There’s an old adage that states never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel or paper by the ton.
In the recent three-week-long debacle between Bobby Hauck and the Kaimin, the University of Montana’s student newspaper, nothing could be closer to the truth.
Coach Hauck finally took the high road at a recent press conference and recognized Kaimin reporters with a degree of respect and answered their football-related questions.
Now this will not be the last disagreement between a coach, his staff, or a player and the press. It is a never-ending situation, because the two integers are not always going to agree on what a journalist should report and write or how they go about it.
But this was an ugly situation made worse when the Kaimin decided to feature Cal Poly, UM’s Homecoming opponent, in its Game Day section, while Hauck adamantly continued to stick to his guns and said his players had urged him not to broach any subjects with the student newspaper.
I’m not going to take sides here because I am by no means objective in looking at this disagreement. Let it be known, I have never been employed by The University of Montana, but probably am as close to the athletic program as anyone who doesn’t work there given the length of time I’ve broadcast games and emceed events.
In 25 years of covering Grizzly athletics and more than three decades as a journalist, on several occasions I’ve been in similar positions as the Kaimin reporters.
An unnamed football coach demanded that I be fired for asking a question of one of his assistants on a live program about the status of the coaching staff that was fired two weeks prior. In my defense, I had asked the head coach to be on the program and he sent a young assistant who was ill prepared for such a question. The head coach determined I was mean spirited and negative, but fortunately my boss saw otherwise.
A story that I broke nationwide on the misdemeanor criminal activities of a basketball player brought on a strong disagreement about whether the item was newsworthy. To this day that coach, who has remained a good friend, and I continue to disagree on the merits of my story.
On a third occasion, a different basketball coach demanded that I stay away from his program and advised his players that talking to me was off limits after I reported on another criminal situation.
Now, keep in mind, this all happened more than 20 years ago. You see the Kaimin-Hauck disagreement is by no means a new or unique situation.
But there is a difference: In this case the players, Trumaine Johnson and Andrew Swink, who were suspended for one game for a violation of team rules after a fight at a fraternity early in 2009, were not charged with criminal activity and police determined there was no need to write a report on the incident.
There is no conspiracy here. Authorities did their job, investigated what happened and took what they deemed appropriate action or in this case lack of action.
When Hauck learned of the incident, he handled it behind closed doors with all involved and determined and mandated appropriate punishment. Incidentally, as often happens in these matters, those involved all are now friends.
There two ways to argue the point from there.
Should Hauck have told reporters in advance that Swink and Johnson would not suit up for the first game because of a violation of team rules?
Or should journalists covering the team have been more aggressive about determining why they did not play?
Does the public have a need or have a right to know why a player has been disciplined when there has been no report written and no charges filed? Is that a violation of a player’s privacy?
You’ve probably already decided what to think and why, but let me ask you to know the facts before you decide to tell everyone else about your feelings.
Like I said, I’ve been in both camps, but the issue, which pales in comparison to other problems that arise involving athletes and students both in Montana and across the country, took too long to resolve and brought unneeded negative national publicity to The University of Montana.
I’m just glad it’s over.
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