UK Athletics revokes Kernel’s access to basketball interviews

A decision involving UK Athletics and a Kernel editor brought the First Amendment into question Monday.

Kernel basketball writer Aaron Smith’s media access to a set of men’s basketball team interviews was revoked Monday after he was said to have violated UK Athletics’ policy on interviewing student athletes.

The Kernel, an independent student newspaper, reported Monday morning that two walk-ons had been added to the basketball team — information that Smith had uncovered after looking up the two players’ cellphone numbers in the directory on UK’s website and calling them. The names of the players, Brian Long and Sam Malone, were first released on Twitter Sunday night by UK freshman basketball player Anthony Davis (@AntDavis23) and also reported on Kentucky Sports Radio just after 9 a.m. Monday.

UK Athletics has not officially announced the two players as walk-ons.

Long and Malone confirmed to Smith that they are on the team but declined to be interviewed further.

Smith was to receive access, along with other select members of the media, to one-on-one interviews with members of the basketball team on Tuesday, but lost that “reward” when he attempted to interview the two athletes, said DeWayne Peevy, UK’s associate athletic director for UK Media Relations.

Peevy said that Tuesday’s interviews are “a reward to, basically, a preferred group of people to give them special access.”

He said there has to be “some sort of trust” between UK Athletics and any reporter given access to this round of interviews because information received during them is supposed to be embargoed until Oct. 1.

Peevy, who has been at UK since 2008, said this was the first year the Kernel was invited to these interviews since he has worked for athletics, and no other student media has been involved either, to his knowledge.

Peevy said that he did not have a problem with Smith reporting the news, but once Smith found out Long and Malone were student athletes, he should not have attempted to interview them without first contacting Media Relations. Peevy said UK Athletics’ policy is for reporters to contact Media Relations if they want to talk to a player.

After Smith was alerted to the information on Twitter, Peevy said it was public record that they were on the team, but, “In a perfect world, Aaron should have called me to confirm.”

“I can’t be upset with you because you have that right,” Peevy said, of calling the players using phone numbers from the directory. “Going along with that policy is by choice. But I can choose not to reward you.”

Jon L. Fleischaker, a Louisville attorney who represents the Kentucky Press Association, of which the Kernel is a member, called UK Athletics’ decision “inappropriate.”

“The very fact that they don’t like the way you’re exercising your First Amendment rights does not give them the right to deprive you of an opportunity you would otherwise have,” Fleischaker said. He said the university should not have taken action just because Smith did not contact the players in the way the university preferred.

Adam Goldstein of the Student Press Law Center agreed that UK Athletics officials should not revoke access they had already given Smith, and that since reporters do not agree to a contract with UK regarding media coverage, “The university doesn’t have the ability to punish people for reporting the news.”

When the Kernel asked Monday afternoon if the policy was written, Peevy said UK Athletics officials do not have any written policies saying a reporter must contact them first when trying to access players but seasoned beat reporters know that is the preferred method.

After the Kernel posted this story online, Peevy tweeted a picture of the policy, saying it was “written in every media guide. No one signs it or anything, but it’s real.”

Peevy responded to several journalists and fans on Twitter after the story was posted Monday night.

Smith said this is the first time he has tried to contact a player without going through Media Relations, but at the time he had made the phone calls, it was not confirmed that Long and Malone were student athletes at UK.

Smith was the basketball reporter for the Kernel last season, as well, and is one of this year’s managing editors.

“I had had nothing but a positive relationship for a year, and I feel like this is a minor violation,” Smith said, “and (Peevy) even said that, too.”

Smith said in that sense, he felt like UK Athletics’ action was “excessive.”

In regard to the revoking of Smith’s access being a possible First Amendment violation, Peevy said, “If you see it that way, it’s fine.” He did not say that he was considering changing his mind about his decision.

Smith said he asked Peevy if he could gain access Tuesday to all the players except for Long and Malone, as a sort of compromise, but Peevy denied that request.

UK Athletics might have handled the situation correctly, said Stephen Dittmore, an assistant professor of recreation and sports management at the University of Arkansas.

Dittmore said that from a public relations perspective, one way to issue retribution for a reporter’s action would be to give an exclusive to a competitor, such as the Lexington Herald-Leader.

“I think sports organizations, from a PR perspective, need to be careful about how they issue retribution to organizations that cover them on a regular basis,” said Dittmore, who also co-authored a book on sports public relations.

He said it is important that organizations write down their policies, even if just in the media guides issued each year for basketball and football programs.

Dittmore said also, though, that the situation involving calling students using phone numbers that were publicly available constitutes good reporting.

“I’m not suggesting anyone should penalize a journalistic organization for good reporting,” he said.

The policy exists, Peevy said, in the interests of protecting student athletes’ privacy. For basketball players, he said, “the requests that we receive alone are so much that a student wouldn’t be able to be a student.”

“We give them an opportunity to be a student first, not a professional athlete,” Peevy said.

Kernel Editor-in-Chief Taylor Moak said she understands why that policy is in place, but she still thinks Smith acted appropriately.

“These sources were not confirmed as walk-on players,” Moak said, “and Aaron was just trying to confirm if they were, in fact, walk-ons, and he found the numbers in a public directory, which is open to anyone.”

She said the players were not yet confirmed as UK athletes, and it was not as if Smith was trying to contact directly a known member of the basketball team.

“He was just trying to confirm the story on his own, which is a sign of strong journalistic work,” Moak said.

Peevy said that when bloggers from Kentucky Sports Radio called, he did not confirm to them whether Long and Malone were on the team.

Peevy has gotten into public disagreement over coverage and credentials before.

In July, CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish published a story saying Davis, the freshman who tweeted about the walk-ons, would have to face questions about his recruitment. Peevy replied to the story on Twitter, saying, “I guess we now know one media seat that will be available at Rupp this year. BBN don’t give them what they want, your clicks! #WeAreUK.”

Peter Baniak, editor and vice president of the Lexington Herald-Leader, said the newspaper had an access issue with UK Athletics officials when they held invitation-only access to events and invited one specific Herald-Leader reporter over another. He said the newspaper declined to attend.

Read the Lexington Herald-Leader’s story on the issue here

“Ultimately, we determine which reporters cover which stories,” Baniak said. “The newspaper makes assignments.”

A situation similar to the Kernel’s has not occurred with the Herald-Leader before, though.

“UK has never threatened to take away the Herald-Leader’s credentials over coverage,” Baniak said.

The updated list of media allowed to the one-on-one interviews Tuesday includes three print media, five television outlets, five websites and a marketing firm. Peevy said one of the media replaced the Kernel’s spot, and none of the remaining outlets are student media organizations. He refused to name the outlet replacing the Kernel.

Kernel editors have not decided whether they will pursue legal action for violation of First Amendment rights.

Goldstein also said that athletics programs and players have obligations to the NCAA, but reporters do not.

“It’s media relations and the institution that has the obligations, but they can’t seek to enforce those obligations by violating civil rights,” Goldstein said. “They don’t own your civil rights to contract them away to the NCAA.

“Nothing you can do — no contracts the university can enter into with anyone on the planet — can empower it to punish students for reporting the news.”

Reach managing editor Becca Clemons at 859-257-1915 or at bclemons@kykernel.com, or follow her on Twitter @KernelClemons.

View a compilation of online reactions to this story.

Greg: I imagine a court will now have to determine if a state institution using state funds will be permitted to punish media for not complying with its non-binding media regulations. I am sure a court will now have to determine the legality of what UK did. I am quite certain that is an unanswered question, and I am quite certain the constitution says nothing of PR flacks punishing the media for not following their non-laws. 
Would like to hear what part of the constitution guarantees what the SID did as proper and legal. 

Youre right JS, the first amendment protects that right to report.

But there is nothing illegal about UK revoking press credentials either……seems to me that right is guaranteed in the constitution as well.

I have to laugh at some of the people saying that UK is in the right here. So Smith should just follow protocol and have every little thing he does be approved by the athletic department first? That is not journalism: that is being a PR puppet.

If the University really wanted to “protect” (a very interesting term to use) their student athletes from journalists, they should just remind them that they don’t have to talk if they don’t want to. That simple.

Some of you need to understand some basic things about how the UK Athletics Dept works. Media Access to players, coaches, and staff is all controlled by the Media Relations Dept. You do not have to follow these rules, however, UK also does not have to allow you access to their events. There is no guarantee of access to anyone, not just the kernel. All bloggers, reporters, photographers, etc. are given access to the UK Media Guide when they are given press access, and they are also reminded that in order to maintain that access, they must abide by that guide. 

There is nothing unconstitutional, nothing unethical, nothing unfair about it. If someone does not want to abide by that guide, they don’t have to, but UK does not have to give them a press pass either.

The first amendment is simple. It allows a free press to report the facts unencumbered by government interference. In the UK case, they are attempting to strong-arm journalists from reporting the truth in a timely and perfectly legal manner so they can control the message and the timing of the message. It is blatant, transparent, stupid, fool hearty and wrong. The spirit of the First Amendment was put in place to stop precisely that kind of crap. Diehard Do-No-Wrong “Big Blue” fans will certainly disagree with this premise. Wonder where you stand, UKJuan? 

the spirit of………….. since, your so smart I’m sure you’re aware of WHY the first amendment was put in there. The specific reason it was such a hot button issue back then. And why it was first among them.

The UK Athletic Department, part of a state-funded educational institution, should be protecting free speech for the town’ only college newspaper. Instead, it chooses to become punish a newspaper in a very unAmerican way. Good job to the college paper for seeking out news and not just the press-release version of what that pathetic sports department wants you to report, when it wants you to report it. An aside to all this is what it is much more fun covering an institution as an outsider than an insider because all the comfortable constraints of being an insider are gone. And that is what the AD at UK should be worried about now. Watergate was not broken by White House staffers but by a 20-something general assignment reporter who was not beholden to Nixon in any way for access. So keep up the good work and keep seeking out the news on your own schedule. Not this useless idiot who is quoted in the piece from the UK. 

UK is being stupid about this… in the best light.  In the worst light, they are doing something illegal.

I mean, after all, UK is located in the Land of the Free (which includes Freedom of the Press), and the Home of the Brave.

This comment was deleted because of a violation in the Kentucky Kernel’s policy against vulgar, profane, abusive, or racist language or expressions, epithets or slurs in poor taste, and inflammatory attacks of a personal, racial or religious nature.

Hey this is what Facebook and Twitter are good for…nothing but a bunch of gossip.  And Aaron is a wonderful reporter and slapping him on the hand was good enough for a firs offense.  He should have not been declined to interview on Tues.  He should have gotten a warning and so forth.  People make a mountain out of a mole hill.

The procedure that is established for student-athletes. Until either Long or Malone were officially announced as UK athletes the procedure does not apply.  If Peevy just answers the original question then there’s no issue.

The procedure that is established for student-athletes. Until either Long or Malone were officially announced as UK athletes the procedure does not apply.  If Peevy just answers the original question then there’s no issue.

“If he had any questions regarding the players’ status, he should have gone to UK Athletics.”

From the story: “Peevy said that when bloggers from Kentucky Sports Radio called, he did not confirm to them whether Long and Malone were on the team.”

Reporters should be content to talk only to official spokespeople, who will refuse to talk to them. 

“This is what happens when pretend journalist get greedy”

Actually, this is what happens when someone decides to be a real journalist instead of a stenographer. It’s a classic case of how an institution uses “access” as a reward/punishment system to keep “reporters” in line, and a great illustration of why “access’ is often overrated. You get access as long as you do what the institution you’re covering is happy with what you do. I can’t imagine how that could be defined as journalism. 

Hey doc, u ever get telemarketers interrupting dinner with ur family? Do u enjoy that? This, is to prevent that.

You got caught speeding.  You got a ticket. Your keys got taken away for one night. Go driving tomorrow morning. Get over it.

Your audience is a population that gets technicalities called on them every day at work. Take it like a man.

the 1st amendment is about refusing the media the ability to expose scandal. THIS is NOT that. You all are twisting it to get ur way like a child. Just follow the procedure.

At the time Aaron conducted the interview, there was no confirmation that either was a student-athlete at the University of Kentucky. The only permission one needs to interview a student at UK is from the student him/herself. Peevy is out of line, and he knows it.

He broke the rule and that is that. There is no first amendment violation here. Find a new lawyer. UK has every right to protect their student athletes. They DO have a policy that the media CANNOT call a student athlete personally for an interview. The invite to the interview was a privilege and NOT A RIGHT. Know the rules and don’t break them. Period.

Just because Smith didn’t follow “protocol”–and I use that term lightly because Smith did not sign away a single right in agreeing to cover UK basketball–doesn’t mean UK can arbitrarily pull his credentials. Argue what you will about it being a privilege to cover UK athletics, but when that privilege is revoked because a journalist exercises his free speech rights, that’s simply unconstitutional.

Furthermore, Smith dug deep and gave you naysayers information that Peevy and his goons were going to hold for a while. Go ahead and argue protocol and all that PR garbage, but do you think the ongoing Miami football scandal would have been uncovered if Yahoo’s Charles Robinson followed protocol? Certainly not.

UK Athletics is making a big mistake, just like it did last year when it prohibited this fine publication from being distributed at Commonwealth Stadium. When will these miscreants learn that you can’t push these kids around?

Sounds to me like these “student journalists” need to keep in mind that it is a privilege to have access to UK student athletes, and not a right.  Threatening legal action and all that non-sense is just another product of the entitlement culture that stigmatizes most college students today anyhow.  The fact that the Kernel had to even write about this in such a subjective manner clearly shows it’s just sour grapes.  Just grow up, and do the right thing (even when no one is looking), and be a good citizen… if you do that issues like these probably won’t happen in the first place.  I fully support Peevy on this, he’s absolutely in the right as the policy-setter.

I think UK did the right thing in this situation.  Their first obligation is to protect the student athlete not the journalists that cover them.  I agree with the previous post that there isn’t a violation here.

Aaron (and the Kernal) got exactly what he deserved.  If he had any questions regarding the players’ status, he should have gone to UK Athletics.  Now he knows their status and he clearly violated the rules regarding player contact.  This is what happens when pretend journalist get greedy…He had unbelieveable access to the players and blew it.  I’m glad UK revoked his access.  There in no 1st Amendment violation.  The Constitution demands free speech, not free access.

Might want to fact check this, “UK Athletics officials do not have any written policies saying a
reporter must contact them first when trying to access players, Peevy
said, but seasoned beat reporters know that is the preferred method.”

From the UK MBB Game Notes/Media Guide: “All interviews with Kentucky student-athletes must be coordinated through John Hayden with UK Media Relations.”