle cheers (particularly in a weekly competition on Fridays with the Student Union staff), but also helped guide Auburn through integration and the social upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s.

But more than that, he used his background and life as a model for toning down the Auburn-Alabama rivalry and encouraging it toward sane boundaries.

As so often happens, however, his legacy has been forgotten by succeeding generations of students.  When the new Student Center opened in 2008, many of us alumni lobbied to have it named for Dean Foy, as the Student Union had been.

The SGA Student Senate considered a resolution supporting it that year, but the resolution was voted down after the SGA president at the time spoke against it. She urged the Senate to give the University flexibility to find a naming sponsor or donor.

Ten years later, it is still merely the Student Center, with Dean Foy’s commemoration limited to the information desk instead of the entire building. He deserves more.

Then, on Wednesday, the trophy named after Foy suffered through yet another ceremony that ignored his legacy. First, the Alabama SGA president made a speech that included a dig at Auburn, noting the six national championships that had been brought to the state since 2009. And Auburn fans, you’re not off the hook for booing her, either.

The tradition is for the Alabama SGA president to lead the singing of the Auburn fight song, to commemorate the winner of the Iron Bowl. It would have been a great opportunity for the Alabama SGA president to cite Dean Foy’s example and follow the tradition. (It would have changed the boos to cheers.)

Instead the Auburn SGA president took the mike and directed the singing to begin — one politician letting another off the hook. It is ironic that the two SGA presidents did work together, but in undermining the legacy intended by the ceremony.

It’s natural for college students to enjoy the traditions of their schools, even as they rush past the individuals who laid the foundation. I have no doubt that my generation was guilty of this as well.

We should do better, however, and honor these traditions in a way that shows our gratitude.

Many wonder if the ceremony should be dumped. That would be the ultimate dishonor to Dean Foy. Why not challenge both SGA presidents to restore the ceremony’s original intent and use it to remind the fans of both schools of Dean Foy’s legacy?

Some reflection and intent are needed. Otherwise, halftime of the Auburn-Alabama basketball game will be marked by a ceremony that is more Updyke than Foy, regardless of who wins the Iron Bowl.

John Carvalho is a professor of journalism at Auburn. He graduated from Auburn in 1978.


Just Say No

I don’t plan to read Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff any time soon. (To confess, Jonathan Eig’s bio of Muhammad Ali is my current sustenance.)

Yes, Wolff’s content, and his uncommitted relationship with accuracy, has caused its own firestorm. For me, however, the lessons to be learned are in public relations, not narrative pseudo-journalism.

Mistake #1: Wolff’s White House access, which created much of the book’s tastiest morsels, seems to be the result of organizational chaos (the Trump White House’s sustenance). With no clear permission or denial, and a vague endorsement from Trump, Wolff was granted access to observe, while Bannon assumed Priebus approved, while Priebus assumed Kushner … , etc.

A clear center of decision-making authority in these access requests, though an impossibility in the Trump White House, is the remedy.

While it’s disturbing to consider that these political professionals were more concerned with their own survival than the President or the country, such is the amoral worst of high-level politics.

It should not be accepted as reasonable, professional behavior, regardless of how close to the apex of political power it occurs.

Mistake #2: A peremptory Internet search would have alerted Trump’s White House staff that Wolff was not a good fly-on-the-wall candidate.  His take-down pieces on everyone from Rupert Murdoch to Christopher Hitchens were there for the Googling.

In 1990, I was director of public information for Azusa Pacific University. A local news radio personality asked if we were interested in hosting a discussion of Malathion, a controversial insecticide being sprayed to control an invasion of Mediterranean fruit flies. Sounded good, so I agreed.

The personality, it turned out, was shock jock Tom Leykis, at his last stop before nationwide syndication. I should have known better, but I didn’t.

Alerted by a frantic APU alum, I turned on Leykis to hear him announce the anti-Malathion rally at Azusa Pacific, timed for an actual spraying. Attendees would stand in the open and dare the helicopters to spray them. Standard academic discourse.

After I canceled the “rally,” Leykis characterized my reversal as a weak-spined concession to alumni pressure. I suppose that was charitable, considering the real reason was my inept unprofessional stupidity.

In the same way, allowing an author like Wolff such access is a doubly-incompetent media relations breakdown by the White House, thus creating an avoidable public image crisis.

My master’s degree from Cal State Fullerton is in public relations, particularly agenda building in the media, and many of my students are public relations majors. I try to pass along advice to them from my experience and studies, while teaching them their required journalism courses.

The best advice I give them overall is, “just say no.” They don’t have to do journalists’ jobs for them (echoing journalists’ complaint that they don’t do law enforcement’s work for them, either). PR folks don’t have to allow journalists access to private property, even if a crime is being investigated. And they certainly don’t have to give a best-selling author access to secure government offices, due diligent Googling or not.

Sure, overall, they will do their organizations wisely by counseling access at appropriate times and not locking down the media 100 percent. It’s a tough balance to work out, but it’s possible.

Their main responsibility is to their organization, however, and an automatic “yes” to media access can cause much more damage than an initial “no”–as the Bannon-Priebus-Kushner brain trust demonstrated in creating this Fire and Fury.

My Bias About Bias

I’m not sure I agree with Tim Layden’s remarks on the decline of objectivity yesterday. But I realize, different biases on my part play in.

I respect and appreciate Tim on a lot of levels, but I’m disagreeing with him here.

First, as I’ll confess and move on, his examples come from broadcasting, and I’ll admit that I don’t consider ESPN’s talking head folks to be journalists, regardless of their backgrounds.

In my typology, once Wilbon, Greenberg, or Stephen A cross that line, they become entertainers, co-opted by a media company in business with the sports organizations they discuss, and there to promote interest in broadcasts more than inform sports fans.

ESPN still employs plenty of journalists like Don Van Natta Jr. and Gene Wojciechowski, but they stay on the other side of that line the above three have crossed. Even Woj’s College GameDay work shares the same firm roots as his other work.

And I do not see the sports reporting profession moving in that direction. Yes, transgressions exist–and I have heard about but not personally observed partisan press boxes, particularly in CFB–but these are recognized as transgressions.

Plus, I discount the notion that sports journalists are 100% objective, uncaring whether the teams they report on win or lose.

They are not cheerleaders, but I do acknowledge that the needle moves a little toward the home team, though it remains within a healthy, “objective-enough” range.

It all relates to the concept researchers refer to as “salience,” which within agenda setting measures the perceived importance of issues or subjects.

Applying this to sports journalism (at the risk of sounding like Professor Obvious), sports journalists can still be objective while also recognizing home team salience to their audience.

Yes, audience members are happier and more positive when the home team does well, and sports journalists report with that in mind. Audience members are unhappy and want their team to be better when they lose, and sports journalists also reflect that side of salience.

It’s not 100% objective. Sports journalists aren’t shaking their heads and sanctimoniously noting that the idea of sports is that someone’s gotta lose, so deal with it.

It’s also not biased, however, because the professional sports journalists still report courageously about deficiencies, instead of ignoring them in a flash of sunshine.

So if they realize that it’s better for their audience, and the community, for the home team to succeed, that is not bias. The audience can cheer, as long as the reporters themselves do not.

It’s the same as with umpires. By nature, umpires are lifelong baseball fans and had their favorite teams and heroes growing up. And they know the fans at the game have their favorite teams, and that’s what keeps the umps working.

Media outlets could drag disinterested outsiders to cover important games to get an objective view. But audiences are also looking for a level of engagement over articles with terms like “militaristic” and “bourgeoisie.”

They can get that, and a sufficient level of objectivity, from sports journalists today–at least from those who remain on the right side of the journalism/entertainment line.