It’s March Madness and UNC is not part of the push to the final four. No matter. In this house there is still basketball all week long and the thrill of watching college students with the passion and emotion of young men in their 20s fighting it out.
During this difficult season at UNC, no matter when we were up or down this difficult season, I found myself cheering on the amazingly composed Marcus Paige, a sophomore who is skilled in making difficult three pointers. When the frenzy of the Dean Dome seemed to block my ability to think, he would aim, shoot and bag a three pointer…. over and over again. Paige was focused, steady, and dependable. I would turn to my fellow deans with whom I sit and say – that’s my student! Yes, there was an extra pride knowing that the skilled and steady Paige is a major in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. And even more pride in knowing that he is an impressive student planning to specialize in public relations.
I was not surprised when I saw the news reports of Marcus Paige’s appearance, along with a few other athletes, at the UNC Board of Trustees this week. They were there representing the top sports: football, basketball, soccer and lacrosse- all teams who are the pride of UNC. I laughed when I saw Paige’s quote. ‘Trust Me. We can all read.” I laughed because it seemed like the kind of smart quote a PR major might turn to after he’d witnesses all the bad coverage of UNC athletics that have filled the newspapers and airwaves of late. If there had been UNC athletes who had been cheated out of a first rate education and channeled into weak courses and sham majors that didn’t’ demand much – Paige was making it clear he was not one of those athletes.
It’s been a tough season for anybody who cares about the academic integrity of UNC. Ex-Football players have gone on camera—as has an academic adviser from UNC—to say that they didn’t get the education they deserved. I wasn’t around in those days and it certainly appears that the University’s trust with its athletes was broken.
There has been some strong and important reporting done about the athletic situation at UNC and about the shortcomings of academics for athletes. Most of it I’ve admired – even when it made me uncomfortable since this is a University to which I’m now committed. The News and Observer, the McClatchy owned Raleigh-based newspaper that has seen hard times in the last decade, put its focus on UNC athletics and has not let up for three years. A few times their stories seemed thin – most of the time important and well done.
But this morning – making a puppet out of Marcus Paige in their editorial seemed simply “cheap”.
“Marcus Paige and the UNC men’s basketball team are out of the NCAA Tournament but that didn’t stop the university from leaning on Paige to score points last week. The sophomore guard, a second team Academic All America (sic), and several of the athletes were taken before the university’s board of trustees to affirm that they are getting an education at UNC-CH in addition to devoting long hours to their sports.
But the athletes’ testimony had an effect opposite to its intent. When Paige feels compelled to say of himself and his teammates, Trust me, we all can read and write,’ the heart sinks.” Worker-athletes, N&O Editorial, Sunday, March 30, 2014
Did they ever think that the smart playing and hard working Marcus Paige might be simply furious? That all the reporting of past academic sins, of athletes who were illiterate, was an embarrassment to someone like him? Did they think that perhaps Paige was determined to speak out and show he was not part of some subculture of dumb athletes? That he was confident enough to turn a phrase like “they can’t read” into a weapon against those who would dismiss all athletes as unable to compete in the classroom.
I’ve spent most of my life reporting on the mistakes and sins of institutions. Men and women make mistakes and journalists hold up the spotlight to challenge those who would cheat society, individuals, and democracy. But I’ve also seen great human kindness, witnessed those who serve society, and reported on institutions that are committed to making things better.
Good reporting on bad athletics shouldn’t include insulting a young man who has sports savvy, academic drive and a PR sense of irony. Marcus Paige deserves the N&O’s apology.