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The Outside the Lines report on athlete behavior is important and incredibly frustrating

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

So Outside the Lines was talking about Missouri again yesterday.

Outside the Lines: College athletes at major programs benefit from confluence of factors to sometimes avoid criminal charges

Overall, the Outside the Lines investigation found that what occurs between high-profile college athletes and law enforcement is not as simple as the commonly held perception that police and prosecutors simply show preferential treatment, though that does occur. Rather, the examination of more than 2,000 documents shows that athletes from the 10 schools mainly benefited from the confluence of factors that can be reality at major sports programs: the near-immediate access to high-profile attorneys, the intimidation that is felt by witnesses who accuse athletes, and the higher bar some criminal justice officials feel needs to be met in high-profile cases.

OTL: Missouri Tigers had 2nd-most athletes alleged in sex assaults
Auburn Tigers' records make athlete-crime comparison difficult
OTL: OSU incidents illustrate messy athlete-police interactions
Most criminally accused Florida State athletes don't face prosecution
Accused ex-Badger who got out of jail 'must know some people in high places'
Notre Dame's private-university status shields police reports from public
Community beliefs, access to lawyers benefit accused Oregon State athletes
Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin has changed approach toward accused athletes
Florida Gators had most athletes as crime suspects from 2000-14
Michigan State athletes, nonathletes have same prosecution rate

1. That ESPN and Outside the Lines are attempting to tackle a really important, tricky topic is an excellent thing. Sexual assaults -- be they in the general community, on campus, committed by student athletes, whatever -- are dangerous and too frequent, and OTL is a powerful, respected brand on average. That Missouri is involved in this series stinks for Mizzou and its fans, but it's beside the point. There is an overall need for good journalism regarding this topic.

2. As a Missouri fan, it is certainly frustrating to have to read through mostly the same pieces that have been previously reported by OTL, namely the actions of Derrick Washington, Mike Dixon, and, to a lesser extent, Dorial Green-Beckham. We can argue about the degrees, but their actions put a stain on the athletic department, and whether ESPN continues to bring it up or not, that stain doesn't simply go away if we don't talk about it.

3. Beyond that, the most alarming part of the Mizzou-specific report was that, between 2009 and 2014, 46 football and basketball players were involved in some sort of criminal incident. That's a lot, and it's frustrating. Missouri has for a long while talked a big game about being good in the community, respecting women, etc., and considering a lot more than 46 players played in those sports in that span, the message certainly took hold far more frequently than not. But the university's performance in this regard also fails to meet the standard of other schools in the study. You want to be the best (least bad) in this regard, even if every other school in the country has issues like this.

4. That said, there are some pretty obvious things that frustrated me about the way this piece was presented.

* I hated -- HAAAAATED -- the headline of the Missouri piece (beyond the confusing grammar). "Second-highest number of alleged in sex assaults in OTL study" (sic). With the obvious caveat (the "second-highest" would be bad if it were even out of just three schools), that tells you nothing about the size of the study. You read the headline or see the headline tweeted out (as it very much was), and you think Mizzou was second-highest out of all FBS schools, or even all Division I schools, not second of 10. It's even more frustrating that they looked for the thing that made Missouri's ranking the highest. The top chart in the overall story shows that 14 percent of Missouri players were involved in criminal incidents; only three of 10 schools were lower. But they figured out a way to say Mizzou was second-worst. That's more of an attention-and-clicks tactic than I would ever want to see regarding a story of this nature.

* I also hated that there were school-specific stories at all. The focus should be on the main story because, when you're using a sample of just 10 Division I schools, the focus should be on trends and general conclusions. The primary story shows the impressive amount of research done and offers interesting general conclusions. The 10 school-specific stories should have been appendices of some sort and didn't have to share the marquee. It made it seem like these were the 10 worst schools in the country. Again, it was a potentially valuable piece dressed up in a way that gets the most hits and the most homerific attention and the most people fired up. That would be fine if this were a "Best college towns!" series. It's not.

* In a strange way, the way this was designed also created this weird "ESPN covers ESPN covering a story" vibe. Very off-putting.

5. Now, for the most frustrating, Mizzou-specific parts of this series.

* It was indeed frustrating to see all the same pieces of information reported all over again, as they have been about once every six months for a couple of years. There is nothing new about Washington or Dixon, and there is only one piece of new information about DGB -- the 2012 dorm incident discussed here (pdf), one that was certainly blurry in terms of known facts. While I maintain that ignoring them doesn't make the stain go away, this repetition makes it seem like Missouri has an ongoing problem that OTL continues to address, even if it's the same pieces of info over and over again. We'll call this collateral damage, but it's still not fun.

* From the big piece:

When a woman told Columbia, Missouri, police in April 2014 that football player Dorial Green-Beckham had forced a door open and pushed her down the stairs in the apartment she shared with Green-Beckham's girlfriend, the girlfriend texted the alleged victim to persuade her to tell police to drop the charges.

"He will be kicked out of Mizzou and then not qualify for the [NFL] draft next year. The coaches talked to me and explained how serious this is and there's no time to waste at this point."

Seems like this would have been a good time to mention that football coaches virulently denied pressuring her in any way.

From the Mizzou piece:

In that story, Outside the Lines reported the soccer player told police that her coach said she might lose her scholarship unless she dropped the assault allegations against Washington.

Seems like this would have been a good time to mention that Bryan Blitz denied pressuring her in any way, and what he said to her was addressed/clarified by R. Bowen Loftin.

I understand the problem with turning issues like this into he-said, she-said, but if you're going to use one person's unverifiable side of the story, and there is an on-the-record response from the side made to look bad by this, you might want to include the response. Otherwise, when people accuse you of cherry-picking (and they always do, right or wrong), they're going to be right. Not including any reference to official responses is infuriating.

From the big piece:

She had reason to be fearful. On, a popular online forum for Missouri fans, the name-calling and harassment had begun: "Which loser ass snitch called the cops over some drunk kids arguing?" "Snitches get stitches!" "No, just a jersey chaser looking for $." "Jock sniffin for dark meat team." "Is gold digging a sport?"

Are you f***ing kidding me with this? Every school/team in the country has a message board where awful, heinous, reprehensible things are said. My goodness. Every school has Internet psychos. Every single one. This was included for shock and nothing else. And besides that, it's not even good shock. Nobody was looking for her home address, her phone number, her social security records, or anything else. This was just a**holes shooting their anonymous mouths off. That doesn't suggest there's any personal threat to anyone.

Again, this is a really, really important topic. People are going to accuse you of cherry-picking or being sensationalist no matter what. Make sure they're not right.

Alligator Army on the OTL report

6. This actually brings to light the biggest problem I have with this series: specificity. You have a mountain of data to point out all the ways in which these issues are problematic (especially as they pertain to athletics), and then you get completely bogged down in specifics, which makes it look like you're trying to take 10 schools down instead of point out general, countrywide problems. And when you get bogged down in those type of details, you lose the opportunity to be prescriptive.

7. I'm ready for something prescriptive. One positive that came to light because of the Outside the Lines series is that Mizzou was misinterpreting some of its Title IX responsibilities. And yes, by all accounts this seems to have been a misinterpretation, not an evil lack of oversight. Since Loftin came aboard, in fact, Mizzou has been very aggressive in attempting fix its issues and create the best possible reporting structure for such accused crimes. The OTL piece doesn't even touch on what Missouri or anybody else is doing, and most frustrating of all to me, it doesn't touch on what schools should be doing.

As far as I know, Derrick Washington, Mike Dixon, and Dorial Green-Beckham didn't have massive criminal records in high school. They were all regional or national recruits; nobody was scared away from recruiting them because they thought these guys would end up harming women. That Mizzou landed them (and others who were evidently involved in various criminal actions of some sort) doesn't mean Mizzou knowingly welcomed potential predators to campus.

In other words, what matters most in these situations is what happens after something bad happens. When Derrick Washington was charged with something, he was dismissed. Dixon and DGB were dismissed without facing specific charges. That seems pretty aggressive to me.

The biggest issue facing Missouri and plenty of others is the reporting structure. You cannot dismiss a student athlete before he is charged, or before something pretty specific and damning comes to light. So the mission is to make sure that if an incident needs to see the light of day, it sees the light of day. I don't want to be rooting for players who turn out to be awful human beings. I want them gone the moment they can be proven awful.

To this degree, if you're going to point out that potential victims were more likely to be dissuaded from reporting crimes to the proper officials at Mizzou than at other places, look into why that may be. Honestly, I'd love to know. I have no idea. Yes, there are Mizzou cretins on the Internet. Loads of them. But again, that applies to every school and sports team in the country. In the world, for that matter. If you're going to say victims are scared of reporting crimes in Columbia, at least assure us that you'll be looking into why that is instead of simply pointing a very visible finger.

Again, this is an incredibly important topic. I hate that Missouri is involved in any way, but so be it. But I want journalism on topics like this to be as close to infallible as it can possibly be. I don't want Internet cretins to simply be able to say "That's a terrible headline," or "you very blatantly cherry-picked data for this headline/damning point" or anything else that allows them to dismiss the entire story off-hand. Unfair as this may be, it has to be almost perfect. I love that Outside the Lines is throwing weight behind this topic; now I just need them to be doing a better job on this topic.