September 17, 1999 ATLANTA - As we all know, biased reporting does exist in sports.
It's common for reporters to want the teams they are covering to win. It usually makes for better copy, and it often makes one's job more enjoyable. That said, there is no excuse for what has been going on at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in terms of their coverage of Georgia Tech athletics. It's been a black eye on an otherwise excellent newspaper for a long time, and it shows no sign of slowing down. Our most recent installment involves the AJC's coverage of the recruitment of local prep star Tony Akins. Akins, who captured Tech's full attention only recently despite being a top-100 prospect, narrowed his choices to Michigan and the Yellow Jackets in April. That's when the Journal-Constitution's Georgia Tech beat writer who earlier in his career was a sports information director at Georgia Tech, for crying out loud helped Tech put on the fullcourt press. On April 19, the AJC reported that Akins was leaning toward Tech over Michigan, and in the same story it mentioned that Travis Spivey Ü who started all but one game at point guard last year for the Yellow Jackets as a freshman Ü was going to be spending his summer working on his ballhandling and jumpshot.
A week later, Akins went to Michigan for his official visit. The Georgia player of the year, Akins was born in Detroit and has two cousins who attend Michigan.
Now, we have no idea how the visit in Ann Arbor went, but we trust that Akins was informed just how badly the Wolverines needed him. They will enter next season with just two starters returning: Louis Bullock, who can play point or off guard, and Robbie Reid, who can play point guard, off guard and small forward.
In short, there is no doubt the Wolverines could use Akins. If he didn't start from the beginning, Michigan would have used him immediately as one of the first players off the bench, then turned over to him a starting role as a sophomore. Ah, but one would never glean that particular piece of information if he or she was reading the Journal-Constitution in the days following the visit, which we are sure Akins and/or his family and friends were doing. (They live in the greater Atlanta area.)
On May 4, the beat writer reported: "Michigan already has a strong backcourt combination of Louis Bolloch (sp) and Robbie Reid, so it would seem Akins would have trouble breaking into the starting lineup.
"Tech could promise the 6-1 guard immediate playing time at point guard, giving the Jackets a dynamic starting lineup of Akins and Dion Glover in the backcourt, with 7-0 transfer Jason Collier and 6-11 sophomore shot-blocking ace Alvin Jones under the basket."
Let's look at this on a number of levels for the bias and incorrect fact-reporting. First, as mentioned earlier, Akins would not have any trouble finding playing time at Michigan, likely logging major minutes at both guard positions.
Second, Akins is penciled into Tech's starting lineup at point guard ahead of Spivey. Sure, it is possible that Akins would start in front of Spivey, but not once had it been mentioned before in the paper that Spivey would be in jeopardy of losing his job. More troublesome was that the beat writer felt the need to point out that Michigan's starting backcourt returns ... but left out the fact that Tech's does also. Just eight days later, after figuring out how to spell Bullock's name correctly, the same writer reported as fact what he had reported as speculation earlier. "Michigan has a solid backcourt with seniors Louis Bullock and Robbie Reid returning, making it difficult for Akins to break into the starting lineup, while Tech could promise him immediate playing time at point guard."
Again, Spivey was not even mentioned in the process of playing up Tech's advantages and trying to show Michigan's disadvantages. Two days later, Akins signed with the Yellow Jackets.
Now there was no telling if the Journal-Constitution played even a tiny role in convincing Akins to stay in-state and play at Tech. And, really, who cares?
But there also was no denying that the reporting done was extremely slanted in the Yellow Jackets' favor. Just as troublesome was the fact that this was not the first time it had happened. According to this particular writer, seldom has Tech done something wrong ... or even questionable. He tends to take a SID's tone and attitude when writing his stories, always pointing out the positives and barely ever mentioning the negatives. For a recent example, read the lead from the story on Al Harrington turning pro and spurning Tech:
"Georgia Tech's basketball program may have lost a recruit Saturday, but it probably had little to do with how hard coach Bobby Cremins recruited him or how appealing the Yellow Jacket program may have appeared." Puh-leeze. Pass the Pepto Bismol. Quick.
Sound a bit like a press release from Georgia Tech to you?
Now we're not advocating attack journalism. It does not read well in the sports pages and can be brooding. What we are hoping for is less bias from an otherwise good newspaper. It has been noticeable not only to fellow members of the press, but also to the general readers of the paper, many of whom have complained about it (repeatedly and consistently) to us.
It's not good journalism, and it does not make for good copy. Here's hoping again that the AJC finally does something about it.