Number me – a retired journalist – among those who are amused, sometimes to the point of laughing out loud, while watching the latest dustup between Washington State University football coach Mike Leach and sports journalists, or reading about it.
I began my journalism career as a general assignment and sports reporter at the Rawlins (Wyo.) Times, in 1962.
Later, among other things, I was a sports photographer at the Provo Daily Herald. As a freelance photographer, I’ve even shot WSU football.
Like Leach, my personality drove me to sometimes behave a bit different from what’s normally considered – well – normal. I flew with the Blue Angels. I risked arrest by three times challenging presidential candidate Richard Nixon’s Secret Service detachment to figuratively stick a camera up Nixon’s left nostril as he deplaned on the tarmac at the Salt Lake airport in 1968. And I have Nixon’s autograph on the picture. I walked a tightrope 60 feet in the air. I photographed a Brigham Young University football game from a hot air balloon. Hopefully, all can agree that John Blanchette is a highly regarded sports columnist.
He has been voted Washington Sportswriter of the Year nine times and is a member of the NW Sports Hall of Fame. He has earned the respect he has among sports journalists and fans alike.
Surely – like him or not – Coach Leach ranks high among the nation’s college football coaches. He is known for a certain quirky genius, which I suggest has genesis in his personality.
Leach never played college football, earned a Juris Doctor degree from Pepperdine, and became a football coach. Now that is odd. He is known for a certain fondness for pirates of old and draws valuable lessons from them for football. His tiffs with news media are legendary; amusing to some and abhorrent to others.
I don’t agree with all of Leach’s play calls; but since I’m not paid $4 million a year to call plays I defer to Leach. However, I do feel qualified to opine on the First Amendment as it pertains to pro and con complaints in the Blanchette/Leach controversy.
Like Leach, I’m puzzled, even amazed, by criticism of Leach’s engaging with sports writers. I’m embarrassed, as surely Leach is, by some of the questions and comments that sports reporters throw at him.
As Leach walked off the field at halftime during a recent football game, a broadcast reporter asked why he hadn’t played a certain player more, to which Leach curtly replied: “Because we played someone else.”
I nearly fell out of my chair laughing and pumping my fist in the air.
Reading the Moscow-Pullman Daily News on Dec. 7, I laughed so loud and long that Ruth called out from the kitchen to ask what was so funny.
Leach’s response to complaints of the Washington State Association of Broadcasters and of the Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington to WSU President Kirk Schulz was worth belly laughs as Leach repeatedly reiterated his opinion that Blanchette is “a sanctimonious troll,” repeating it five or six times.
Leach claims a First Amendment right to publicly express his opinions, whether about football or politics. Not so.
Legions of attorneys make a living writing employment contracts that limit speech. Details of when an employer may or may not limit speech is too complex for a short column. The First Amendment pertains to government suppression of speech.
The real issue isn’t whether Leach has a First Amendment right to cast derision on Blanchette, but whether it is astute from a public relations standpoint.
Has Leach ever asserted a First Amendment right to criticize game officiating without getting fined?
As a journalist, I’m more than a bit embarrassed by broadcasters’ and print journalists’ demands that Schulz take Leach out beside the barn and whip him into shape.
Blanchette’s question, which evoked Leach’s opinion of him, amounted to a razor sharp harpoon. He was taunting Leach, and deserved what he got, regardless of whether it was politic or impolitic.
As the late President Harry Truman opined, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
Terence L. Day’s 57-year journalism included 32 years on the Washington State University faculty and continues in freelance photography and writing. He and wife, Ruth, have lived in Pullman for 47 years. He encourages reader opinion – pro and con – at firstname.lastname@example.org