San Francisco Chronicle Refuses to Confirm It Knew of the Cal Strength Coach Incident Three Months Before Football Player Ted Agu’s Death

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“Explainer: How ‘Insider’ Access Made San Francisco Chronicle and Berkeley J-School Miss Real Story Behind Death of Cal Football’s Ted Agu,”

Complete headline links to our series:

by Irvin Muchnick


As we have been reviewing, the San Francisco Chronicle story, in January of this year, on the 2014 offseason training drill death of Cal football’s Ted Agu did not mention a clearly related incident from three months before the death.

Concussion Inc. has teased out this chronology multiple times, and questioned why no media outlet with juice — either at the time or later — noted the circumstances surrounding the punch-out of the other Cal player, Fabiano Hale, by his teammate J.D. Hinnant, which sent Hale to the hospital with a concussion. Both episodes involved the dangerously cartoonish drill sergeant ways of Damon Harrington, the Cal football head strength and conditioning coach.

What still remains to be learned is whether the Hale-Hinnant incident was in the depositions given to the Chronicle. We don’t know, because the newspaper and its journalism school partner will neither answer the question nor publish the transcripts.

Understanding that only partial use of the depos and protection of sources were likely conditions of the acquisition, I tried going about all this differently. I asked Michael Gray, the Chronicle’s enterprise & investigations editor, if his team knew about Hale-Hinnant before working on the January 2016 story. Gray declined comment.

That the Chron might not have known is not beyond the realm of possibility — though this would hardly reflect well on its reporters and editors. A handful of halfway decent interviews with insider or outsider sources in the Cal football community could have turned up the anecdote. From the fall of 2013 through the spring of 2014, I was regularly pointing out this coverage lapse in my own stories, and privately asking Chronicle editors to account for it.

The lead byline on the newspaper’s big story was by reporter Kimberly Veklerov, who had only recently been editor-in-chief of the Daily Cal, the campus newspaper. Of course, the Daily Cal likewise never went in any depth into the Hale-Hinnant incident. Below the online version of its lone story on it, on November 5, 2013, commenters delivered more of the goods, including its root in a sickening scenario straight out of the movie A Few Good Men.

If I may mangle Mencken, no one ever went broke overestimating the ignorance or stupidity of journalists. And it is hard to tell in this case whether the predominant factor is the ignorance or the stupidity.

The Agu case depositions? Now that’s another story. Perhaps the excerpts leaked to the Chronicle’s crack investigative team had nothing on Hale-Hinnant. But if the depositions in their entirety — which soon should be in the public domain — show that the lawsuit in no way delved into the established pattern of goofy and institutionally negligent management of the strength and conditioning program, then the Agu family lawyers should be sued for malpractice.

I don’t think lead plaintiff attorney Brian Panish got to his position as one of the top tort practitioners in California by being either ignorant or stupid.

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick