Wednesday, February 27, 2008

STUDENT-Athlete Garrett Johnson Fires Both Barrels

Commentary from Mike Bianchi at the Orlando Sentinel:

What you are about to read are the most cutting comments yet concerning the ongoing academic scandal at Florida State. . . .

These comments are so cutting not because they came from some perceived enemy, but because they came from within. They came from Garrett Johnson, arguably the most decorated scholar-athlete in FSU history -- a young man who truly loves his university and feels a "debt of gratitude" for the opportunity FSU provided him.

"This [academic misconduct] is concerning not because of the negative attention it has brought on Florida State, but because it wasn't a secret," says Johnson, an FSU Rhodes Scholar who is currently in grad school at Oxford University in England. "People knew what was going on. For people in the institution to take the position that they were unaware of the situation is untrue.

"I can't list specific allegations. I can't say who knew what. I'm just saying it was no secret. It's sort of like the Mitchell Report in baseball where the players are the ones being accused of taking steroids when everybody involved in baseball knew it was happening." . . .

"My purpose in providing criticism of the academic/athletic balance at the NCAA and Florida State is because I want to look out for student-athletes and protect their best interest. . . . I don't want to see student-athletes take the fall for this. This is all systemic and part of the culture of the NCAA, and it doesn't just happen at Florida State. It happens at almost every major Division I-A school. It's sad, but that's the reality of the beast." . . .

Let's get real here. Isn't the dirtiest little untold story in college sports about how universities spend millions of dollars on "academic support" to keep woefully under-performing students eligible for competition? Why else would a school like Florida State need to employ nine full-time staff members and dozens and dozens of tutors?

Many schools will tell you their academic support staffs report to university deans, but in reality they are bankrolled by the athletic department. Now ask yourself: Are academic counselors and tutors really going to bite the hand that funds them?

It's a never-ending circle. The academic-support staff is subsidized by the athletic department, which is funded by the football program, which is populated with star players who desperately need academic-support to stay eligible.

Then, of course, there's the ultimate hypocrisy: That these marginal students, who badly need to concentrate on their studies, instead spend most of their time concentrating on their sport. Which is why they end up in cupcake online music courses in the first place.

Johnson, for one, doesn't seem to think the NCAA or his own university will change much even in the wake of the ongoing academic scandal.

"I believe it is in the interest of self-preservation to perpetuate the status quo, despite the current rhetorical position taken by FSU and the NCAA," Johnson wrote in an e-mail "If academics REALLY take priority, I suggest athletic administrators and coaches demonstrate this by reducing their salaries to create parity with the tenured professors that work to prepare their athletes for long-term success. This would REALLY send a message."

Its a dream, but Johnson should be commended for having the guts to suggest it. BRAVO.

Update 11:15 AM Thursday

Johnson is also receiving a graduate education in the difficulties inherent in dealing with the press. Disappointed with the thrust of yesterday's story in the Orlando Sentinel, he has fired back today in the Tallahassee Democrat:

On Wednesday, an article containing criticisms of the NCAA and Florida State’s efforts to address academic misconduct appeared in an Orlando newspaper. While I stand by what I said my comments were misrepresented. . . .

Student-athletes who cheat and advisors who turn a blind eye should be held accountable, but punishing the guilty without reforming the culture will ultimately lead to similar disastrous outcomes in the future. Throughout my conversation with the author I emphasized the systemic and entrenched problems that plague college athletics, because they exist as the ‘elephant in the room’ everyone sees but fails to acknowledge. At the end of the day, student-athletes must take responsibility for striking the proper academic/athletic balance, and most do, but the onus of ensuring the academic integrity of the university should not be exclusively theirs to bear. . . .

The vast majority of student-athletes are remarkable contributors to the vibrant academic community at FSU, a point I stressed repeatedly but was conveniently ignored in the article. They take the difficult courses, are engaged in the community and I am honoured to call many of them friends. However, as long as bonuses and budgets are influenced by win-loss records and bowl game appearances there will exist an urgent need to protect less motivated students from the institution. As long as the ‘easy’ courses, rather than a re-prioritization of focus, remain a solution to academic eligibility concerns there will exist a need to look out for the less motivated students. As long as blaming less motivated students is used to deflect and diminish the NCAA’s failure to combat this flawed system, concerned individuals must hold them accountable by speaking truth to power. . . .

The author asked me to implicate individuals, I explained that my knowledge is restricted to the systemic issues rather than specific names, he responded with a sensationalized story. I condemn his erroneous attack on the invaluable support provided by tutors, from which I personally benefited, and his assault on the student-athletes and staff who comprise my FSU family. . . .

Update 12:13 PM Friday

Mike Bianchi contests the 'misrepresentation' of Garrett Johnson's quotes:

Johnson and I went on to talk about the systemic academic/athletic hypocrisy that plagues not only Florida State but most other NCAA schools. I included those quotes in my Wednesday column, too. I sent him a follow-up question via e-mail, and he replied. I quoted him on some of that stuff, too.

Why am I telling you all this? Because on Thursday, Garrett Johnson sent an e-mail to the Tallahassee Democrat saying I "misrepresented" his quotes. If you'll note in Johnson's e-mail to the Democrat, he never said he was misquoted, only "misrepresented."

There's a good reason for that: Because I had a follow-up phone conversation with Johnson on Tuesday and read him, word for word, every quote that would appear in the column.

I even allowed him to clarify his position on certain quotes. At his request, I didn't use an on-the-record comment he e-mailed to me because he felt the quote was too controversial and would insult politicians he had interned with in Tallahassee. When we hung up, he was agreeable to every quote in the column.

Now, after seeing the firestorm the column has created, his comments are suddenly "misrepresented."

1. FSU Cheating Scandal
2. Florida State Scandal: Kudos to President Wetherell
3. STUDENT-Athlete Garrett Johnson Fires Both Barrels
4. No Sunshine in Florida?
5. FSU Scandal: Brenda Monk Breaks Her Silence

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