Colorado Scandal Context

Let me say this up front: the unfolding sex-and-rape scandal at the University of Colorado is beyond abhorrence. If the allegations are proven — and there are seven rape claims since 1997 — the university needs to take a long look at what it has, in effect, condoned in the name of fielding a competitive Division 1-A football team. It needs to consider imploding the program and starting over — maybe at the intramural level. Moreover, it should be an alarm bell for a lot of other major college programs that don’t exactly comport themselves like monasteries.

If the charges are proven, then head Coach Gary Barnett, is at fault and accountable — even if he had “plausible deniability.” The person in charge is the point man for the group culture. If you don’t know what’s going on, it’s because you don’t want to know.

But it also appears that the media could have been flagged for piling on. Many outlets played fast and loose with some of Barnett’s quotes, such that they were seen as the epitome of insensitivity and a basis of culpability. One typical account, which was picked up across the country, was from the Los Angeles Times. It said: “Coach Gary Barnett was placed on leave after downplaying an allegation by Katie Hnida, a former Colorado kicker, who said she was assaulted by a teammate. Barnett called her a ‘terrible’ player.”

Most pundits jumped at such an assessment as proof positive that Barnett was somehow dismissing the seriousness of the allegation because the alleged victim wasn’t very talented. Barnett certainly could have picked a better time and place for such candor, but what he said was in answer to a direct question — one of many — about Hnida’s skill level.

This often happens in journalism. The reader/viewer never sees the complete context of a comment. Only in this case the answer to a direct question was inserted into a context that read a lot differently than it sounded at a pack-journalism interview with individual questions raining down. Even Barnett, who has a lot to answer for, deserved better than that.

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