By Anthony Bosco
The media feeding frenzy that has enveloped St. John’s University seemed ready to spiral out of control this past week — in fact, some would probably say it did.
It seems just about every scribe in the greater metropolitan area has taken a swipe at the nation’s largest Catholic university, except me, of course. I don’t go in for that sort of thing, at least not regularly.
But far be it from me to sit on my high horse. As a media member — someone who wrote no fewer than four stories in the last edition of the TimesLedger Newspapers about the incident — I am not about to say that I am above it all. Everyone took a big bite out of St. John’s University, and some may have taken two.
In case you live in Tanzania or have been holed up in your safe place for the last two weeks, you might not have heard about the scandal involving six St. John’s University basketball players, an after-hours visit to a strip club in Pittsburgh and the Queens woman who falsely accused three Red Storm members of rape.
Since those players — Grady Reynolds, Elijah Ingram, Abe Keita, Mohamed Diakite, Lamont Hamilton and Tyler Jones — decided to break curfew and sneak out of the hotel for their now ill-advised excursion, three, Reynolds, Ingram and Keita, are forever gone from the basketball team. Two more, Diakite and Hamilton, are suspended for the remainder of the season, and the last, Jones, has been reinstated to the team after serving a two-game suspension.
All in all, February has not been a good month for St. John’s basketball. The same can be said of the entire season, from Willie Shaw’s banishment following a drug bust to former coach Mike Jarvis’ firing.
But as bad as things have gotten for the once-proud program, it seemed for a while that this scandal would envelop even the previously considered untouchable University President Rev. Donald Harrington.
Harrington uncharacteristically began a media campaign to try and shore up what pride and prestige the program had left but simply ended up taking more shots despite his seemingly innocent and contrite remarks meant to bring healing to an already foul affair.
Harrington made the mistake of not too subtly referring to Jarvis’ culpability for the current woes of the program, something only Jarvis and those close to him seem willing to contest.
But far be it from the impartial media, the non-sensationalizing press corps (please note my sarcasm), not to take advantage of a situation. Not in my interview with him nor in any of his published remarks did Harrington directly implicate or place blame on Jarvis’ shoulders, yet stories in more than one paper had no problem reporting that Harrington was directly pointing a finger Jarvis’ way.
All that seems silly, doesn’t it? Harrington clearly was alluding to the coach he fired two months ago but was legally bound from blaming him publicly by an agreement Jarvis and the school came to upon his leaving the university. That reporters and editors would take the next step should be expected. Harrington, I guess, didn’t realize just how cutthroat the media can be when there is blood in the water.
Then it was Harrington’s reference to the “culture” of the team that some in the media latched onto, opening the door for the knee-jerk reaction of some of the university’s students who questioned if Harrington’s remarks were racially motivated.
Well, of course they weren’t. Anyone who spoke with Harrington, as I did last week, could clearly conclude that he was referring to the atmosphere or personality of the team, not its ethnic make-up.
But common sense often leaves people, media members including, mid-frenzy. No matter how he meant it, his poor choice of words bit him in the behind again.
Then came the blunder of all blunders, to say that if the school could not turn around the fifth-winningest basketball program in collegiate history, the university might be better served by terminating the program altogether.
OK, this isn’t brain surgery. Obviously Harrington made the mistake of answering a hypothetical question he either posed to himself or a reporter put to him. Either way, he only stirred the pot a bit more.
Each time Harrington tried to fix the situation, things seemed to get worse.
Harrington was right to place the blame for the Pittsburgh incident squarely on the shoulders of the players involved. Whether or not there was a bed check, an enforced curfew or a rule stating that players are not allowed to bring a woman back to the hotel, they should have known better.
These aren’t kids. These are men, men who made an awful decision and now must face the music.
And so must Harrington. If you intend to use the media for your own ends, you better know what you’re getting into and exactly what you’re saying.
I only hope that current form holds and that Harrington and the rest of the SJU braintrust have stopped feeding the media machine and the team can limp toward the end of the season without further incident. The carnage has to stop.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.