|February 22, 2011|
|FIU/ESPN Videos Capture Ethical Lapses|
|By Jack O'Dwyer|
|Ethical lapses and shortcomings involving Florida Int'l University and its star baseball player Garrett Wittels are available for all to see on two videotapes.|
Wittels can be seen on ESPN3.com taking a fastball on his left hand and nearly falling down in pain at 1:55 of the game Feb. 18 in which his 56-game hitting streak ended.
Instead of taking first base as is required under 6.08(b) of baseball's rules, Wittels told umpire Michael Baker that the ball hit the knob of his bat.
Baker had waved Wittels to first base and seemed amused when Wittels bounced back from nearly being on the ground, arguing that the ball hit his bat.
The packed house of 2,000 had booed loudly when Wittels got hit.
A smiling Baker gave in to Wittels who grounded out on the next pitch.
ESPN3.com replayed the tape of the ball striking Wittels three times and it remains available for those who have the needed cable access to the service.
Wittels' 'Worst Moment'
AP writer Tim Reynolds interviewed Wittels after the game who told him that failing to take first base, when runners were needed by his team, was his "worst moment ever" in baseball because he was "selfish" and "didn't take my base."
"I don't really know what was going through my head at the time," he told Reynolds.
This is a startling admission because Wittels has portrayed himself as a deeply religious person. FIU officials have declared him "innocent" (thus far) of rape charges that have been leveled against him.
He told a press conference Feb. 18 that such charges are baseless and he quickly falls asleep each night because he has a clear conscience.
NBC sports writer Rob Sylvester compared what Wittels did to what New York Yankee Derek Jeter did in a game Sept. 15, 2010 vs. the Tampa Rays.
Jeter let the umpire award him first base although videotape show the ball hit the bat.
Jeter later admitted as much but told reporters he wasn't going to tell the umpire he was wrong. Fans by a margin of 57%-43% voted that Jeter was a "cheater."
Sylvester said that what Jeter did was for the good of the team while what Wittels did was for his own good.
Local Papers Flop on Story
Ethical lapses on this story also appeared in two Miami papers.
The Miami Herald, which has bent over backwards from Day One in trying to position Wittels and two other FIU students as victims of two 17-year-old women who had been drinking at the Atlantis Resort on Dec. 20, barely mentioned the hit-by-pitch incident.
Writer Adam Beasley reported that in Wittels' third at-bat, "things got interesting." He wrote: "An inside pitch ran in on his hands and appeared to strike him. It cost FIU a baserunner, but ironically helped Wittels, as it extended his at-bat."
That's it! No further words on this key incident.
Sun-Sentinel Has Opposite View
Worse was the Sun-Sentinel, which had picked up the Herald's initial story on the alleged rapes Dec. 28 instead of doing its own story.
Reporter Steve Gorten wrote that "Wittels appeared to clearly be hit in the left hand by (Brandon) Efferson's first pitch, but the umpire ruled it was a foul ball off his bat. Wittels removed his batting glove and tried to appeal to... (the sentence ends there with words apparently missing).
Copy then continued: "Fans packed into the 2,000-seat ballpark booed loudly as Wittels took off his left batting glove to show the umpire the welt. Coach Turtle Thomas came out of the dugout to no avail."
According to the Sun-Sentinel, Wittels was trying to get a pass to first base although Wittels allegedly told the AP's Reynolds the opposite--that he was cheating in order not to lose a turn at bat even though his team (which lost 10-2) needed base runners.
Gorten, reached by this website, said he made an error:
"It is an error on my part. The AP and Miami Herald both have it correct. Garrett and Coach Thomas both talked about the incident at a press conference after the game. Unfortunately, I had an extremely early first deadline -- I had to file the story which included my error as the final out was recorded. At that time, the details weren't clear. Garrett and Coach Thomas came out for the press conference about 30 minutes after the game -- too late for a change to be made in the initial story. I rewrote that section after the press conference to reflect what really happened. It ultimately got taken out altogether because of space reasons."
Ethical, PR Lapses at Press Conference
Ethical and PR lapses are evident in the 22-minute video of the press conference that took place Feb. 16.
The major lapse is the fact that FIU waited until the press conference itself, two days before the game, to announce that it would let Wittels play.
This gave reporters no time to prepare questions and receive definitive answers on such things as the policy of FIU and other schools on athletes accused of felonies.
Athletic director Pete Garcia brushed aside questions about FIU's ethics policy, saying violations involving felonies or other charges were handled on a "case-by-case" basis.
Attempts to question Wittels about the rape charges were repeatedly rejected with demands that only baseball be discussed.
Federal Law Improperly Cited
The conference began with Rosa Jones, VP of student affairs, (pictured at left) telling the reporters that Wittels was under the protection of the federal Family Educational Rights to Privacy Act and therefore was under no requirement to answer questions about a "pending legal matter."
This sounded like Wittels was involved in some kind of civil case rather than felony charges that could put him in jail for seven years
in the Bahamas.
"We are unable to discuss the specifics of any student case based on the Family Educational Rights to Privacy Act better known as FERPA," said Jones. She continued: "It provides confidentiality to procedures under our student code of conduct. We hope you understand our position and will use this time to focus on what we think will be a winning season."
FERPA concerns the right of students to view their educational records and have some control over who has access to such records. It has no relevance to charges such as those filed against Wittels.
Jones immediately left the room after giving her admonition and was not available for questioning.
Garcia Rebuffs Reporters
Garcia then said that in America people are considered "innocent until proven guilty" and that while reporters could ask any question they wanted, he and other school officials and players would "answer any questions we want to."
An unidentified reporter said FIU on Feb. 18 faced a "bitter sweet" situation since it would have a national audience for its game but the rape charges against Wittels would also get attention.
A reporter asked Wittels to "set the record straight on exactly what happened that night" but Wittels replied that lawyers had told him not to discuss it.
FIU PR a No-Show
The Wittels incident put the spotlight on the FIU PR dept. headed by Sandra Gonzalez-Levy, SVP external relations.
She did not return either a phone call or e-mail from this website on the story. A staffer directed us to PR staff in the FIU athletic dept.
It appears FIU corporate PR has little or no influence on how the school is handling the Wittels case.
Also unreachable by us is Lillian Kopenhaver, head of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
By coincidence, Rosanna Fiske, elected head of the world's largest association of PR people, the PR Society of America, is a PR teacher at FIU. She has not returned our phone calls or e-mail for years.
Fiske on Feb. 14 authored a report on the organizational meeting of the PR Society board two weeks earlier that was deceptive, in our opinion. It failed to note that for the first time, the organizational meeting was by telephone, something that the revised bylaws allows. As usual, the fact that there was going to be a board meeting was not on the website's calendar of activities.
No self-respecting corporate board would meet by telephone.
The Society says it is the moral leader of the PR industry but it's about time it lived up to its own Code of Ethics which says ethics is the supreme duty of its members.
Bad Mixture: Alcohol & Sex; Duke Redux
The Wittels case, in which two 17-year-old women who had been drinking allegedly had sexual relations five times with Wittels and two other FIU students whom they had just met, puts the spotlight on drinking and sex.
This topic is examined at length in the Jan./Feb. Atlantic under the headline: "The Hazards of Duke," which reports on a female student's descriptions of sex with 13 Duke athletes.
Quoted is physician and psychologist Leonard Sax who says that, "Drink per drink, alcohol is more dangerous to young women than it is to young men, even after adjusting for differences in height and weight. Alcohol appears to damage girls' brains differently and more severely than the same degree of alcohol abuse affects same-age boys."
Sax is the author of "Girls on the Edge" which says the abuse of alcohol by young women has quadrupled in recent years and more women in college are now alcohol abusers than men.
Recent Duke grad Karen Owen assembled 42 slides accompanied by profuse details including photographs of the men and descriptions of their sexual abilities. She sent the materials to three friends but they forwarded it to numerous others resulting in a "huge audience including the men whom she describes," writes contributing editor Caitlin Flanagan.
Charges vs. Lacrosse Team Recalled
Flanagan, who is unstinting in her criticism of Duke ("with its large share of rich students displaying their money in the form of expensive cars and clothing, huge TV sets, their love of porn, profoundly anti-intellectual, a university whose thoughtful students are overshadowed by its voraciously self-centered ones"), recalls the rape charges against three members of the lacrosse team in 2006.
Leaving aside the fact that no trial was ever held on the charges after the attorney general decreed that the accused were "innocent" and declared the case closed, Flanagan says that what the Duke athletes did fell "far outside the realm of what anyone can call decent behavior."
She said they hired two strippers (at $400 each) who were "desperately poor, one of them a mother of two," and became angry when "they turned out not to be white, suggesting the women use a broomstick as a sex toy, and then hurling racial slurs at them as they stumbled back into their car."
The "bungled case," she wrote, resulted in the Duke players being pictured as "victimized solid citizens."
One of the alleged sex partners of Owen was David Evans, a lacrosse team member who was at the party. The NCAA, citing the year he lost to the scandal, allowed Evans an extra year of eligibility as a lacrosse player when he became an M.B.A. candidate.
Tucker Max - "King of Duke"
Flanagan refers to former Duke Law School student Tucker Max who authored in 2005 "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell," described by one reviewer "277 pages of non-stop drinking, debauchery and fornication."
Max, according to Flanagan, with his "Howard Stern" style of aggressiveness and vulgarity, "became the unofficial king of Duke" and a "legendary figure to fraternity members across the country, who treat him, and his simple system of playing directly on women's insecurities to get them in bed immediately, as a messiah," writes Flanagan.
Crucial to his method, says Flanagan, is "the titanic amount of alcohol he and his potential partners consume before the hookup."
The same issue of the Atlantic has an article called "Hard Core" by Natasha Vargas-Cooper that details the "pervasiveness" of porn on the web (accounting for a quarter of all searches).
Children in classrooms are hiding their cellphones behind textbooks while watching hardcore videos in which women are often treated in a degrading manner, she writes.
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