Scoreboard, Baby: A Story of College Football, Crime, and Complicity. Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry (2010). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. pp. 374.
In late October 2010, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made an otherwise minor personnel move. The team cut tight end Jerramy Stevens, who had been picked up by police a few days earlier on drug charges. After reading Scoreboard, Baby, an account of a college football program out of control, one is left to wonder why it took so long for Stevens’ reckless behavior to catch up to him.
The Washington Huskies were the darlings of the 2000 college football season. They went 11-1; won the Pac-10 championship; beat Purdue in the Rose Bowl; and finished third in the final polls. They had a young coach, Rick Neuheisel, who appeared ready to assume the mantle of the next “great” coach, and they had several players who seemed destined to enjoy long NFL careers. Stevens was one of them. But as Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry expose, all of this was built on a foundation of rampant criminal behavior, look-the-other-way officials, and a coaching staff interested in seeing the Huskies win rather than behave properly. In fact, as the authors tell us, “[a]t least two dozen players on Washington’s 2000 football team were arrested or charged with some crime while at the UW. But rarely did they miss playing time” (p. 92). And when it came to bad behavior, as the authors document through court records, research, and interviews, Stevens was one of the worst offenders. Perhaps nothing better describes Stevens’ behavior before and during the 2000 season than this:
Stevens had hit a car and fled. Led a stirring comeback on the football field. Learned he would not be charged with rape. Learned he would not be charged with hit-and-run. All within six days (p. 195).
And lest you think 2000 was just a bad year for Stevens, the authors show that there were multiple illegal acts he committed prior to entering and after leaving the University of Washington.
The book’s title comes from a comment Neuheisel made following a bowl game win while at the University of Colorado, where he coached before taking over at Washington and from where the NCAA later concluded “he [had] committed fifty-one recruiting violations” (p. 126). Responding to critical comments the opposing coach made about the Colorado program, Neuheisel simply said, “Scoreboard, baby.” Armstrong and Perry note: “Two words to end all arguments, two words to silence any complaint” (p. 146). Indeed, it appeared that during the 2000 season, as long as the Huskies kept piling up the wins, everything else was unimportant.
Armstrong and Perry review how the head of the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Norm Maleng, who received his bachelor’s and law degrees from UW, repeatedly was unwilling to file serious charges against any Huskies’ player. “There were plenty of examples to choose from,” the authors state (p. 116). And Stevens was one athlete who benefited from any soft spot Maleng had for his alma mater.
The most egregious crime Stevens stood accused of was sexually assaulting another UW student, referred to by the authors as “Marie,” her middle name. Investigators built a credible case against Stevens (who caught forty-eight passes in 2000, setting a record for Husky tight ends) that included “eyewitnesses…DNA evidence…[and] witnesses to Marie’s condition” (p. 191). Maleng, nevertheless, chose not to charge Stevens with rape. In fact, he hinted that “Marie” might have been to blame for what happened, telling reporters, “Excessive drinking can lead to poor choices” (p. 191).
The authors also address the uncomfortable truth that reporters who covered the team failed to dig deeply into court and other records to verify claims made by Maleng, Neuheisel, or the players about the numerous brushes with the law. Granted, beat reporters are a busy group during a team’s season, but the somewhat timid criticism offered about them by Armstrong and Perry led this reviewer to wonder if they had had the same soft spot for their colleagues that they had accused Maleng of having for his alma mater. They write,
More often than not, player arrests didn’t make the newspapers. When they did, the coverage tended to be forgiving. The sportswriters weren’t crime reporters. They knew the football field, not the courthouse. … Who had time to background the roster? For beat reporters, unvarnished coverage could also diminish access. Write up everyone’s rap sheet—and good luck with that next interview request (p. 222).
What was not fully stated was the often powerful combination that sports fans, athletes, media relations directors, local officials, and others have on the kind of coverage appearing in the daily sports section and on television sports programs. In these venues, athletes are quickly turned into heroes, fighting the good fight for the home team.
This is not a textbook, and it should not be used as one in a journalism class. However, anyone who teaches investigative journalism or who wants to demonstrate how the use of public records, historical research, and interviews can assist in telling a story should consider adopting this book. Ninety-six separate public-records requests with more than two-dozen agencies in Washington and California were filed by the authors (p. 323), and the information gathered was supplemented with interviews with more than three-dozen people from the university, the football team, the police, prosecutors, family members, and the general public.
Educators also could use the book to discuss the important intersection of sports and media. Important discussion points could include verifying claims made by powerful people, determining if and when objectivity is lost in sports coverage, and what role the beat reporter has in covering more than practices and games.
Point Park University