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‘Scoreboard, Baby’ Paints Ugly Pampering Portrait

Scoreboard, Baby
Ken Armstrong, Nick Perry
(Bison Books, Sept. 1, 2010)

After rolling through the end zone, he stood, military straight, and shot his arms out to each side, his body a cross, his palms up, the football cupped in his left hand. The crowd’s love washed over him — 74,000 fans in purple and gold, Microsofties, elementary school teachers, doctors, nurses, students, bankers, Boeing engineers. He pumped his head twice — yes, yes — and hugged his teammates as they jumped into his arms. The stadium siren sounded. Gold pompoms waved.

“They are hot right now,” said the color man, up in the broadcast booth.

“Are they ever,” said the play-by-play man.

The cheers kept coming as more players ran to him, to join the celebration.

The crowd knew what he was accused of, yes. But did that matter now?

Did it matter to ABC, which was broadcasting this game nationally? If it did, the announcers kept it to themselves. Not a word was said of how he had been arrested six weeks before on suspicion of rape. The broadcasters knew it, of course. Bob Griese knew. Brad Nessler knew. Lynn Swann knew. Everyone knew.

A SWAT team had arrested Jerramy Stevens — and an arrest like that makes the newspapers. But ABC treated the whole thing hush-hush. “A great tight end,” Nessler said early on. Then, as Stevens racked up receptions, the play-by-play man tacked on the praise. “He is some kind of target. … The big fella rumbles. … Ace in the hole.”

Before the game, the crowd has buzzed about how he might be charged any day, about how maybe this time the county’s long-time prosecutor would pull the trigger. In the last two years, the prosecutor had taken a pass on charging six other players with assault.

But maybe this time …


***
The introduction to Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry’s “Scoreboard, Baby: A Story of College football, Crime and Complicity” sums it up without coming right out and saying it. College football players are coddled, given special treatment by those who view their success and their own.

“Scoreboard, Baby” is a retrospective on five student-athletes who attended the University of Washington in the early 2000s, playing under then-coach Rick Neuheisel. Branded as star athletes in high school and highly sought by powerhouse athletic institutions, these athletes were made to feel entitled, which to them meant they could get away with anything. And, according to the authors’ research, the court system, coaches, administrators, boosters and even media fed into that thought process.

Stevens was charged with rape of a freshman sorority student, but ended up getting away scot-free. Police were called on two married players — Jeremiah Pharms and Curtis Williams — for domestic violence. Throughout the season, these players would also be found to be the cause of drunk-driving collisions; evidence would surface connecting them to robbery and attempted murder, alongside smaller misdemeanors including unpaid parking tickets, failing to attend court-ordered counseling or recovery sessions, etc.

But did any of these All-Stars miss a single game?

Regardless of mounting evidence in each case and a litany of past history with which to evaluate the players’ level of penitence, state courts ruled each player with a padded javelin, a love tap on the wrist and a good-natured “Now, don’t do this again,” accompanied by a smile and a “Go Huskies!”

Armstrong and Perry, Seattle Times reporters, took an in-depth look into the lives of these players and the impact their outside transgressions made — or didn’t make — on their playing careers. All the evidence presented in “Scoreboard Baby,” available through public records, was overlooked by media when divulging words of praise about these Husky heroes, and in their view, is a misrepresentation of who these players truly are.

It is clear what point the authors are trying to make about college athletics and the court system in terms of the leniency given to star athletes at the expense of other people, but Armstrong and Perry do not state their opinion blatantly, which makes for a fantastic read.

Though the presentation does fuel some hostility for not only the blatant disregard these players seem to have for the rules but also for the mercy they are given for their wrongdoings, there is a sense of compassion the reader can feel for players because it is clear they have no model for how to behave better.

“Scoreboard, Baby” is not only a closer look into a system that has failed victims who have suffered at the hands of star athletes, but is a call to the court system and society as a whole. Maybe teaching an athlete what is right and wrong is the true way to win in the end.

Originally published in Issue 156 of PressBox.

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