Your Decision: Name That Player
circulating that a high school football player has been charged
with assault. The sports editor of the student newspaper verifies
which player has been accused and checks the district’s eligibility
policy. The player participated in five games, after being charged
with assault. This is against district policy. The sports editor
is ready to write the article for the next issue of the student
It’s decision time. With whom do you agree?
The adviser to the newspaper who supports publication of
an article that focuses on the district policy. He reminds
editors that most professional journalists do not publish
the names of minors who are accused of wrongdoing.
The principal who does not want the sports editor to write an
article. He believes this story could hurt student athletes
from the school who are hoping for athletic scholarships to
college. If an article is written, the student’s name should
not be used, he says. The newspaper should write more stories
about positive school activities and fewer hard-hitting stories.
The sports editor who wants to include the assault charges and
the district’s policy in the student newspaper. He wants to
interview the football coach and use the student’s name. Publication
will stop the gossip and rumors, and all students will be given
the same information about the incident.
You know the Supreme Court cases involving student rights. Which
apply in this situation? What would you do? Do you publish? Do you
remove the athlete’s name from the article.
Name That Player - Background
The Real Situation
A student who attended Central High School in Omaha, Neb., was charged
in August 2001 with two counts of assault. When reading copy planned
for The Register, the school’s newspaper, principal Gary
Thompson saw the article about the athlete who played in five football
games in spite of district policy that would have made him ineligible
to play, based on the assault charges. Thompson expressed concern.
He felt the story should not contain the player’s name. He cautioned
editor Matt Wynn and journalism adviser Matt Deabler about the implications
of running the story, according to the Student
Press Law Center. Thompson allowed the newspaper to make the
final decision of whether or not to publish the article. The story
ran under the title, “Athlete plays despite assault charges.” The
athlete was named in the story.
Gary Thompson and other administrators met with the adviser of The
Register to express concern about the paper’s aggressive reporting
and edgy articles. The Register, winner of scholastic journalism
awards, had covered use of methamphetamine by high school students
and an analysis of the death penalty.
When the situation similar to “Name That Player” took place in
Omaha, Neb., in late October 2001, The Society of Professional Journalists
supported the student journalists. “Real journalism can be messy
and difficult, and sometimes even we professionals don’t make the
right calls. But students need the right to be wrong. They need
the freedom to learn from their mistakes,” SPJ President Al Cross
“While most general-circulation newspapers would not have used
the student’s name, many Central students already knew about the
charges,” Cross said. “Thus, some students were informed, at least
partially so, and others were not. … While this is a debatable decision,
school officials are using it as a pretext to impose their public-relations
philosophy on the newspaper, which will defeat much of the purpose
of having a newspaper in the first place.”
The Omaha World-Herald reported that the school’s principal
said he has no desire to censor or edit the paper, but he feels
responsible for setting guidelines.
“The principal has told the newspaper staff that they will ‘take
a look’ at the next issue, post-publication, and then decide what
action to take,” said SPJ Freedom of Information Committee Co-Chairman
Charles N. Davis, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri
School of Journalism. “The threat of censorship is in the air and
it creates self-censorship. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that
school officials can exercise control over high school journalists
only for pedagogical purposes, and nothing that is happening at
Central High is related to anything other than administrator self-interest
and spin control.”