Billy Reed: Author of scathing SI report owes UofL an apology

Published: Oct. 11, 2015 at 6:49 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 27, 2016 at 6:49 PM EDT
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Editor's Note: In the eighth paragraph, our reporting referenced an unsuccessful sex-discrimination claim brought by a former assistant track coach. In August, the Kentucky Supreme Court actually ruled in favor of that coach. We regret the error.

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A few weeks ago, I introduced Tom Jurich at the first Women In Sports Honors banquet sponsored by the Louisville Women in Sports Network. He was the speaker, but he also received an award for his role in supporting both the spirit and the letter of Title IX in his 18-year career as athletics director at the University of Louisville.

I've known Tom throughout his time at UofL, and I can promise you that women's sports always has been one of his main priorities. When the KFC Yum! Center was being planned, his only demand was that the women's team get a dressing room and practice court that was equal to the men in every respect. So it was nice to see Tom honored for his unwavering commitment to women's athletics.

A week or so after that event, Chris Stone, the managing editor of Sports Illustrated, contacted me and invited me to be his guest at a special dinner honoring Muhammad Ali at the downtown center bearing his name. The magazine announced that night that its prestigious Legacy Award would be named in Ali's honor. The audience included George Foreman, Larry Holmes and Shaquille O'Neal.

EXTRA: Complete coverage of UofL scandal

As a longtime admirer of Ali and a former SI senior writer who wrote more than 800 pieces for the magazine over 29 years, it was a wonderful night for me. I'm extremely proud and grateful for my years at SI, where I was blessed to work with some of the most talented writers and editors in journalism history. Even now, SI is the standard for quality sports journalism.

These two evenings came to mind on Friday, when I read a column that Michael Rosenberg had written for about the scandal that has shaken UofL to its foundation. As surely everybody knows by now, the leader of a prostitution ring has alleged, in a book, that former UofL basketball aide Andre McGee paid her to put on 22 "sex parties" for players and recruits from 2010-14.

The university and the NCAA are too early in their investigations for anybody to make definitive statements about much of anything. The company that published the prostitute's book took her at her word, a dangerous proposition considering the source. Coach Rick Pitino has denied any knowledge of the alleged activities, many of which supposedly occurred in the dorm that bears of the name of his former brother-in-law, who died in the Sept. 11 tragedy.

One of the many problems inherent in such ugly situations is that every blogger, tweeter and radio talk-show host feels compelled to have an opinion. The farther from Louisville the media person works, the more ill-informed his or her opinions seem to be. Most of it is easy to dismiss as just so much blather. But when the pundit is a high-profile writer from SI, it can spark a firestorm that needs to be put out as quickly and effectively as possible.

After rehashing earlier sex scandals involving Pitino and football coach Bobby Petrino (while he was at Arkansas), and after tossing in a successful sex-discrimination claim brought by a disgruntled former assistant, Rosenberg connected a set of dots and reached the conclusion that, as the headline says, "Louisville has created and continues to nurture a culture that Is dangerous to women."

That's a serious and damning allegation.

It's also as wrong and unfair as it can be.

Mr. Rosenberg owes UofL an apology.

I speak as somebody who loves SI and is proud of its tradition of excellent journalism – a tradition that, hopefully, I played a very small part in helping build. I also speak as somebody who has watched Tom Jurich work for 18 years. I even speak as somebody who has taught some UofL classes that included scholarship female athletes.

I have never once heard anything that indicates there's a kernel of truth in Rosenberg's allegations. If anything, college athletics should look to UofL as a shining example of how women athletes are treated equally and fairly in every respect.

Had the book-writing prostitute alleged that women athletes were somehow involved in the "sex parties," I could see Rosenberg reaching the conclusion he did. But that's not the case. This book has nothing whatsoever to do with how female athletes are treated at UofL. It has nothing to do with female students at UofL. It has to do strictly with prostitutes who were allegedly hired to provide services for male basketball players and recruits. Period.

If Rosenberg were determined to make such damaging charges against UofL, he should have at least done what any self-respecting reporter would have done. That is, come to Louisville and interview everyone who's available – administrators, athletes, coaches and parents. Then talk to rival coaches and recruits who went elsewhere. Do your homework, in other words, without any preconceived ideas of where your reporting will lead.

So far as I know, Rosenberg did not do that. He read a few stories, probably talked to some of his buddies on the phone, and reached a conclusion that would toss gasoline on the fire and draw attention to himself. But that's not the way the SI I know and love does things. It's not the way any self-respecting reporter does things.

I will take a pause here to say that if I'm wrong about this, if Rosenberg has done the legwork necessary to gather the facts to reach such a damning conclusion, I apologize. But surely, if he had done that kind of background work, it would have been reflected extensively in his piece – and it wasn't. I will even go so far as to suggest that if Rosenberg had done his reporting, he would have reached an entirely different conclusion.

I don't have any idea what Andre McGee did or didn't do. I have no idea if there's more than a kernel of truth in the prostitute's allegations. I have no idea what's going to be proven and revealed as the investigations proceed. But I do feel strongly that it was unfair to drag women's athletics into the mess or allege that UofL is fostering an environment that is hostile to women.

I wish Rosenberg had taken the trouble to talk to the Schimmel sisters, Shoni and Jude. The were raised on a reservation for Native Americans in an environment where their peers often criticized them for trying to lift themselves out of poverty and anonymity. At UofL, they found a nurturing environment in which they flourished as student-athletes and, along the way, became folk heroes to Native Americans across the country.

Man up, Mr. Rosenberg, and apologize. You did a great disservice to Tom Jurich's proven track record of supporting female athletes, and to the journalistic principles that always have guided SI.

Billy Reed is a longtime sportswriter who contributes occasional columns to

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