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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Vol coverage: going too far?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A few days ago in my blog I chastised Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer for not disclosing why a player accused of repeated drug possessions was kicked off the team.

Now comes Vol center Josh McNeil, who's upset because the media, especially the Knoxville News-Sentinel, ran details of a police report involving a smashed window and three drunk women he says were on his bedroom floor and media reports say were in his bed.

McNeil says one of the women is his girlfriend and the other two were friends of hers visiting Knoxville.

Neighbors heard a window breaking and called 9-1-1. It was actually McNeil, who forgot his key and broke into his own apartment. He then took a doctor-prescribed sleeping pill and locked the women and himself in the bedroom. Officers, who entered the apartment through the window, got no answer when banging on the room's door until a UT official asked them to open up.

McNeil was handcuffed after officers noticed his hand bleeding from the broken window. He was not cited, but officers noted he wouldn't cooperate with police. I'd guess he was groggy from the sleeping pill.

So: Should this have been reported?

If this had happened in Shelbyville to a non-celebrity, I probably wouldn't have published it. The names of the women, who were charged with underage drinking, would have made the jail intake and, if charges weren't dropped, the Friday court listings.

I usually skip details of what I'll call "private" incidents, such as couples arguing, anything not involving criminal activity, unwanted intruders or extreme violence, or what would otherwise remain within one's own home. The UT incident would have likely fallen into that category. We do run the names of those charged in such cases within the jail intake.

But two factors cause occasional exceptions:

*If an incident happens in a public place. I'll sometimes run minor incidents where someone was handcuffed by police in, for example, a business parking lot on a main street at rush hour or in front of a home in a heavily-populated neighborhood -- because many passersby see them and want facts.

*Someone argues unnecessarily with police. Usually someone has to hit, or attempt to strike, an officer for it to reach print. Other issues have usually come into play by the time an incident escalates to that point.

Of course, there's also what I'll call the "bed aspect" which, if true, some would consider immoral and lurid and others would see as macho. I probably wouldn't have published the particular location within the room of the three women because its relevance is questionable.

But, if McNeil himself was in Shelbyville and got into trouble, I'd probably run it simply because of who was involved.

"I know I live in a glass house because of who I am, but I don't want the people I care a lot about being pulled into this," McNeil said.

McNeil was, for the most part, simply a victim of circumstances. Maybe Knoxville media went too far, but I'm not going to take potshots at them. The News-Sentinel is an excellent newspaper and I have a lot of respect for their journalists and judgments.

Major-sport Tennessee athletes as a group are getting into too much trouble, and to some extent they've built their own "glass house." And once they've taken the field or court in front of screaming fans, they become celebrities.

It's reached the point that the UT athletics department practically needs to hire its own police force. I realize college students are going to commit "youthful indiscretions," but not to the extent of this one self-contained group.

Athletes at large colleges are public figures -- entertainers, actually -- and I suspect most crave the resulting attention. But they also have the responsibility to become mature enough to handle fame. That maturity takes time to develop in some.

And, as we all know from hearing of escapades of much older celebrities, some never mature.

Your comments welcome: dmelson@t-g.com.

David Melson
On the Loose