Sports coverage results in violence
Threats against newspaper editor lead to resignation, transfer
TEXAS — A Midwestern State University football player’s threats led to the student newspaper editor’s resignation and transfer to another school and the student senate to pass a resolution in support of the campus’ student media.
Jeremy Jennings left a message on the Wichitan’s voice mail in November after the newspaper published a cartoon criticizing the football team1s performance that season. It was laced with profanity and threatened to kill then- editor Jason Lawrence.
“You better hope I never catch your ass by yourself or I’m gonna kill you,” Jennings said in the message.
The next day, Lawrence found his tires slashed. James Sernoe, adviser for the newspaper, said that they were not able to connect the threat with the tires.
Meanwhile, Jennings made a written apology to Lawrence.
“I didn’t mean anything I said and definitely had no intent to beat you up or most certainly kill you,” he wrote.
The administration and the athletic department explained the athlete’s action by noting that Jennings1 father had recently died and he was having difficulty dealing with it, according to Sernoe. He said he continues to be skeptical about the whole situation.
The athletic department paid Lawrence $500 for new tires, “just in case someone from the athletics department was involved,” according to Sernoe.
An arrest warrant was issued for Jennings, and he turned himself in to the authorities. However, Lawrence had had enough. He left the university the same week.
The local newspaper covered the story, but the administration never condemned publicly what had happened, Sernoe said.
“I can’t help but be cynical,” Sernoe said. “I can’t help but wonder if football had been placed above everything else. I can’t help but believe [Lawrence] would still be my editor had this entire ordeal not occurred.”
Sernoe said that the county’s district attorney had accepted the case, but needed Lawrence to testify. He had not heard anything more since the DA’s office had contacted him on how to find Lawrence. Sernoe said that it would be “a little consolation to me” if Jennings was prosecuted and found guilty.
The conflict prompted the student senate to pass a resolution that supported the newspaper’s free press rights. Sernoe said that the resolution was “more symbolic” because the student senate can only make recommendations to the administration.
Sernoe said that the newspaper decided not to cover the whole story about the threats. He said that the editors thought they could not cover the story objectively.
“If we run a story that a [football player] called up and said these horrible things,” he said, “it would look like we were out to make him look bad.”
Sernoe said that the newspaper is running well since the ordeal. He said that they have won several awards this year, and some of them have come from issues after Lawrence left as the editor.
“I am very pleased on how well [the rest of the staff] has done,” he said.
reports, Spring 1998