Unfortunately, I wasn’t surprised by the reaction of the Arkansas sports media after a University of Arkansas staff member went after a student journalist in Nashville, Tenn., on Friday night.
In case you missed it, the Razorback basketball team was leaving the court following its fourth loss in five games. A state employee with the title of “director of internal operations” for the basketball program turned toward Jack Weaver, who works for the University of Kentucky’s student newspaper.
Weaver reported that the UA’s Riley Hall “grabbed my phone and threw it at the ground.”
UK describes Weaver as someone who always “embodies professionalism on the job.”
I typically would expect journalists to come to the defense of a fellow journalist. But in Arkansas, sports “journalists” have always lived in fear of losing access to The Program.
So the response to Hall’s action from multiple sports “journalists” was, in essence, this: “The kid was having a bad day. Let’s move on.”
Hunter Yurachek, the UA athletic director, later issued a written apology. To my knowledge, Hall hasn’t personally issued an apology.
The late Paul Greenberg often would write of a time when men who embarrassed their employers not only would personally apologize but also resign.
Let’s make a few things clear. Despite what some would have you believe, Hall is not “a kid.” He graduated from college seven years ago. He’s a full-time, well-compensated state employee.
His bio on the UA website says he “works closely with head coach Eric Musselman.”
What if an English teacher at the UA had left the classroom and done the same thing to a student journalist in the hall outside?
You know the answer to that question.
What if someone working at a state revenue office were to come out from behind the counter and react the same way toward an Arkansas taxpayer waiting in line to have car tags renewed?
You also know the answer to that.
What if someone working at the state Capitol were to approach a journalist during a legislative committee meeting and do what Hall did?
Again, you know the answer.
We seem to have two standards here in Arkansas. There’s one standard for state employees with a Hog logo on their shirts. There’s another standard for all other state employees.
Yurachek’s statement fell far short of what should have been the university’s reaction. I fear that Hall’s actions might speak to far deeper problems. What was so egregious in that tunnel that Hall felt the need to make sure there was no video?
Did it have something to do with Musselman, whose volatile temper has been on display more than once during this disappointing season. This is, after all, a team in the preseason Top 10 that limps into the NCAA Tournament with a 20-13 record.
Was it an attempt to hide the actions of one or more players? A lack of discipline has been evident on the court throughout the season.
Those are questions Yurachek must ask to ensure this isn’t the tip of a larger problem.
Major sports events are an important part of our society and reflect on the state as a whole. Less than 24 hours after it was shot, Weaver’s video of Hall coming toward him had been viewed more than 6 million times.
Rather than soft peddling Hall’s actions, let’s state the obvious: Going after a journalist is never OK. A state employee who did that in any other sector of state government would have already been fired. Hall and the others leaving that court should have looked straight ahead, said nothing and walked into the dressing room.
Instead, Hall tried to cover up what really was going on in that tunnel. In a less coarse society, Hall would have personally apologized and resigned before the sun set Saturday.