About News

Big, Unanswered Questions Don’t Have a Statute of Limitations

University of Alabama basketball players Brandon Miller and Jaden Bradley spoke during the UA vs. Ole Miss press conference. (UA Youtube feed)

After Alabama basketball player Darius Miles was charged with capital murder, coach Nate Oats called NFL Hall of Famer Ray Lewis for advice. I don’t know what Lewis might have told Oats beyond what has been reported, but he might have said: “The damn news media will never let it go.”

Lewis should know. In 2000, the Baltimore Ravens linebacker was charged with murder in connection with the stabbing deaths of two men in Atlanta. Lewis ended up pleading guilty to obstruction of justice. But Lewis never fully accounted publicly for his actions that night.

So a Sports Illustrated reporter new to the NFL beat decided to go into the locker room and give Lewis a chance to do so. Thirteen years later. Unsurprisingly, Lewis got angry. The reporter got blacklisted by Lewis’ teammates, chewed out by the Ravens’ media relations staff and threatened with loss of access to the locker room.

Well, so what. Can’t chicken out of asking questions that need to be asked just because someone will get angry. And the time lag? That, according to a 2018 retrospective article by the SI reporter, Robert Klemko, was the fault of Lewis and the Ravens for making sure reporters never got access to Lewis in anything other than a controlled forum.

Moving to present day, the University of Alabama has granted the news media zero access to players since the revelation in court that two other players, star Brandon Miller and Jaden Bradley, were at the scene of the fatal shooting of Jamea Jonae Harris on Jan. 15. Both players have continued to play.

If I’m a UA administrator, in the current fraught circumstances, I probably wouldn’t want a press availability, either. But that doesn’t change the professional and moral necessity for the news media to seek a complete and truthful account of events that night. The victim deserves that, and it’s the only way to fairly judge the actions of the university.

It’s a great PR trick to stonewall and then later claim mootness because of the passage of time. The media can’t let that trick work.

It will be interesting to see if the media opportunities required by the SEC and NCAA men’s basketball tournaments lead to interviews with Miller. (Certainly, UA has had plenty of time to coach Miller and everyone else on what to say.)

No matter how many media relations people get mad, or how bad it will look to fans, someone someday has to ask, “Brandon, did you know the gun was in the car?” He doesn’t have to answer that or any of the several other unanswered questions about the tragedy. But the media have to try. And it doesn’t matter what year it is.

Tom Arenberg is an instructor of news media at the University of Alabama.

Tom Arenberg is an instructor of news media at the University of Alabama. He worked for The Birmingham News and the Alabama Media Group for 30 years. He published this commentary originally as a post on his blog, The Arenblog.

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