Why Oh Why Can’t We Have Better Political Journalism, University of Miami Edition

Free prostitutes … luxury yachts … big cash payments … free Cadillacs. All to influence a bunch of powerful men.

It reads just like the Jack Abramoff scandal, or the Duke Cunningham scandal. Or the tales of similar influence peddling that takes place on Wall Street but that get ignored unless they involve someone like Client 9.

But instead it’s a 7,000-word expose of all the players University of Miami booster and recently convicted Ponzi schemer, Nevin Shapiro, allegedly rewarded while they were at Miami.

For the football fans among you, it’ll be interesting for the lurid details, for the third strike in recent memory to the NCAA’s claims to be running an amateur football program, for claims of a $5,000 bounty placed–but never rewarded–for knocking Tim Tebow out of a game, and for the pro players–like Vince Wilfork, Jonathan Vilma, Devin Hester, and Willis McGahee–implicated in this.

But for the moment (until Trash Talk, I guess), I just wanted to salute the journalism that went into it.

Mind you, this story did not–as the Duke Cunnnigham story did–actually discover the story. Yahoo says it 100 hours of jailhouse interviews with Shapiro; it appears he wanted to tell the story to the press at the same time as he cooperated with the Feds and NCAA to ensure he accomplished his objective: revenge on those who blew him off after he got busted.

In 15 prison interviews with Yahoo! Sports and hundreds of telephone and email interactions, Shapiro laid out a multitude of reasons for blowing the whistle on his illicit booster activity. Chief is his feeling that after spending eight years forging what he thought were legitimate friendships with players, he was abandoned by many of the same Miami athletes he treated so well. He told Yahoo! Sports that following his incarceration, he asked multiple players for financial help – either with bail money, or assistance to individuals close to the booster. Shapiro admitted some of those inquiries included angry letters and phone calls to players whom he provided benefits.

And Yahoo’s task may have been helped by the sheer volume of detail released in Shapiro’s Ponzi trial.

Nevertheless, they’ve gone to great length, over 11 months time, to recreate Shapiro’s story, down to pictures and receipts.

Yahoo! Sports audited approximately 20,000 pages of financial and business records from his bankruptcy case, more than 5,000 pages of cell phone records, multiple interview summaries tied to his federal Ponzi case, and more than 1,000 photos. Nearly 100 interviews were also conducted with individuals living in six different states. In the process, documents, photos and 21 human sources – including nine former Miami players or recruits, and one former coach – corroborated multiple parts of Shapiro’s rule-breaking.

And unlike the Duke Cunningham and Abramoff scandals, this reporting does a good job of thoroughly implicating the big names, down to the two Escalades Shapiro claims to have bought Wilfork.

So why am I bringing this up on a Wednesday, when I should be blogging politics (aside from the fact that you all should read it). Just to imagine what would happen if political journalism could replicate all this–if we could get thorough stories of the parties and prostitutes used to influence the powerful men ruining our country.

It helps, mind you, that’s there’s still big money in sports. Yahoo Sports apparently have the resources to support this 11-month investigation. And it helps, too, that NCAA rules make these allegations real violations in a way that they wouldn’t be for banksters (but clearly are for politicians).

One more thing we’ll see from the comparison, I bet. In the same way that an alleged Roger Clemens lie was treated with far more aggressiveness than, say, Scott Bloch’s lies, I suspect these violations (particularly now that Yahoo has exposed them) will be punished more aggressively than most similar allegations made about politicians.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

27 replies
  1. Jim White says:

    And UF won’t make Aubrey Hill (http://www.gainesville.com/article/20110816/ARTICLES/110819571/1136/sports?Title=Miami-scandal-extends-to-Florida), who is now receivers coach and recruiting coordinator here, available to the press. Not mentioned in either the Yahoo or Sun stories is the fact that Hill played his college ball at UF under Spurrier. UF needs to fire his ass now instead of hiding him.

    And note that Shapiro used the alias Teddy Dupay (http://espn.go.com/magazine/vol5no07dupay.html), who was Donovan’s first recruit at UF. Teddy was a point guard on the basketball team but got run out of town for involvement in gambling. And holy crap, now he’s doing MLM for weed legalization? (http://www.aolnews.com/2010/01/19/teddy-dupay-finally-finds-greener-grass/)

  2. scribe says:

    Not a little ironic that the guy who announced the NCAA penalties on USC, was a MFIC at Miami all the while this was going on.

    Also not a little ironic that a strong case can be built that all the benefits the players and coaches and the U got were part and parcel of the Ponzi scheme, and are therefore subject to clawback. All the way down to Devin Hester’s rims.

    And also not a little ironic that this story broke (though the NCAA knew it was coming for months) the day after the Second Circuit supported the trustee in the Bernie Madoff case, in his attempts to recover money from the “net winners” in Madoff’s scheme.

  3. Bay State Librul says:

    Revenge, revenge, revenge.
    Shapiro’s motivation, according to NPR.

    All lies are not treated equally?

    One reason for lack of solid investigative reporting is resources.
    The Globule has cut back drastically to stay

  4. joberly says:

    Thanks, EW, for the link to the Yahoo Sports story. I agree it is good reporting: 15 prison interviews and reading all those financials.
    Shapiro’s ponzi scheme apparently spread to the Big Ten (Leader’s Div.); the Madison *Cap-Times* reported yesterday that UW-Madison A.D. Barry Alvarez got taken for $1M by Shapiro. The *Cap-Times* hints that U of Miami president (and former UW-Madison chancellor, and HHS Secty) Donna Shalala was the go-between.

  5. klynn says:

    I would not be surprised if the FL sports money and the FL political monies, used to influence and own the power in both arenas, converge revealing the same people.

    Would be an interesting story to follow…

  6. JTMinIA says:

    My take on the difference:

    What athletes do for a living must be, by definition, out in the open. [If no-one saw you do it, you didn’t actually do it.] So there’s much less opportunity to “punish” a journalist for digging and writing an expose’. What politicians do for a living is 99% secret. If you mess with them, they stop talking to you and then you, the journalist, can’t do your job.

  7. MadDog says:

    One of the reasons that “sports” crime gets better investigative reporting than “politician” crimes, is the very simple fact of life that Americans, like most citizens of all countries, care far more for their sports than they do for their politicians.

    As one who views most sportsters as offering little of redeeming value to the actual meaning of life, you can well imagine where I place politicians.

    I’m not saying that sports isn’t fun, exciting, pleasurable, etc. for both the participant and the viewer.

    Rather that in my view it’s on par with cotton candy in nutritional value.

    As a now virtuously reformed sports addict, I take my banishment from Trash Talk with dignified aplomb. :-)

  8. frandor55 says:

    Colin Cowherd today on ESPN radio says if there ever was a reason to institute the NCAA Death Penalty that Miami would deserve it, but that it will not happen, as Uof M is in the TBTF category.

  9. emptywheel says:

    @klynn: Sorry for the delay on yours and others’ comments.
    I had tried to fix the spam coming in backstage. Saw it wasn’t working right. Thought I had turned it off. BUt I guess not.

  10. MadDog says:

    @emptywheel: Are those “Pingback” comments some of the spam you’re dealing with?

    And, anything we as commenters should be doing or not doing to help?

  11. klynn says:


    Hey, no problem. A long time ago on a site that starts with H, I made a perfectly fine comment and asked a question. My question was so good, I was told I was attacking the writer and that I was banned.

    So, sometimes, I get concerned about how my comments come off… I did not mean to badger…Sorry.

  12. Jim White says:

    @emptywheel: While you’re decorating: it would be nice if you can add a link to the next post at the bottom of the page so that when a page is refreshed, you can see a new post is up when you reach the bottom of the comments. You had this at FDL and it was much handier than scrolling back to the top. (Yeah, call me lazy…)

    Back on the topic of the sports scandal, I am still very upset that UF isn’t distancing itself from Aubrey Hill. At the very least, he should be suspended from his recruiting coordinator role. As I see it, he can’t claim ignorance of what was going on at the U (or Uhh as we call it in my household, for how you read the logo on the helmets) since he was recruiting coordinator there. In that role, it was his responsibility to know what was going on and to prevent exactly the sorts of gifts to recruits that are described. Three folks should bear the brunt of the blame for the recruiting part of the problems, in order: head coach, recruiting coordinator and the athletic department’s compliance officer. Since Hill sat in the middle of the hierarchy, the only way I see him surviving is if he was acting as an internal whistleblower (which I very much doubt).

  13. joberly says:

    @JohnT: Right,and did you see it only honors the SB XLV winners. What about I, II, and XXXI ?
    Oh, well, since police officers kept their collective bargaining rights in the Walker budget laws, the GB cops should be able to keep the logo as a future bargaining chip to hold onto current wages & benefits.

  14. Skilly says:

    Since Yahoo Sports seems to do such a fine job perhaps we can get them to investigate other events if we can “spin” them into a sport category? I can go first. Headline: “Yahoo sports reporter uncovers new evidence in Anthrax cases by using same analysis he used on covering tiger woods mistresses.”

  15. MaryCh says:

    “still big money in sports” – Out here in Oregon we’re wading in, but likely haven’t hit the deep end yet, though Uncle Phil Knight’s patronage for U of O has been an education.

  16. emptywheel says:

    Interesting detail: NCAA (via ESPN) says they’ve been investigating Miami for 5 mos. Yahoo has been working on story for 11. So did NCAA ignore it?

  17. Jim White says:

    @emptywheel: I think so. But then when Shapiro’s attorney contacted the NCAA directly, they had no choice but to proceed.

    Oh, and come to think of it, remember who chaired the infractions committee then: the former AD from Miami.

  18. emptywheel says:

    @Jim White: Oh, hey!

    So what is the schedule by which all the implicated coaches left, oh ye Floridian? So did NCAA and Miami use the interim to unload the coaches?

  19. Jim White says:

    @emptywheel: I’ll need a little time to create a timeline of personnel movements with events in the article. Could be fun. It may be Friday before I’m done due to other time constraints.

  20. P J Evans says:

    @Jim White:
    Several schools aren’t very happy that nothing has happened to Miami – yet – while they’ve been hit with heavy penalties for smaller infractions. (Not that I think USC is innocent. They ignored some of their own problems until the problems got big and became public. Similar stuff, minus the Ponzi scheme.)

  21. emptywheel says:

    In related news, the NFL has just split the baby in the Terrelle Pryor question and given most of that baby to him: He gets to join the supplemental draft, but will be suspended for 5 games.

    Good thing this Miami story has cautioned the NFL about corruption.

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