YARBROUGH COLUMN: No winners in media coverage of UGA football program

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, August 1, 2023

There are no winners here. I am talking about an article that appeared recently in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution concerning allegations of misconduct by members of the University of Georgia football team. UGA’s general counsel, Michael Raeber, sent the AJC a nine-page letter demanding a retraction, claiming a number of errors and fabrications and that the lead reporter, Alan Judd, took quotes out of context.

The paper reviewed the claims with a team of editors and attorneys, according to a statement from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s editor-in-chief, Leroy Chapman, but did not retract the article as Raeber’s letter demanded. However, the AJC did correct and remove several paragraphs that focused on the assertion of sexual misconduct. They also changed a headline which originally read “UGA football program rallies when players accused of abusing women” to “UGA football program rallied in two incidents when players were accused of abusing women.”

The paper also acknowledged a second error when Judd improperly joined two quotes from a taped interview between Jamaal Jarrett, one of the accused players, and the Athens-Clarke County Police. The quotes, which occurred several minutes apart, were presented as if they had been said together. The result was that Alan Judd, an investigative reporter who had worked for the AJC for over 24 years, was summarily dismissed.

It seems this wasn’t Judd’s first rodeo involving questionable reporting. In 1988, he resigned from the Louisville Courier-Journal after the paper was forced to issue a number of corrections and clarifications and deal with a statement from a schoolteacher challenging a reference to him in a story on high school football, of which Judd had been an assigned reporter.

Sadly, this gives those who rail about fake news another “I told you so.” What happened at the AJC was an anomaly and one they corrected quickly. Chapman said, “Our editorial integrity and the trust our community has in us is at the core of who we are.” That is true for all of us in this profession. I have been around the business long enough to know that reporters and editors strive diligently to produce accurate accounts of their stories and leave the personal opinions to wiseacres like me.

One former AJC staffer harrumphed that the paper, “caved to pressure from perhaps the most powerful institution in the state. Who would want to be an investigative reporter at the AJC or anywhere when lawyers can get you fired?” He totally misses the point. Judd’s reporting was found to be lacking and he has paid the price. Twice. This isn’t about pressure. It’s about accuracy. It’s about journalistic integrity.

No doubt the corrections and the dismissal of the reporter responsible produced gleeful high-fives from many Dawg fans. It pains me to remind them that much of the reporting was correct. Two people did die after too much alcohol, and they were racing at high speeds (104 mph) after having celebrated the team’s second consecutive national championship. Yet, it doesn’t seemed to made much of an impression on a number of our scholar-athletes.

When freshman linebacker Samuel M’Pemba was ticketed for driving 88 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone in Oconee County a couple of weeks ago, his citation was at least the 11th traffic-related violation involving UGA football players since the Jan. 15 fatal crash.

Many of the Richard Petty wannabes seem to have been driving Dodge Chargers, which can go from zero to 60 mph in 7 seconds or less and which I suspect they got as a result of the NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) financial support program available to college athletes. 

Tom Ritch, a reader in Brunswick, suggested that instead of a Dodge Charger, the players be issued a Toyota Prius. He says that would solve the speeding issue. I love my readers.

Given the ease of changing schools in today’s world of college football, coaches have to be careful what they say to players lest they up and transfer to a rival school. It takes a team leader like Sedrick Van Pran, UGA’s starting center and a likely high pick in next year’s NFL draft, who is said to have discussed with potential miscreants what will happen if they don’t behave. Hopefully, that will make a difference.

The bottom line is the news media have sustained a black eye for not accurately reporting on a football program that badly needed the scrutiny before it tarnished the reputation of an excellent academic institution. 

Alas, there are no winners here.