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New book kicks fans' college football illusions away

The book by "Seattle Times" writers focuses on the transgressions and excesses in the University of Washington football programs and enablers of all the problems, including the fans.
Husky Stadium scoreboard as the team headed to victory over UCLA in 2006

Husky Stadium scoreboard as the team headed to victory over UCLA in 2006 skidrd/Wikimedia Commons

The cover for the new book by Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry

The cover for the new book by Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry Courtesy of University of Nebraska Press

The book is called "Scoreboard, Baby” and subtitled “A Story of College Football, Crime, and Complicity.” It’s something of a misnomer in that the key word comes last.

Scoreboard, Baby (University of Nebraska Press, $19.95) is an exhaustive investigation of the University of Washington football program circa 2001, when the team won a Rose Bowl after finishing the 2000 regular season 10-1. Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry, investigative reporters of The Seattle Times, spent months documenting appalling player crimes and other transgressions, expanding on their award-winning 2008 Times series “Victory and Ruins.”

In the end, though, the key word is “complicity”: among players, coaches, attorneys, police, prosecutors, journalists, school administrators, teachers, family members, boosters and casual fans. The book describes how all in various ways became enablers, their eyes easily diverted from violent crimes and trained instead on that bright rectangle at the back of the stadium: on the all-important scoreboard, baby.

This is a very tough read, replete with explicit language when (frequently) appropriate. Armstrong and Perry describe in vivid detail sexual and gun violence and the lingering raw emotions among victims. Animal-abuse even is portrayed; the irony won’t escape many that it pertains to what some would call “dawgs.”

The book also is, or should be, a source of embarrassment for the millions here and elsewhere who delude themselves on game days into believing that the spectacle they observe on college football fields is nothing but a noble, pure, harmless diversion. The shame of it is that we (full disclosure: I’ve been a season-ticket-holder for several decades and routinely attend out-of-town games as well) should have known better all along.

The book follows the dubious fortunes of four former Husky players, two of them since deceased, another in prison and a fourth an incorrigible drunk driver believed by police investigators to have raped a UW student.

Virtually everyone comes out badly from this book. Even former Husky mentor Rick Neuheisel, who now runs the program at his alma mater, UCLA, is diminished by this report — impossible, many would believe, for a man who is widely despised in the Northwest.

But Neuheisel, for all his transgressions, is scarcely the only college coach to stretch rules and enable errant players. The authors give the identities of other big-time programs guilty in various ways then add: “Washington isn’t an aberration. It is an example.”

When asked why the book doesn’t get into many instances of wrongdoing at other schools, Armstrong answered via e-mail: “It took more than a year to do this kind of deep reporting on one program and one team. So, no, we did not consider doing the same thing with another program.”

“Deep reporting” is such that the documentation notes alone take up 42 pages.

The book’s publication date is Sept. 1, three days before the Huskies tee it up at BYU for the 2010 campaign. Many boosters, upon hearing about this book (or, less likely, perhaps, actually reading it), no doubt will blame the proverbial messenger.

This was the case during the early 1990s when (as is recalled in “Scoreboard, Baby”) many fans excoriated The Times for reporting in great detail about wrongdoing associated with the Husky-football program. Die-hard boosters again can be expected to express their enmity for a skeptical press, especially given that the 2010 team features what many hope will result in Heisman Trophy laurels for a star player and maybe even a bowl bid for the first time since 2002.

My advice would be to read this book without summoning an agenda. Then try to decide with good conscience what our priorities should be when we think about college football. Yes, the book functions as something of the ultimate tailgate-party buzz-kill. But to read it without being affected by its evidence of the human toll sports take for our amusement is at best delusional.

Much has been discussed and written about the myth of the purity of sport. Among the best of the genre is the high-school-football cautionary tale “Friday Night Lights,” by Buzz Bissinger, who calls “Scoreboard, Baby” “the most harrowing book I have ever read about college sports.”


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Aug 23, 8:26 a.m. Inappropriate

During my undergrad years, I attended a small school that was put on the map in a major way by a successful team. The desire to ignore the seamy underbelly of the world of college sports was particularly pronounced at this school, because for the administration, the team was a big part of the financial lifeblood. It's a real trap for small school with successful athletic programs.

Anyway, sounds like an interesting book. My dad and I are both former Huskies with our fair share of Husky paraphernalia, and so I admit that the subject will not be all that desirable.

Posted Mon, Aug 23, 1:35 p.m. Inappropriate

As a huge sports fan and second-generation UW alum, I have to say that Jerramy Stevens almost single-handedly drove me from being a Husky football fan. I suppose it is not at all surprising that the players act like the coddled individuals we treat them as, but it is disappointing to hear these stories. It definitely takes away my enjoyment of the game knowing that some of these guys are thugs and criminals.

Adam Vogt

Posted Mon, Aug 23, 8:30 p.m. Inappropriate

We tend to stress unimportant things. The success of the UW football team will add little to the value of a UW education. Look at Harvard and Yale. When UW fired a 30 year employee, making $35,000 who folded towels in the locker rrro right after hiring a coachs for millions that was just a tip of the iceberg.
When I lived in Los Angeles, I heard the great broadcaster, Vin Scully, say "There are a lot of troubles tonight in the world so lets sit back and listen to the Dodgers play baseball and pretend it's important"

Morro

Posted Mon, Aug 23, 9:39 p.m. Inappropriate

Adam, I do have to object somewhat to your comments. I taught at UW for six years, including a few classes that had high concentrations of athletes. Some of them were good, hard-working students with a real desire to learn. Granted, some others were fairly irresponsible as students as well. But the point is, be careful about making sweeping generalizations about a class of people.

Posted Tue, Aug 24, 9:30 a.m. Inappropriate

Pepper, note that I used the word "some" in describing the players. There are plenty of good kids who are star athletes, but I truly believe that the coddling of star athletes, which often starts at an early age, feeds a kind of entitlement mentality that sometimes reveals itself in pretty awful behavior. It'd be interesting to compare arrest rates of athletes with the student population in general. I suspect it would be quite sobering.

Adam Vogt

Posted Tue, Aug 24, 10:54 a.m. Inappropriate

Fair enough. It reminds me a bit of the celebrity gossip, where it seems that sordid personal information of famous entertainers and athletes is constantly popping up. There's probably some truth to the idea that when people are treated like superstars, they start to believe that they can do whatever they want.

Posted Tue, Aug 24, 2:21 p.m. Inappropriate

Great, Just great. In light of these transgressions, the UW Fires the AD and hires the squeakiest of the squeakiest in Tyrone Willingham and Todd Turner. The entire program is given an enema. NOW, we have to relive all of this over again. And this serves what purpose? Is there truly anyone who doesn't know that college sports is corrupt at every level? This can't really be a revelation to anyone. This is a book for the folks who simply want someone to confirm their belief that College Atheltics are Bad.

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