Harvey Araton: New York Times Spiked My Column on Penn State Football

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New York Times sports columnist Harvey Araton told me today that, early in the Penn State football child molestation scandal, he wrote a column calling for the resignations of coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier, but Times editors decided not to publish it.

In successive Twitter messages to me, Araton wrote, “My column calling for Paterno and Spanier to step down — written the morning after news broke — was spiked based on my PSU parent status,” and added that he was “trying to come up with a convincing argument or angle that would get around the conflict of interest concerns.”

The “morning after” reference, of course, concerned the news that a former assistant coach under Paterno, Jerry Sandusky, had been indicted on 40 counts of sexual abuse of young boys, which included acts committed in university football program facilities. Araton has a son who is a student at Penn State.

I didn’t slap “exclusive” on the headline of this item, as I assume the story must already be out there for Araton to be sharing it with me so freely. His revelation to me, if that’s what it was, emerged from our earlier Twitter exchange in which Araton had written, “i have said that psu should shut down its program for a couple of years as a matter of integrity. $$ will dictate otherwise.” Later, I jokingly invited Araton to alert me when this column was published, and he then told me about the spiked column last week and the Times management’s conflict-of-interest determination.

It strikes me as odd that The Times, which promotes the Twitter presence of featured byliners such as Araton, has columnists voicing views on Twitter that they are not allowed to express in the newspaper itself. But I’m sure some corporate suit is at the ready with an explanation of how this only demonstrates the Gray Lady’s embrace of diverse perspectives and fearless plunge into social media.

The news that Araton seriously advocates a two-year suspension of Penn State football – even if he never wrote exactly that for The Times and even if The Times would never publish it even if he did – does cast in a different light our original Twitter exchange, which I reproduced at https://concussioninc.net/?p=4975. (I also should note that Times op-ed columnist Joe Nocera, who I guess doesn’t have a kid at Penn State, did write an excellent piece calling for a substantial interruption of Nittany Lions football operations, among other corrective measures in the wake of the scandal and the university’s looming legal and moral liabilities.)

I still disagree with Araton’s take on the Bob Costas peroration Monday night on NBC’s RockCenter, which was the source of our original exchange. Araton doesn’t want the young fans who attended last Saturday’s Penn State game against Nebraska to be vilified, and furthermore believes, like Costas, that this is a crucial point. My own view of Penn State’s “conflicted” fans, young or old, might be less charitable, but I actually haven’t thought or said all that much about their role, except as props for the university’s dollar-driven football machine. If the shoe of having been shockingly insensitive to the crimes committed by their beloved “brand” fits, then I say the “fan base” should wear it, whether its members are 18 or 80.

Above all, I would prefer that Brother Bob, a nonpareil interviewer, stand on his grilling of the pervert Sandusky, and refrain from trying to lecture the rest of us on what we should be thinking right now about Penn State and everyone and everything tarnished by association with it.

Last thought: Funny how The Times won’t let its own columnist, Harvey Araton, comment on the PSU story because he has a second-hand stake, yet the paper did run a thoroughly revolting essay, headlined “Penn State Scandal Is a Test of Bonds Old and New,” by former staffer Malcolm Moran. I know, I know … Moran is no longer a Times employee and is also, ahem, the Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society, and director of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism, at Penn State.

In a post in the near future, I will be discussing further what Penn State can do with its John Curley Center for Sports Journalism – shove it, basically.


Irv Muchnick

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick