When Rolling Stone wanted to preview the profile piece they had written on former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, they released an outline of what they believed the story would show.
Among the six bullet points:
“In college his coach (then-University of Florida head coach Urban Meyer) may have helped cover up failed drug tests, along with two violent incidents — an assault and a drive-by shootout outside a local bar.”
If it was the authors’ goal to prove a coverup, Paul Solotaroff and Ron Borges came up short. They cited reports, but gave no new evidence. Plus, they missed an important point.
A coverup implies that information was being kept from the public, and…
When it comes to failed drug tests, it may be a coach’s legal obligation to “cover it up.”
Asked Wednesday whether revealing the results of an individual’s drug test violates federal statute, Ohio State administrators said they believed it would run afoul of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. There was also somewhat of a concern that, depending on the exact circumstances, it might be a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act as well.
Schools can discuss their drug testing policy. They can even share testing results, so long as they do not implicate any one individual in the process. For example, OSU could legally release the percentage of athletes that have failed drug tests.
However, administrators tell coaches that they cannot publicly reveal the identity of a player who has failed a test.
What does that mean?
Journalists need to be very careful with their wording. By saying Meyer was guilty of a coverup, or “giving cover for bad behavior” as the actual story eventually worded it, it was implied there was a duty to be forthcoming that is not only not there, but could actually run contrary to the law.
That’s how the famous suspension for “violation of team rules” came to be.
To be clear, there is no requirement for a coach to provide misinformation. There is no obligation to make to a disciplinary issue appear to be a conditioning issue, for instance.
Also, failed drug tests should be met with consequences, especially if there are university policies in place.
When those are the accusations, though, it should be stated in such a way that makes it clear that it’s not a coaches job to publicly verify suspicions of a tight end’s drug use.