Tania Ganguli, who covers the Houston Texans for ESPN, caught up with Arian Foster late last week after the airing of the documentary trailer featuring Foster’s testimony about his time at Tennessee. In her twitter feed, Ganguli said that after Foster initially refused to discuss the NCAA with her, he gave her several minutes. Among the comments she reported on for ESPN:
“Look at the attention it’s getting,” Foster said. “They really have us hoodwinked into thinking taking money is wrong as a college athlete. It’s wrong for us, but it’s not wrong for them. I guarantee every NCAA official has a (BMW) or Benz or something. That’s not wrong, but it’s wrong for me to get $20 to get something to eat? Dez Bryant couldn’t get taken out to dinner by Deion Sanders, his mentor, he sat out a whole season because of that? That’s not wrong? But if you can drive around in a Benz, that’s OK? It’s not right.”
On twitter (though not in the above-linked story), Ganguli quoted Foster saying about amateurism in college sports that “it has just been a big charade for years, and it’s about time for it come to an end.”
Ganguli’s reporting here was good – it added value and some context to what Foster had already said in the documentary.
Not so an ESPN.com clip that aired yesterday, attached to a story in which former Vols coach Phil Fulmer denied that Tennessee had ever done anything wrong. In the segment, Matt Berry (I think that’s his name and not to be confused with fantasy guru Matthew Berry), interviewed Ganguli about the Foster interview.
Berry started by asking what I thought was a bizarre question – “why now?” The immediate and obvious answer is that Foster was interviewed for a documentary, a trailer of which is now widely available. If the question is why did Foster sit for the interview, that might have been a question for Ganguli to ask of Foster. But Berry’s question makes it sound as if Foster just randomly started talking. Ganguli’s answer didn’t help clarify matters much: “He is a guy that sometimes you ask him a question and that’s the moment he feels like he has to answer truthfully…”
Clearly, Foster has expressed a sense of relief and satisfaction for having spoken out about what he considers to be the hypocrisy of the NCAA. But just as surely, the process by which the filmmakers reached out to Foster or he to them is more interesting than that.
Berry then mangled two parts of a question about Foster’s motives, noting that this was five years ago, that Foster was “scared of running from the NCAA” (mistake #1) and that Foster thought it would do “more harm than good.” (mistake #2) He then asked Ganguli, “do you agree?”
Ganguli politely and indirectly corrected Berry’s first mistake, stating that Foster thought it would do more *good* than harm to speak out. She did not note that Foster said he was no longer scared of the NCAA (and why would he be now?) Ganguli said, in answering the question about whether Foster’s disclosures did more good than harm, that Tennessee fans disagreed because they thought it would hurt the school (what a shock!). Ganguli later said that Foster was “thinking of the good of the players, not the school.”
Apparently, at this point, someone whispered in Berry’s ear that NCAA violations have a statute of limitations of four years for initial investigations to begin. Berry repeated this out loud, suggesting that his previous line of questioning was moot (there are exceptions to the statute of limitations, but I am guessing Berry was not aware of those).
Berry finished the strange segment by saying of Foster’s claims: “It certainly came out of nowhere…”
Berry’s just the talking head here and, in that regard, besides the point. But this is a pretty big story and ESPN is not covering itself in glory by throwing together such an amateurish piece on it. Ganguli did her job – the Texans’ angle. But would it have been so hard to have interviewed teammates of Foster’s from Tennessee, or even current ones to find out how they see these things? We’re at a moment when the wall of silence around NCAA shenanigans is being breached more than ever before and this is a good opportunity to press the issue. Apart from Ganguli, ESPN seems to have been particularly quiet about this story – at least based on what’s been on the website and in the few hours I’ve listened to ESPN radio the past couple of days. We’re at a moment when the wall of silence around NCAA shenanigans is being breached more than ever before and this is a good opportunity to press the issue.