Phil Lewis: Coach fumbles lesson on freedom of the press

Phil Lewis
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We’ve all heard the phrase “kill the messenger.”

In Texas a week ago, it was “steal, hide and heap scorn upon the messenger.”

It’s a reminder to us in the newspaper business that serving as messenger can be a less-than-popular service to provide.

The messenger in this case was a college newspaper. The onslaught came from the college’s football team.

There are plenty of lessons to learn here.

On Feb. 19, two students were arrested at a Texas A&M University-Commerce dormitory after police found several bags of marijuana, pills and drug paraphernalia.

Both students — Dionte Garrett and Deandre Bowers — are on the football team at the college, which is part of the Texas A&M University system. Texas A&M-Commerce is the fifth-oldest school of higher learning in Texas. It also has operated under the names East Texas State Teachers College and East Texas State University.

The arrests were made at a residence that had been the location of at least two previous emergency calls. A month earlier, university police officers answered an emergency call there after a potential football recruit was vomiting and needed medical care. Before that there was a complaint that marijuana smoke was wafting outside the residence, but not enough marijuana was found inside to warrant an arrest.

That wasn’t the case on Feb. 19.

On Feb. 25, the East Texan, the university’s student newspaper, published a story with the headline “Football Players Arrested in Drug Bust.”

At about 9 a.m. that day, Lt. Jason Bone of the university police department was in the checkout line at the convenience store in the student center when the cashier asked if he had heard that all the school newspapers had been stolen.

He looked at the empty news rack in the hallway and then walked the campus.

“All distribution racks that I could find were empty,” Bone reported.

He contacted James Bright, the editor of the East Texan, who said he would file a theft report.

Bone then reviewed footage from campus security cameras. One showed two men taking all the newspapers from a stand in the lobby of the campus police department. The men were identified as football players Stephen DeGrate and Dakota Burch.

Over at the bookstore in the student center, a clerk at the front counter said four football players took all the papers at that location. She identified one as London Hamilton, a freshman running back.

Bone reported his findings to Athletic Director Carlton Cooper.

“He thanked me for telling him and asked me to keep him informed,” Bone wrote on the incident report. “He also asked for copies of the video so he could know which players were involved. I told him I would share that information with him as soon as I could.”

The editor of the newspaper worked with Bone to refill the rack in the student center and to have a security camera focused on it.

The actions by Bone and Bright would have made William Leonidas Mayo proud. Mayo was the founder of the school and the football team is nicknamed the Lions in his honor. He also penned the school’s creed, which reads:

“Ceaseless industry, fearless investigation, unfettered thought and unselfish service to others.”

The next day Bone was called into the assistant police chief’s office. Lion head football coach Guy Morris, formerly of the Baylor Bears, was there.

“I started off by asking him if he’d seen the paper and he said that he ‘didn’t read that crap,’” Bone wrote in his report. “I retrieved my copy of the paper and showed him the headline. He shook his head and again repeated that he didn’t pay any attention to that crap.”

The coach then asked Bone how taking a free-distribution newspaper could be considered theft. Bone pointed out a paragraph on Page 2 of the newspaper stating one copy is free, but additional copies taken by the same individual cost 25 cents.

The coach’s response won’t help much in defending any theft charges lodged against members of the football team.

“I’m proud of my players for doing that,” Morris told Bone. “This was the best team-building exercise we have ever done.”

Phil Lewis is editor of the Daily News. His e-mail address is plewis@naplesnews.com

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