Schad's Sources and the Narrative Problem

Matthew Stockman

"I don’t really care who’s the source in any story. I don’t care and I don’t know why people are so worked up about it. " - Joe Schad

Last night I had a discussion with a Texas Tech grad and he spouted off something about the Mike Leach incident. I thought for a bit about how the Leach situation was handled, and I realized how eerily similar some of the characteristics are to our Manziel situation. I decided to go back through the events as they unfolded. What I found showed me how I never should have given Joe Schad or ESPN any credibility for having journalistic integrity from the beginning. History should never be forgotten.

In December of 2009, Texas Tech suspended, and eventually fired, Head coach Mike Leach after player Adam James put a video on YouTube showing him locked in a utility closet. The James family, which includes then ESPN College Football Analyst Craig James, filed a complaint about Adam's treatment after an injury. They claimed that Mike Leach had put Adam in the closet after suffering a concussion. The first reports were released by someone we are all familiar with now, Joe Schad:

A source close to James' family told ESPN's Joe Schad that James sustained a concussion on Dec. 16, was examined the following day and told not to practice because of the injury and an elevated heart rate. The source said Leach called a trainer and directed him to move James "to the darkest place, to clean out the equipment and to make sure that he could not sit or lean. He was confined for three hours."

To further validate this claim in the story, Schad uses a reference to a source that isn't even actually their source:

A source told The Associated Press that James said Leach told him if he came out, he would be kicked off the team. According to the source, Leach told the trainer, two days later, to "put [James] in the darkest, tightest spot. It was in an electrical closet, again, with a guard posted outside."

Mike Leach was abruptly fired from Texas Tech only a few days after these reports came out. Texas Tech moved so quickly, seemingly based on nothing but media reports. Unlike our University which has taken its time to check facts, and has stood by the American right to be presumed innocent until found guilty, Texas Tech claimed that this provided them with just cause to fire Leach only a week after his being accused. The Chancellor of Tech, not the AD, threw the first stone in the media:

"I'm very sad to say there's only one person to blame for this and it's Mike Leach," Texas Tech chancellor Kent Hance told The Associated Press.

ESPN even made sure to quote the players themselves, players who had issues with Leach in the past, and had only been exposed to information from ESPN, on what they thought about Leach's firing:

"I have no complaints about this decision. [Leach] put Adam [James] in a shed like an animal. Like an animal in a cage. That was bull," defensive lineman Chris Perry said. "You call other players. I think it was a good decision. We have our pep back now. We practice hard this week. We had less stress this week. You know why? Because he's gone."

Surely if the University was willing to fire Leach, and was going to talk about it to the press so quickly, the man had to have been guilty, right? Not so fast friends. A few days after the firing, Texas Tech head football athletic trainer Steve Pinock (yay, a named source!), gave a statement to Mike Leach's attorneys stating that Adam James was placed in a "sports medicine garage big as a two-car garage." Immediately, you can see that the university didn't actually conduct any investigation, because their actions indicate that they never talked to the man in charge of actually taking care of Adam James. It should be noted that this story, which goes against the original narrative, was authored by Mark Schlabach and not Joe Schad.

The entire saga played out for a while with Mike Leach being very vocal about the foul play in his dismissal. Leach decided to sue Texas Tech for wrongful termination, and go after ESPN for defamation of character. Now that it was out of the hands of the media and University, real lawyers and real testimony could be taken to find out exactly what happened. Through the actual legal process, and not media crucifixion, Adam James testifies to the fact that none of this really happened:

"According to [the trainer's] statement, he specifically told James not to go into the electrical closet by the media room. James admitted under oath that he ignored Pincock’s instructions. He admitted that he let himself into that closet and that he shot a video — a video that would start a firestorm of allegations — because he thought it was funny."

As is discovered later, Texas Tech had a hidden agenda to fire Leach to avoid contract renegotiation. The most interesting part of the entire ordeal, the one that should put doubt into your mind about the people trying to vilify Johnny Manziel now, comes from verifiable facts as laid out in Mike Leach's book "Swing Your Sword":

"The other interesting thing is Craig James hired a PR firm and Craig James used a PR firm who funneled a bunch of false information to ESPN. And then the chancellor at Tech utilized the same PR firm to smear me nationally in order to try and take my contract. Craig James was upset and bitter about how much playing time his son had and I think he knew I was going to cut him after the bowl game. And their documents outline their strategy to smear me nationally, their strategy to try to get witnesses to change their statements and then their strategy to distribute the false video that Adam James took on his phone."

"Joe Schad did contact Adam James and players and then Adam, of course, would go around and try to find the occasional malcontent … to try to make negative comments. It was literally orchestrated specifically by Craig James through Adam and Joe Schad. That’s in the book in the words of … the PR firm that Craig hired."

ESPN was clearly used to propagate a fake story about a coach's mistreatment of an athlete through writer Joe Schad. E-mails obtained by the media between Spaeth Communications and Craig James were revealed to substantiate Leach's statements. E-mail from James' PR company clearly show that they fed information to Joe Schad to keep the narrative they wanted alive:

"Craig - Merrie’s position - and I agree - is that the story has been put to bed tonight. Let’s take a look at the coverage first thing in the morning and make a decision then if we want to forward the players’ names and numbers exclusively to [ESPN’s] Joe [Schad], whether we want to include the AP reporter, or if we want to hold off a day to see if the university makes a statement."

In his book, Leach also points out the extent to which ESPN, and specifically Joe Schad, went to keep their narrative alive:

"There were statements out there from Adam James’s two position coaches, Dana Holgorsen and Lincoln Riley. There was a statement from the strength coach, Bennie Wylie. There were statements from three of James’s teammates—players that had been successful in the program and had witnessed Adam’s behavior, as well as mine. and other media outlets chose to run those statements. ESPN, which also had them, chose not to. When one of my agents asked Joe Schad, the ESPN reporter, why they neglected to report those statements, he said he didn’t see how they were relevant to the story. But when Craig James gave Schad Adam’s cell number so he could hand the phone over to his roommate Chris Perry, a back-up lineman whom we’d suspended twice, his statement was considered relevant."

ESPN completely destroyed Mike Leach's life. As a gauge on the average sports fan's perspective, I asked my wife this morning "What do you think about Mike Leach?" to which she responded, "You mean that jerk that locked that kid in a closet?" Four years have gone by, and the image portrayed by ESPN is the one that prevails in the minds of most. After something like this where ESPN completely destroys a man's life by not using even a tiny amount of due diligence - seriously, one call to the Head Trainer would have ended it - they continue to be the leader in sports entertainment. The public continues to believe every story as it was fed to them from the beginning, and not how it ended. Just ask Auburn fans.

At a minimum you would have to think someone was fired, right? Joe Schad is still working for ESPN and Craig James stuck around for two years until leaving to run for the United States Senate. The only one who got fired was the man they smeared.

People really need to wake up to the fact that ESPN is a platform available to anyone who can pitch a good story. Remember Cam Newton? I bet you forgot that Joe Schad worked that story as well. When asked about the sourcing of erroneous reporting that happened in the Cam Newton story, here is what he had to say:

"I don’t really care who’s the source in any story. I don’t care and I don’t know why people are so worked up about it. … I always struggle to understand why there’s such a quest to figure out who exactly passed along what information to who."

Pretty unreal that a journalist who has access to the loudest bullhorn in the world can't understand why the public wants to verify the credibility of the information, and has shown an utter disregard for the substantiation of claims made to him. This guy absolutely has to have pictures of John Skipper making out with Darren Rovell somewhere.

In the end, I want to thank A&M for being patient and truly working through the process. They didn't rush to a judgement or get pressured into making a statement. They took the time to find out the facts. Something ESPN desperately needs to learn how to do.

The next time you see our Chancellor, Athletic Department officials, or even members of our legal team, take time to applaud their handling of this situation from the very beginning.

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